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Movie Review

“American Factory,” Netflix documentary by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, 110 minutes

General Motors leaves a lot of Dayton, Ohio, workers adrift when they shut down a big factory. In 2014, a Chinese company buys it and starts hiring. They bring in a number of their veteran workers to show the Americans how to manufacture automobile glass the Chinese way. The film makers follow the workers, both Chinese and American, and managers, both Chinese and American, around the workplace and during visits to China, and let them have their say.

The film was recommended by the AFL-CIO, but that doesn’t mean it’s a propaganda vehicle for our side. In an extra attachment, the two documentarians explain their lack of bias to Barack and Michelle Obama.

Even without editorializing from the film makers, there are some really hard-hitting scenes in the movie. One of the Americans explains how happy he is to get the new job, how affectionate he feels toward his new Chinese co-workers as he settles in, and then, later, how lost and miserable he is when he gets fired for causing a 3-second delay.

The Chinese and American workers try to figure each other out. The Autoworkers union tries to regain the membership they lost from General Motors (the organizing drive could have easily made a good separate movie). The American managers try to cope with the hard demands of the Chinese owners. Some quit, some get fired, and some get laid off as the factory becomes more and more efficient. At least one of the American managers is bitter about being dumped. Another one, speaking Mandarin and probably thinking it won’t get translated, shows himself to be far nastier toward the American workers than the Chinese ever tried to be.

In a trip to a Chinese factory, the American managers try to adjust to an entirely different culture and mentality. The always-neutral film makers just record it all without comment.

The Chinese workers were on 12-hour shifts and some of them were only able to see their families for a few days out of every year. They were amazingly efficient and fanatically hard-working. Nobody commented on it, but all of them were also quite young.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal page

Book Review: Woodward, Bob, “Fear. Trump in the White House.” Simon & Schuster, New York, 2018

Most of the people who can read already have a low opinion of Donald J Trump. What they find in Woodward’s careful documentation of White House conversations is not likely to change many opinions. It will confirm, and strongly confirm, those with the opinion that the President of the United States is a lazy, prevaricating, egomaniacal, loose pistol with one finger on his Twitter feed and the other on nuclear war.

The book extensively explains that Trump believes that power is fear. But I don’t think that’s the reason for the book’s title. I think Woodward is talking about the world’s fear for its own safety.

If one wanted to take Trump’s view of things, or if one yearned for the vacuous “neutrality” nonsense to which most journalists pretend, then one could credit Trump with being loyal to his original plan. In other words, he really is against free trade, globalization, immigrants, and foreign entanglements. If those ideas are twisted and spun well, a lot of Americans would agree with him on those fundamentals. In fact, a lot of Americans voted for him and will vote for him again.

The popular idea that any Democrat could beat Trump in 2020 is just as unreliable a belief as the 2016 national conviction, supported by scientific polling, that he didn’t stand a chance against Hillary Clinton. Nobody believed that Trump would take power, even though they had the clear precedent from Nazi Germany.

Understanding Is Needed

It is not enough to dislike Donald J Trump as we prepare for 2020. It is not enough to quote Bob Woodward from this book to convince people to look elsewhere for a president in 2020. If we are to make progress in the 2020 elections, we need to carefully explain what is happening and what must be done.

Certain truths need to be faced and understood. Begin with the clear fact that we are reaching the end of America’s economic dominance. The reasons for that dominance grew out of World War I and World War II. Those reasons are long gone. American continues to dominate the world militarily, but not economically. Donald Trump did not make that happen. He exploits it, but he didn’t make it happen.

Springing directly from America’s waning economic domination and continuing military domination is the growth of immigration numbers. After all, if the United States hadn’t created the Syrian military crisis, millions of people would have stayed home. In other countries, it may take two sentences instead of one to explain why families leave home, but the military and economic factors, both springing largely from the United States, are the root cause. Donald Trump exploits that situation, but he didn’t create it.

Hitler exploited the 25% unemployment rate in Germany and the failure of the social democrats to reform society. He didn’t create the misery, but he exploited it.

Speaking of Hitler and Trump, it is especially important to note that they had a lot more power afterward than they did when they were first elected. Hitler was eventually able to do away with the German legislature entirely. Trump hasn’t gone that far, but Trump and the Trump supporters have eroded the power of the legislative branch. Their control over the judiciary is even more obvious and more scary.

The Solution Goes Far Beyond Personalities

As 2020 draws near, progressive voters are asking, “Which Democrat has the best chance of beating Trump?” That question barely scratches the surface of what is needed. No one person, even a president, will change the underlying problems we face. The president that we elect, and all the down-ballot politicians that we elect, are going to have to contribute to actual solutions: organizing for fundamental change.

Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Artificial intelligence has a lot of people scared, but they’re looking the wrong way.

Humans is good TV

I love the way good futuristic science fiction can be used to illustrate current problems. Normally, they take just one trend in our current lives and push it to extremes. In the terrific TV series “Humans,” almost all middle-income Americans have at least one humanoid-looking robot doing all their grunt work. Virtually all basic industry uses them. But they discover a handful of them who have their own consciousness that matches, and excels, that of the humans.

Should we be scared? Well, most of the humans in the TV series are terrified. A lot of working people, in the TV series, didn’t like the robots to begin with because robots could do their jobs better and cheaper than they could. They really, super don’t like the ones that aren’t anybody’s slaves!

The series is really entertaining and thought provoking. But should we really be afraid of robots and artificial intelligence? I just found a nice article by Cori Crider, she wrote “The Big Picture, the World According to AI. She founded an organization called Foxglove that aims to make tech accountable. The article was Artificial Intelligence Reinforces Power and Privilege.”

I would guess that Crider is one of the people who want to break up Google and Facebook with anti-trust laws. It’s similar to the solution posed in the TV series: “kill the robots!”

Robots, or artificial intelligence, or automation, has been with us for a long time, and it’s true that lots of people fear it and would like to smash it like the Luddites of old. The trend isn’t going to lessen, it’s going to get stronger so that, more and more, the futuristic sci-fi on TV won’t seem so far away.

But it isn’t the machines that take our jobs. It isn’t the machines that want to replace us. Machines don’t have stomachs demanding food nor hormones demanding sex partners. Our problem is the the same one we’ve always had, it’s the bosses!

Even if we had humanoid robot servants with superior mental abilities, they would not threaten us. If we were in control, we’d just cut our working hours drastically and enjoy the better life that the robot servants could provide.

The problem is that we’re not in control. That’s the problem.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They pod-cast it on Itunes. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “Red Joan,” Directed by Trevor Nunn, 1 hour, 50 Minutes

What a relief it was to see “Red Joan” during its third, and probably last, week at the Magnolia in Dallas! So many movies lately are just blather! We had endured “A Long Days Journey Into Night,” then endured only the first few minutes of “Booksmart” and “Wine Country” — both exercises in idiocy, so my movie buddy and I were starting to feel that the movies are becoming hopeless.

Then we were rescued by Dame Judi Dench and her new movie about an 80-something woman in England who was arrested for having been a spy when she was a 20-something. An actress new to us, Sophie Cookson, gets most of the movie as the conflicted younger woman.

The title character makes it clear that pre-war England was quite different from modern times, and that’s one of the main strengths of the movie. As the younger character goes through a complicated love life, changing politics, and a role in the creation of the atomic bomb, the audience really does get an opportunity to stop and think.

One gets a chance to speculate on the personalities involved. One gets a chance to learn something and to be affected by something. Thank goodness!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio program, 89.3FM in Dallas, every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, see my personal web site.

TV review: “The Society,” Created by Christopher Keyser and streaming on Netflix

In Sci-Fi Drama, Young Women Run Things

We like “The Society” and hope it gets a 2nd season. You can recap season one on the Netflix Web Site. In a nutshell, the senior class of an affluent high school finds itself living in a new world with no parents, no anybody else, and no way out of their little town. How can they survive?

How Could It Be?

There is very little point in worrying about how this magic could possibly have happened. Sci-Fi TV series’ sometimes drag out the explanation over many seasons, and some of them never come up with it. I’ll propose my own just for the purpose of telling why I think the program is worthwhile.

I think that benign aliens from a superior planet have deliberately displaced this group just to see what they will do. The aliens might be trying to decide whether or not to help the earthlings, or maybe they are evaluating annihilation. Anyway, it’s an experiment.

That’s not a really unusual explanation. In “2001, a Space Odyssey,” for example, (the book, not the movie, heaven knows what the movie means) aliens are leading the earthlings forward over centuries of development. In “Star Trek,” the Vulcans have evaluated us and decided to help. In “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” the aliens are just giving us one last chance.

Watch and Learn

That brings me to why I think the series is worthwhile: we, you and I, are the aliens.We’re watching these yuppie teen-agers to see what humans will do when they collectively have to find a way to survive. Will they create Shangri-La or will they degenerate like the boys in “Lord of the Flies?” I love the former and hate the latter, just so you’ll know where I’m coming from.

