When China Runs America: American Greatness

When China Runs America

“American Factory,” a production of Barack and Michelle Obama, offers a warning of where unchecked globalism leads.

The true nature of China’s Communist regime has become increasingly clear, with its cyber-espionage, intellectual property theft and state-subsidized attacks on our industries openly acknowledged by everyone.

Add to that Beijing’s assault on Hong Kong and it’s obvious what’s at stake in our confrontation with China is far more than the price of sports socks at Walmart.  

Now thanks to Barack and Michelle Obama, we can see what life would be like if China succeeds in its attempt to take over the world.

I refer to the film “American Factory,” the first release of the former first family’s show biz venture, Higher Ground.

The documentary premiered at Sundance and can be found on Netflix and in limited theatrical release.

The American factory of the title is Fuyao Glass America, a shuttered General Motors plant in Moraine, Ohio, near Dayton, that Chinese owners reopened in 2016 to make auto glass.

There is a certain symmetry to the former president sponsoring the distribution of this film—he had a role in making it.

The Obama Administration is responsible for crafting a federal bailout of GM that did not require the automaker to keep any of its taxpayer-funded jobs in the United States.

This was not an oversight on the part of the investment bankers who wrote the bailout. They believed capital should be allowed to flow where it will be put to its most efficient use. It made no difference to them whether the capital was American or Chinese or whether it went to Shenzhen or Dayton. Fuyao Glass America is exactly what the authors of the GM bailout envisioned would happen.

The film sheds light on the plight of the former GM workers the Obama Administration left to the tender mercies of their new Chinese bosses who struggle to achieve profitability in their new American venture. It captures a microcosm of globalism and its discontents.

We learn that the multiracial American workforce once paid $29 an hour now earns $14 an hour, “the best game in town now,” as one of the American employees tells us.

It should be noted $14 is below the $16 hourly minimum required under the automotive labor content rules of the new (and yet-to-be-ratified) U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

The workers tell us how they lost their homes, cars, and middle-class lives when the GM plant closed. They struggle to get by on their new wage, but are thankful to have a job.

We meet the head of Fuyao Glass, Chairman Cao, who tells us if the union comes to his Dayton factory, he’ll shut the plant down.

But the story is not “Norma Rae,” a unionization battle for higher pay and better working conditions (though such a drive does occur).

Instead of replaying America’s industrial past, we see a possible future and the clash of cultures as Chinese Communist managers—all the upper echelon jobs in Dayton are filled by Chinese—come to grips with American auto workers.

When some of Fuyao’s American employees visit the company’s headquarters in Fujian, China, we learn that Chairman Cao’s brother-in-law heads the company union as well as the local Communist Party. The brother-in-law tells us, “Without backing from the government the company wouldn’t get too far.” So much for the free-market allocation of capital.

We hear executives begin the day singing the company song, “China is filled with spring and happiness is everywhere.”

We see the military formation drills—“Eyes left! Eyes right!”—and shouted slogans—“To stand still is to move back!”—that begin each shift for the regimented workforce that lives in company barracks.

We see Fuyao Glass as a paternalistic company town with Chinese characteristics. Outstanding employees are feted with a banquet and awards show party replete with red carpet arrivals narrated by a TV hostess, production numbers celebrating lean manufacturing and heroic auto glass workers reminiscent of socialist realist tableaux. The festivities conclude with the marriage of six happy couples, Fuyao employees.

Back in the United States, the American factory is not hitting production goals. Chinese managers feel “American workers are not efficient and output is slow.” They can’t believe they can’t order mandatory overtime as they would at home. “We work whenever we’re asked by our leader.”

For their part, the Americans complain about how their bosses refer to them as foreigners. They find the Chinese (illegally) pouring chemicals down the drain “into drinking water somewhere.” Workplace injuries soar as production is sped up.

Cao encourages his managers by appealing to their national pride and sense of superiority. “We were born of Chinese mothers,” he says. “No matter where you die or are buried you will always be Chinese. The motherland is like a mother. Every Chinese person should do things for our country and our people.”

He tells his lieutenants, “We need to use our wisdom to guide them [the Americans] because we are better than them.”

It is hard to imagine the elites of our country, those who bailed out GM, expressing such sentiments. They fancy themselves citizens of the world. They aspire to “do things” for the global economy, not for their country of birth. Their bloodless reason will prove no match for national pride in the fight for global supremacy.

“The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions . . . which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action,” said George Orwell, noting nationalism’s role in defeating a totalitarian foe in the first half of the last century.

“American Factory” is not a Norma Rae tale, nor is it simply Chinese villains versus Americans heroes. When we meet Wong, the furnace engineer who has been with Fuyao since his first job 20 years ago and wants only to be with his wife and children, we see he is no different from American autoworkers who went to work and supported families until rootless capital changed the rules of the game.

Someone I worked with once proposed something he called “capitalism with a yardstick,” a system of private enterprise where the owners live within 50 miles of their enterprises.

This is the America of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the American industrialism envisioned by Henry Carey, Abraham Lincoln’s chief economic adviser.

It is an America where owners and the workers know each other, where their children, for the most part, go to the same schools and churches and play on the same teams. This is an America that once existed and has been lost to the tides of corporate consolidation, private equity, “efficiency” and globalism.

“American Factory” is a cautionary tale of what happens when you lose local control, when absentee owners with no organic connection to the community, the nation and its people and culture take over.

In this instance, the absentee owners will answer to the Chinese Communist Party.

And yes, unless we do something to stop it, it can happen here.

Copyright © 2019 Curtis Ellis, All rights reserved.