"American Factory" in the heartland with Chairman Mao (Cao)

Just watched "American Factory" on Netflix, and wanted to make a few observations about it.  It's the Oscar winning documentary produced with the help of the Obamas ("Higher Ground") and made by documentary filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar (Participant.)
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What makes the film compelling is that two cultures come together to try to create something new and different.  The Chinese company Fuyao Industrial Glass Company takes over the old General Motors plant in Dayton Ohio.

Complications ensue.

Not at all like the Ron Howard directed film "Gung Ho" which starred Michael Douglas Keaton and was about the conflicts when a Japanese company took over a car plant. (I had written a script "Bases Loaded" about the same topic which was pitched and passed by Ron's company prior to their making the same basic film a year later. But I digress.)  Both films deal with the culture clash over the "Asian" workplace versus "The American workplace."

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What makes the film "American Factory" so compelling (and tragic) is the irony that is written large over the film but is not addressed.  There's an interview with the filmmakers and the Obamas after the film that is worth watching, where they both suggest that the filmmakers "did not take sides" and appeared to tell a story from "both points of view."

That may have been the desired methodology for the film, but it is not what the footage showed.

Chairman Cao (Cho Tak Wong) comes to the U.S., and the filmmakers were allowed to film his meetings with his employees - where the Chairman says one thing ("If they unionize I'll shut down the plant") and the translator says something more diplomatic "Chairman says he would prefer if unionizing was not part of the plant's future."  Their American counterparts (not bringing their own translators obviously) were left hearing mixed messages throughout the film.

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The Chairman

It reminded me of the time I was hired to write "The Adventures of Little Nemo" and prior my trip to Tokyo, the Producer asked for a brief meeting where I would outline the story. I pitched my story about how Nemo's dream state was part of his subconscious, and that what was happening in real life to him, played out in metaphors during his dreams, and after speaking for five minutes the translator said one sentence.  The producer frowned.  I looked at the translator. "Did you just tell him what I said?"  She shrugged. "Basically." The meeting was short, and my time on the film was shorter.

Translation is everything. There are amazing scenes of the Chinese supervisor telling his employees what he knows about American culture "They're lazy, they don't want to work beyond 8 hours, they talk all the time instead of working" and when he's speaking to the American workers in English, it's all about "finding their enthusiasm for the work!"  

The film has the Chinese employers showing "happy, singing children" videos to the American workers who grouse "What the hell am I doing looking at Chinese kids dancing for?"  Everything goes downhill - the workers are getting hurt and injured, they're earning minimum wage ($14 and hour and still are) in adverse conditions - 200 degree furnances that are delitirious to all the worker's health.

Then the film travels to China to learn those workers are forced to work 12 hour days, no time off - no overtime, six days a week.  It's grueling forced labor, and the workers do their best to seem like it's "getting them ahead."

But the most revealing part, for me, was the billionaire Chairman driving in a car alone, then going to the Imperial Palace in Beijing, lighting incense (for his relatives) and lamenting how he misses the old Beijing, the old China, where he could hear crickets and children laughing in street. He actually says "Am I the problem? I have many factories? Am I responsible for changing the planet?"

(Hint: "YES.  YOU ARE.")

Unfortunately no voice from heaven made that case, and the film shows the local union being voted down, and those who helped organize the union vote being fired or pushed out or being forced to do dangerous tasks to encourage them to vote. Then an administrator walks with Chairman Cao and points out that they're firing more workers and replacing them with robots as if that's a valuable thing.

The film ends with the title card that says the factory has earned profit since its opening and the workers are still being paid $14 an hour.

From Dayton Daily News
Fuyao's reaction to the film is to say that a scene was "mistranslated" where one of the Chinese bosses threatened anyone who tried to unionize.

Here's the great irony.

China is a country that adopted a political belief system that was supposed to honor workers. It comes from the actual phrase "Workers of the World Unite!" Marx and Engels weren't writing about how to make more leisure time - they were writing about the horrific conditions in England where children were dying in workhouses, dying in factories, dying to make someone somewhere a profit.

The entire country was built on that ideal - that workers should not be treated as objects, as pieces of glass easily discarded in different colored bins.  Yes, Chairman of Fuyao, you are responsible for doing this - but so is everyone who supports the system.  

The idea that someone (like me) would have to write about how the Communist Party has failed its workers is beyond ironic. The idea that the bottom line, or profit (whether to line a boss's pockets or the ruling elite) is no less heinous whoever is forcing people to live their lives in quiet desperation.

I think any reasonable person would agree that humans are not on the planet to be exploited. That lives are not expendable or should be dismissed.

Humans come to the planet to experience all the joy that living a life can bring.  Hard work comes with rewards - but there's no reason that people should be working 12 hour days, earning no benefits, free health care, a home with amenities or minimum wages so they don't see their children ever.  This is insanity.  This is the worst that humanity can offer.  

