Obama-backed documentary on Ohio factory wins Academy Award


The documentary American factory which is nominated for an Oscar for best feature length documentary was produced and directed by my guests Julia Reichardt and Stephen bogan are it was the first film acquired by the Obamas new production company higher ground which is distributing it in partnership with Netflix last year American factory when the Sundance directing award in the documentary category the movie is about what happened when a Chinese company opened a new automotive glass factory in Dayton Ohio in the same spot where a GM company close just a few years earlier the new Chinese factory foo yell glass America was greeted is great news by Dayton and by men and women in need of jobs but as time went on it became apparent there was a considerable culture clash between how the Chinese treat workers and have the American workers expected to be treated especially those workers who are used to having the United auto workers union behind them and no longer did some of the workers are making half as much in our IT Fujio than they did at GM by focusing on this one factory the film is a case study of what the global economy means for some American workers and how hard it's become to find work that pays enough to have a home and support children right guard and bogan are with the perfect people to make American factory they live twenty five minutes away from the factory and their previous film the last track documented the closing of Dayton's GM factory the last track was also nominated for an Oscar your record Steve Bognor welcome to fresh air congradulations on your Oscar nomination and on the film thank you Terry so what were the expectations in your hometown Dayton won a Chinese billionaire announced that he would open a new automotive glass factory there on the site of the GM plant that close you know people were very hopeful we had lost the GM plant almost eight years before when chairman Chow who's the you know Chinese billionaire who bought that old rusting General Motors plant when he came to town it just everybody was really very excited yeah after that GM plant closed things were so hard for so long I mean people lost their homes the job you could get were like at the Cole's distribution center or payless shoes warehouse distribution center or fast food people making nine Bucks an hour and and imagine your middle aged you gotta cater to your mortgage and you're making nine dollars an hour it's just like it was so hard and there was such hope went went through yeah now yeah so what were the incentives for the billionaire the Chinese billionaire the chairman who opened this factory in Dayton well one thing is if you make glass in the Midwest right on interstate seventy five right if you think about it goes from Detroit all the way down through the south all the auto makers are all along there so heavy glass no longer has to be shipped from China to reach the big three and all the other automakers and you know labor costs and China have been going up over many years and labor costs you know what people make per hour in the US have been going down and so the chairman and his team the free out team we're doing a lot of calculations about the cost of shipping the cost of energy labor costs and at some point it made sense for them to come to the US and and actually chairman shall told us he was also asked by General Motors by some of the other automakers to set up shop in the Midwest because they needed more Cassidy more more reliable glass delivery you know the chairman is seventy three years old now he's exactly my age as it happens he I think wanted a kind of capstone project to his life and he wanted to create a big huge plant in the United States this was a huge challenge his family was against him a lot of the Chinese other businessmen were against him it was kind of a personal decision on his part to go ahead and do it despite the opposition from people close to him it's such an interesting clash of cultures that we see in American factory expectations regarding everything about work from pay and benefits to what workers are expected to sacrifice for the privilege of working for the corporation let's start by comparing what automakers made at the GM plant when they were unionized and they were in the United auto workers to what they were making at Fujio which is not unionized well in in the film shown a Rosser who worked at the old GM plant and now works of Frida she says it varies directly she says that GM she was making twenty nine dollars and some cents per hour and if we out she makes twelve eighty four so that's less than half of what she used to make and you know she has several children she's got she has a house that they actually lost they lost their houses they couldn't they couldn't make the mortgage payments after GM closed it's a very different world and you know here here's the crazy thing it's like in China it's been a remarkable trajectory like China is on the rise and people in the film like Wong he once he is the furnace engineer who has been sent from China to the U. S. he's here for at least two years is not going to see his children for two years but he's been working a full house and she was like nineteen years old she is so dedicated to food out and it's offering him a path to the middle class he told us he's going to be able to build a build a house for his for his family for his kids back in China because he's making such good money meanwhile in the states people like Shimei who once had a blue collar middle class life modest but but secure they they have no security anymore and it's it's just very different landscape I want to get back to the culture clash between the Chinese and the Americans at the Chinese on factory in Dayton the American workers there thought they were working just like too hard for too little pay and the Chinese supervisors and the chairman that is the CEO of the company thought American workers that they're they're just lazy they don't appreciate what we're giving them and they want to much praise they need to be praised all the time where is the American workers felt like they were not being respected you know you're really putting your finger on something that I wish the management had recognized way earlier in that plant and I will I hope all foreign companies coming here begin to recognize that in our work culture workers expect to be respected expect to be not told do you just do this American worker will respond well why and maybe I have a better idea we'll look them look the supervisor right in the eye and question them this is not really happen in China very much it's just a different work culture where people do what the boss says boss says you have to work six days a week or seven days a week you just do it but in the United States we are we are expected we've what fought to have an eight hour day and the have weekends off that's pretty much unheard of in industrial work in China people expect to work twelve hour days six days a week the Chinese workers we spoke with we spoke with a lot of them they're not happy about it they don't like being away from their kids for most of the year or only seeing them on Sunday partly it's because that's what the culture has brought them to you know they've they've lifted millions and millions of people out of poverty in one and a half more last generations right but that has resulted in this really intense work life and people are proud you know Chinese workers are proud of their country they're proud of their company they're really proud how China is flourishing in the world I would say the American workers we now I can't say that they're proud of their company or they feel like really behind America like Americans really helping them rice in the world I think we're on a trajectory of less hope less possibilities we here in the US as far as working class people where is in China I think there's tremendous hope a tremendous sense that what our country is really has a huge place in the world to play there's a sequence that I I find so fascinating where the Chinese company bring some of the American supervisors to China to to see how this plan this kind of plan operates in China because the CEO of this company you know has one or more glass factories in in China so they bring them there and you see what it's like in China for the workers there first of all all the workers are in the union it's the communist union and seems like the branch of this union is headed by the CEOs brother in law true true yeah so what is the what I know strike one what is the union do for the workers there what is what is the meaning of the union well it's more like a social club either the union there because the the the Chinese Communist Party is so integrated and aligned with the management of food yeah now the traditional concept of the union that we would have here as an advocate for the workers in opposition to the company or to take on the company that that really doesn't exist the union that we saw and at Foochow in China is more like an HR department that helps build camaraderie esprit de corps you know that the kind of team building stuff and it's it's yeah it just felt different something else that really struck me and the Chinese segment of the film is that the supervisors talk to the workers in an almost military kind of way like to learn the workers would like line up information and the supervisor would kind of give them commands and then they'd have to like chance things at the end and they're chanting slogans like long as long as it's in praise of the company slogans they probably know really really well and don't really need to chance yeah it's this is just about their cultural difference it's funny because when one of the American supervisors when he got home he tried to get the Americans to line up in that kind of military formation and it just did not go that well you know it's like the people who signed up to work in this hot intense glass factory and the United States they're making twelve eighty four an hour and they're not getting paid enough to line up and be regimented like that there's a slogan that is said which I think so in kind of in capsules capitalism which is to stand still is to fall back wasn't that it's Steve yeah that's one of things a chance the morning on a day to stand still is to fall back and that's that's true of capitalism it is weird that the this communist country seems like the best capitalists in the world right now you know that they're sold they've been so driven my guess Sir Julia Reichardt and Stephen bogan are they produced and directed the documentary American factory which is nominated for an Oscar for best feature length

Coming up next