The Obamas take on Trump

Herb Boyd | 8/22/2019, 2:14 p.m.
Many Americans are chomping at the bit eager to see “American Factory,” a Netflix documentary produced by Barack and Michelle ...
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama Pete Sousa/White House photo

Many Americans are chomping at the bit eager to see “American Factory,” a Netflix documentary produced by Barack and Michelle Obama and their company Higher Ground. Participant Media is another partner. Early previews of “American Factory,” which debuts Aug. 21, suggest that this is an implicit reaction to the Trump administration’s promises to revive manufacturing as well as a defense of the programs and projects put forth by the Obama administration.

According to one review, “American Factory” unreels in the Midwest, the nation’s industrial epicenter. The film opens in December 2008, as the Great Recession dawns, where a GM plant is being shuttered and with the loss of 10,000 jobs. A jump cut in the documentary takes viewers to 2015, when the Fuyao factory reopens in Moraine, Ohio.

Despite all the pomp and circumstance, the revival falls short of expectation. First of all there is the disparity in pay for the thousands of workers, a combination of Americans and Chinese from abroad. The average pay at the GM plant, one worker noted, was $29 hour at Fuyao it was $12.84. On top of this, workers were threatened with dismissal and the closing of the plant if they voted in the UAW.

Suddenly things were not looking so rosy for the workers at the largest complex in the world in the production of automotive safety glass.

It will be interesting to see how the filmmakers resolve some of the conflict that arises on the factory floor and in the broader context where today the Trump administration is in a stare down with the Chinese government over tariffs, which many experts say have damaged the U.S. economy.

Cultural differences between management and the American workers arise, mainly because the American workers are viewed as to slow in their performances. New works measures are imposed that are alien to U.S. workers, and you wonder how they can work under conditions where they are placed in a contest against robots.

Rather than speculate on the film, we, like the rest of country, will see how this 90-minute production hits home on the Trump imbroglio with China, the subtleties advanced by the Obamas, and the prospects of the plant surviving the demands made by the workers.

A final scene in the film unfolds with a camera following the chairman of the company as he surveys the factory floor of one of the factories in Dayton. A guide points out the various sites where robots will soon replace workers. “We’re hoping to cancel four workers in July and August,” the aide says. “They are too slow.”