It doesn’t take the more serious youngsters long to realize that they need some kind of governance. They inventory the non-perishable food available, they take note of their lack of medicines and medical expertise, they run head on into a number of social problems. Almost everybody is in love. Somebody gets pregnant, somebody else is a psychopath. I especially like that they added a psychopath into the mix, because no matter what positive steps the rest of them may take, he will never go along.

It is worthwhile to speculate about the very nature of humanity. Can we possibly put aside our more basic urges to strive for a real solution? Are we intelligent enough to recognize the need for collectivity? Will they survive like the English colonists at Jamestown, or disappear like the earlier ones at Roanoke?

So far, three potential teen leaders have come forward. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that all of them are female. Nothing else would make sense.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “Peterloo,” Written and Directed by Mike Leigh, 2 hours 23 minutes




How strikes were ended

The new British historical epic was released in Dallas on April 19. I imagine they would like to hope it would run until August 16, the 200th anniversary of the slaughter of hopeful worker activists around Manchester. The run time will almost certainly be disappointing, because movies with a solid political message seldom last longer than one week in our town.

My movie buddy and I went to see it because we knew that the writer/director was capable of saying very good things about working families. Nearly all movies are about the affluent or the artistic. We were certainly not disappointed with “Peterloo!”

Another great thing about Leigh is his ability to develop women characters. Even though history only names the men who organized the effort and the men who did the murdering, women must have been very important in the struggle for British reforms. They show up well in “Peterloo.”

Moviegoers who have no interest in improving the condition of humanity are probably going to think that this film is a tad too long, covers too many characters, and includes too many speeches. Those of us who want to learn from history in order to make a better future, a large group that almost certainly includes Mike Leigh, think it was too short.

In 1819, a reform movement was sweeping through the miserable lives of British manufacturing workers. The heroes in this story are the weavers, men and women, in Manchester. The setting alone is fascinating, because Frederich Engels, lifelong collaborator of Karl Marx, wrote his important literary work, “The Condition of the Working Class in England,” about these very Manchester families.

Leigh did not stint on spending for this film. Every frame rings with authenticity. The one or two short scenes of the great mechanical looms in the textile mill must have cost a small fortune. Every set, every costume, every sallow-complexioned worker, convinces us that we are actually watching what happened in that great historical worker upheaval.

Know your constituency

As a lesson in strategies, Peterloo is superb! Leigh establishes exactly what the workers must have been thinking in 1819, and he goes over every painful question they had to answer as they prepared to go on strike and carry out a massive demonstration involving over 60,000 people.

Every moviegoer already knows how successful they are going to be, as history doesn’t say “Peterloo” without saying “massacre.” Discerning activists will be watching to see what might have been done differently so that the workers might have found success. We also watch to see how we can refine our efforts today.

As the lower tactical level, it would be hard to fault the weavers. They did a wonderful job of convincing tens of thousands of exploited people to come together.

Know your enemies

But at the higher strategic level, they made a tragic mistake that all of us must learn and apply to today’s thinking: they were so caught up in their efforts to organize and unify themselves that they did not give proper consideration to their enemy. Class struggle isn’t one sided. There is another class on the other side, fighting against us, and they cannot be ignored. Most important, they cannot be underestimated.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “The Public” written, directed, and starring Emilio Estevez. 122 minutes



Estevez Does a Solid for Libraries and for homeless men

On a freezing cold night, a large group of homeless men organize a sit-in at the Cincinnati Public Library. The librarian who deals with them every day faces a quandary because he knows they may freeze to death if he helps throw them out. The police and the mayoral candidate don’t want to be seen as the bad guys.

My movie buddy and I thought the plot was a little bit unlikely, not because people don’t freeze to death every winter and not because keeping a library open might save them for at least one night; but because we don’t believe anybody today could organize that many homeless men. If the homeless were organized, they could get what they want and they wouldn’t be homeless. But we’re moviegoers, suspending credibility is our specialty!

We really liked the movie. We thought that libraries and libraries came out looking really good. We thought John Steinbeck, one of our favorite authors, and “Grapes of Wrath,” one of our favorite books, came out looking really good. I particularly liked the set design that included a big library sign with a picture of Poet Percy Shelley and one of my all-time favorite quotes:

“Rise like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number/Shake your chains to earth like dew/Which in sleep had fallen on you/Ye are many/they are few”

If you’re in favor of investigating the far-reaching problem of homelessness in America, you have to root for this movie. If you’re searching for a solution, maybe you won’t find it here, but at least you’ll be searching, and that’s a whole lot better than ignoring this gigantic American problem.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site