I'm not pointing (wagging) a finger at the Chinese government or at Fuyao - just pointing out that one doesn't have to be humiliated into change. 

When someone is successful, they can change the paradigm. There are companies that have made its employees equal partners, profit shareholders, and those companies see an increase in every area of its business. From profitability to genuine happiness about working for that company. There's no logical reason why people can't share the wealth, the profit, or the work of making a company grow.

There's no reason that Fuyao couldn't do the same - after all, the idea expressed repeatedly is that "American workers are too lazy" - which is a misrepresentation of history. American workers fought hard to get their rights, died in strikes, they fought hard to get benefits, they fought hard to get health care - and our government, our leaders, business leaders turn their eyes downward to avoid the obvious.  

At the end of his life, the Fuyao Chairman will not remember if he met the bottom line - he won't remember any of his wealth. He'll only remember those he gave love to, and those who loved him in return.  If work doesn't include the idea of "loving the people who work for you, or that you work with" then it's not work; its a form of slavery.

So while I appreciate the filmmakers thinking they've made a "non political film" and they just "turned on their cameras" - there is a higher power, a spiritual power that made sure that people could see what capitalism, even when run by Communists can do to destroy the human spirit, and destroy the planet while doing so. People think of scenes as "happy coincidences" when the truth is they have guides, teachers, helping them to decide where to point the camera, where to edit a scene, and how to present it. It may feel like a learned skill - but those of us in the film business know there's more to it than that.

It's time for a change.

Gee that sounds familiar.

If there's any silver lining, it was in the court system. According for Forbes, some workers at Fuyao fought back... and won. 

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Fired ‘American Factory’ Workers Successfully Fought Back by Lisette Voytko

Netflix’s documentary American Factory, released a month ago, raised big questions about labor law and how far companies can go to bust a union. It also prompted a much simpler question: What happened to the workers in the movie who were allegedly fired by the Chinese conglomerate Fuyao for organizing?

At least some of them pursued cases against Fuyao—and left with settlements. Jill Lamantia, who was featured prominently in the documentary, tells Forbes she settled a claim against Fuyao, filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and received three months of back pay, totaling about $15,000. According to Fuyao, Lamantia was one of three workers who were awarded a total of $120,000, including back pay, from Fuyao through NLRB settlements, according to documents unearthed by the Dayton Daily News that did not identify the workers. All alleged they were fired for supporting the union drive. 

Lamantia was relieved, saying, “I didn't know if the case would stick or not stick.” Fuyao, meanwhile, maintains it was not at fault, but that “it elected to settle the charges in 2018 so the Company could move forward with focusing on its business operations.”

But those cases offer a small glimpse into the aftermath of Fuyao’s efforts—and struggles, as documented by filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert—to revive a previously shuttered GM plant. The movie captures an inevitable culture clash between the Chinese company and its American workers, who attempt to form a union amid what certainly seem like trying conditions. In the middle of it all, Fuyao’s chairman, Cao Dewang, says during a visit to the Dayton, Ohio, plant: “If a union comes in, I am shutting down.” Then later, Jeff Liu, Fuyao’s U.S. president, is shown telling Dewang that “a lot” of union supporters were fired.

It’s illegal under U.S. law to threaten or fire employees for trying to form a union. Fuyao claimed the translations of Dewang was incorrect, while Liu called his translation misleading. The filmmakers stand by them. But the film, which is the first acquired by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, dropped at a moment when labor’s role in U.S. manufacturing has become a particularly hot, and fraught, topic."

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The irony I wanted to point out is that the film highlights the inequity of management and workers, not just China vs. America, but also delves into the "love of money" versus "love of planet." Worth seeing.  

And the one country that is in a unique position to focus on helping the "workers of the world to unite" (I've been across China from Shanghai to Beijing, Chengu to Hong Kong) would be a country that founded itself on those principles.  It's amazing to me that corporate giant General Motors turns out to be the one company in the film that demonstrated (after hard fought battles) genuine care for their workers (before they cast them into the snow.)

The tragedy of American worker's history is that management has found ways to diminish, demean dissenters, union organizers - (Lobbyist LRI in the film) convincing people that the union would hurt them rather than help them. 

The same logic tells us universal health care is a bad thing, or that the climate is not worth fixing. Sure; if you're never planning on coming back to the planet, it wouldn't be. If possible, could those people who are making worker's lives miserable or polluting the planet be asked not to return? 

I think I'll light some incense.


Happy Valentines Day from the Flipside

In terms of this research, I often find myself in the odd position of defending turning on the camera.  

