American Factory

This Netflix documentary about a Chinese glass manufacturer Fuyao Glass opening up a factory in US is fascinating.  Aside from the “alternative translations” peppered throughout the documentary, it’s a socio-economic lesson about the various forces at work in a manufacturing setting.

To start, Fuyao took over an old GM manufacturing plant in Dayton, OH that closed during the great recession.  If you recall, the great recession hit the car industry pretty hard.  It forced car manufacturers to lay off workers which caused a ripple effect that affected many communities that supported the automotive industry (think tires, leather/tannery, carpeting, electronics, and other smaller car parts manufacturing) as well as the workers (think restaurants, hair salons, grocery stores, and places to spend discretionary income).  Unfortunately, many of these manufacturing sites were also located in the Midwest due to the close proximity to Detroit, MI.  After all, Detroit is the “car capital of the world.”  The situation was so dire that the US goverment did negotiated a deal to bailout the car makers.  If you’re interested in some more reading, try this link or this link.

But this documentary is fascinating to me because it tries to present this factory from both the Chinese management perspective and the American workers/middle management perspective.  If you strictly look at the two perspectives, there’s definitely a cultural clash between the Chinese and Americans.

There are a few scenes about the documentary that I thought was interesting to point out…

  • In one scene where the management workers were wondering if American’s can work overtime… and the room erupted in laughter.  I assume the assumption was that you couldn’t get the American’s to work overtime without more pay.  In China, the workers work 12 hours shifts and through the weekend.  Part of what makes China such an enticing place to set up manufacturing shop is the work “ethic” (I can’t think of a better word).  Given how pay is much lower than the average American pay, one can see why China has become the manufacturing country of the world.  What do you think will happen if the Chinese government starts mandating certain expectations of working hours and pay?  
  • A scene where an American worker commented how he saw a Chinese worker dump chemicals into the drain and acting as if the laws didn’t apply to them.
  • In another scene, a conversation between an American supervisor and a Chinese counterpart really highlighted another difference that working only 8 hours per shift is an ingrained work culture from. 
  • Finally someone had made a comment that the difference between American workers and Chinese workers was that American’s only care about the pay.  I don’t know if that’s true.  In China, many Chinese workers are leaving their homes and taking these manufacturing jobs because the pay and opportunities are better.  Many leave their families behind for this opportunity knowing that a better life comes from better pay.  Is that not a reason as to why Americans work?  They find jobs where they get better pay.  I don’t know if the Chinese manufacturing workers find their jobs any more meaningful than American manufacturing workers.  Furthermore, I think any worker will gravitate to jobs that pay more.  So I don’t think the comment is accurate.

This last scene however got me to think about how satisfying Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs is a factor that companies need to consider when it comes to employee satisfaction.  How you meet these needs is as important as what these needs are… because everyone has needs they need to be met.