By LaKeshia Myers
Over the holiday break, I took time to engage in some much-needed rest and relaxation. During this time, I also had the opportunity to watch the documentary “American Factory”, a film produced by former first couple Barack and Michelle Obama. “American Factory” chronicles the 2008 closing of a General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio, and its revival in 2014 as Fuyao Glass America. Fuyao is an automobile glass manufacturer based in China that is owned by Chinese billionaire Cho Tak Wong.
The film details the growing pains of a Chinese company taking over a former American factory and the cultural shifts endured by both the Chinese and the American workers. The American workers at Fuyao, many of whom were former General Motors employees, dealt with significant pay cuts, lack of a union, and the demand of increased production output. Of particular interest to me were the differences between American and Chinese work standards; when the film showed the Fuyao plant in China, employees discussed the fact that they worked twelve-hour shifts, took very few breaks, and had few days off.
This clash in culture was on full display as many of the Chinese managers discussed the fact that the American workers complained too much, took too many breaks, or were lazy. Conversely, the Americans complained that Fuyao didn’t treat them well, disregarded Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) safety standards, and they had no American in management with whom to liaise on their behalf.
Tensions come to a head when some of the American employees seek to form a union with the United Auto Workers. Fuyao management uses deliberate tactics to discourage union ratification and some workers lose their jobs with the company.
Watching this film was another reminder that the industrial age is indeed dead in America.
Manufacturing as we knew it is no more and there is no resuscitating it. In order to thrive in the workforce, Americans must obtain a post-secondary education. As we embark on the new decade, we must realize the need for education in the ways of twenty-first century manufacturing; this includes robotics, computer numeric control (CNC), and computer aided design (CAD). I encourage individuals who are interested in manufacturing and technical education to consider enrollment at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
As Wisconsin turns the page on its industrial past and embarks on its new future, it is my hope that all Wisconsinites “catch the vision” and embrace the changing academic landscape that helps make us competitive in the workplace. It is a necessity if we ever hope to remain viable in a global society.