"It’s easy - just lean forward, push the button.  Record. Transcribe. Compare what one person says to the other.  If it was imaginary, it would show up in terms of random thoughts, entrenched beliefs or cryptomnesia - something someone said or heard or believed to be true."

That is essentially what I've been doing for over ten years. 

Filming people accessing the flipside via deep hypnosis, via mediums, via no hypnosis - saying the same things about the journey that are contrary to whatever we've been told up til now. Proving to themselves at least, that their loved ones still exist.

What shows up in the research is consistent and reproducible - two hallmarks of science.  

My observations; At first it’s startling. 

Then a bit infuriating. (“Really? People have been making up this fear based stuff for millennia and no one called them out on it?”) 

Then humbling. (“Well, if all roads lead to home, then everyone’s on the same path, it’s just a matter of degree. So there’s no point in trying to change anyone's opinion on the topic.”) 

Sometimes revelatory. (“Many of us have had lifetimes on other planets, we should stop using the term “alien” because we’re all aliens.)  Who can you report this to?

I just came from a two hour session where I spoke to two individuals on the flipside via the medium and my pal Jennifer Shaffer. 

One person was/is a close friend who passed, whose last conversation with me was about there “being no afterlife.”  The second with a famous person who recently died who spoke fluent Italian.  

I conducted his interview in Italian.  

Jennifer doesn't know or speak Italian - so I said to her “I’m going to ask this fellow a question on the other side, and I want him to respond with an image, that you will say to me in English.”  

This was way outside her usual methodology - which would be for her to repeat (to herself) every question I ask “in English” to the person on the other side. 

But in this case, I’m asking the questions in Italian - a question that she had no idea what I’m asking and could not repeat. 

And then the person on the flipside puts an image into her mind, a response to my question and she responds by describing that image.

For example, I asked; “Have you reached out to your wife since your crossing over?  If so, how do you do that?”  ("Hai parlato con la tua moglie dopo sei morto? Come fa cosi?")

Jennifer Shaffer said (in English) “He’s showing me ice cream.”  I thought about it for a moment.  

I said to him in Italian, “Are you trying to show her ice  (giaccio) or ice cream (gelato)?”  (Quale' parola voi usare? Giaccio or gelato?"  She replied “He say’s it’s the first one you said.” (“Giacchio” means “ice.”)  I thought about that for a moment.

I then asked in Italian, “Are you telling Jennifer that you give your wife chills when you’re reaching out to her and that’s how she knows it’s you?” And before I could finish asking the question, Jennifer tapped her nose.  (Her gesture for "yes!")

“He’s saying that’s correct, whatever you just said.”

To reiterate, I'm interviewing a person on the flipside who was an American, but fluent in Italian, because he was raised there as a child, and he is responding to my questions by "projecting an image" to Jennifer (using an international language, “her mind”) and she is responding to me in English. 

(This fellow wasn’t an Italian, I just knew he was fluent in Italian, so I used it as an experiment to prove beyond any doubt, it was actually him.)

Jennifer had met and knew the person we were speaking with - but had no clue that he spoke Italian.  But I did. We had mutual friends, and he later told me some private information about those friends.

And we got about an hour interview with him in this same fashion. (To be in our next book "Backstage Pass to the Flipside Book 3")

He's not gone. Just not here.

The other person we chatted with today was a close pal who passed away recently after a long bout with cancer. He appeared at first as a famous guitar player to her (whom he resembled, and he did play guitar - we played often together.)  She at first said she was "seeing this famous guitar player."

When I asked him to come forward, I asked if this was the famous guitar player, or my friend who played guitar?" She asked "Well, did he look like this guy?"  He did.  He stepped into our interview chair.

I asked him to describe to her our last conversation together and she said “He’s telling me you are hard headed.”  I said “That’s correct; we had an argument where I argued that life goes on and he said “I’m not buying it.” I tried to tell him I wasn't "selling it" but citing the research.  He still was "unconvinced" there was an afterlife. I was hard headed by not letting him have his own opinion on something that he was fearing was going to happen to him. "He didn't want to think about it, so he didn't want to accede the point."

However, I asked him to give me something to say to his wife and family that would prove "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that it was him - that he still exists. He jokingly said he wasn’t going to give me anything specific other than “tell them I said thank you and I love you and will be with you forever.” 

I asked why and he finally admitted he wasn't going to give me anything specific because 1. they wouldn't believe it anyway, and 2. then he would be allowing me to “win the argument.”  

Which is pretty funny when you think about it.

I'm not reporting who these two people are at the moment, because it's not the right time to do so - neither family has had a chance to have a memorial service for their loved ones. Both were and are beloved by everyone who knew them, but it was fun to chat with them today and prove, at least to myself through the amazing medium Jennifer Shaffer, that these folks still exist.

Happy Valentine's Day. Love love.

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