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An insight into the struggles inside an American Factory

This article is over 2 years, 11 months old
A new Netflix documentary tells the stories of workers in a US rust belt car factory. Nadia Sayed says it’s brilliant, nuanced—and well worth watching
Issue 2670
Workers inside the Fuyau factory in Dayton, Ohio
Workers inside the Fuyau factory in Dayton, Ohio (Pic: Netflix)

Seeing melancholy and ­mournful faces as a prayer is made, you might wonder if you’re accidentally watching the wrong documentary.

But that is what is brilliant about Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar’s new documentary American Factory.

They follow emotions and experiences of workers from a closed General Motors plant in Ohio, later bought by a Chinese billionaire for his company Fuyau.

Many of the workers from the General Motors plant began work in Fuyau.

There’s much rhetoric about the entire company being a “family”, and enthusiasm about a bright future promised by the new plant’s extravagant opening ceremonies.

But as the film rolls on, it’s clear the opposite is true.

A young black woman living in the plant talks about how she had gone from being paid over £23 an hour to £10.

Even the workers’ basic needs—such as microwaves for their lunches and a space to eat—are neglected in a drive for efficiency.

Many reviews of the film will stress the theme of a culture clash, between the Chinese management and supervising staff and the US workers.

And this is an idea that does ­feature in the film.

But it’s not central—nor is it ­presented as something so black and white.

Firstly, the film shows the frustration taken out by workers on their US managers and supervisors.

But more importantly, you see the struggle of the workers.

We get to see the dangers and stresses of working in a car factory, where efficiency is put before ­wellbeing or safety.

But we also get to see their attempts to unionise with the United Automobile Workers—in the face of an anti-union company—and win the confidence of their co-workers to fight back.

In the space of just under two hours, the film captures the years?long journey and challenges for both workers, the investors and management.

American Factory is an insight into the reality of life and industry in the rust belt of the US.

American Factory is out now on Netflix

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