Film Review: American Factory (Netflix) (2019)

This brilliant documentary won the 2020 Oscar. Unfortunately it’s only on Netflix. If you want to see it sign up for a months free trial and then cancel.

The 2008 banking crisis consumed GM’s factory in Ohio. A few years of economic despair before being rescued by Chinese glassmaking company Fuyao. For the 2,000 workers re-hired this brought optimism. The downside was their wages were less than half of GM’s unionised wages. The period of savagely reduced living standards made them compliant

More pertinently was the culture clash between Chinese and American workplace expectations. Fuyao brought 200 Chinese workers to act as mentors for the Americans. They quickly found out that Americans are slow and less adroit than Chinese workers. As a consequence productivity is poor with quality problems as well.

Fuyao try very hard. They take workers to their factory in China and show the organisational techniques they use with their submissive, physically fit workforce. One of the Americans identifies the principal problem, which is that Americans work for money and don’t identify with the goals and objectives of their employer.

The denouement is chilling. The underlying message is that Fuyao are aiming at replacing the American workforce with robots and younger more malleable workers. Netflix have produced a documentary which is even handed and dispassionate.

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