New Movie Highlights Labor Issues

Friday, 13 Sep 2013 11:32 AM

By Robert Feinberg

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Another in the series of programs on the theme of Labor Day and the condition of the industrial economy was presented by C-SPAN on Sept. 3 when Steve Scully interviewed Nathaniel Thomas McGill and Vincent Vittorio, both of whom are producer and director of the movie appropriately named "American Made Movie."

These moviemakers presented a more upbeat view of the future of the industrial enterprise in America. A cynic would suspect that this means they are probably wrong. However, it's a viewpoint worth considering as part of the debate over so-called "industrial policy," in which the federal government has played a dominant role since the Great Depression and the New Deal.

The guests began by stressing that there were still 5.5 million manufacturing jobs in the United States in 2000.

Scully got right to the point and asked what the message is. McGill responded that they believe the movie has the power to change the country, because it's not based on the views of left or right, but rather it's about "the relationship that all Americans have to manufacturing, whether they realize it or not."

Vittorio added that the movie company focuses on non-fiction cinema that treats relevant topics that need to be brought to the attention of the public, to let people know that "there's a brighter day ahead."

McGill said the pair was surprised at how much manufacturing is still going on. He cited New Balance, a shoe company in Skowhegan, Maine, as a prospering company that is creating healthy spillover effects for its community, which he contrasted to Detroit, the poster child for a failed industrial economy.

Scully asked the guests to talk about the course of the industrial economy post-World War II.

McGill pointed out that the United States then accounted for 50 percent of the world's industrial production. Then he asked, "Why didn't anyone think to make a plan?" (Of course, this assumes that someone should be in charge of planning the economy, and idea that took hold under FDR's New Deal "brain trust.")

Scully posted statistics showing that 12 million Americans were employed in manufacturing in 2011, earning an average salary of $73,000, and that manufacturing accounted for 43 percent of U.S. exports. (It should be noted that exports account for 23 percent of GDP, so the overall share of the economy is less than the 43 percent number itself might suggest.)

McGill reacted to the statistics by suggesting that there is a "skills gap" between the skills of applicants and the skills needed to earn the salaries cited. Workers in the modern industrial economy will operate more complicated machinery in smaller plants than those under the old model did, but even 50-employee plants are valuable to communities.

Scully noted that 77 percent of GM manufacturing is conducted overseas, to which McGill responded that the Korean auto company KIA makes cars in Georgia.

Vittorio added, "At the end of the day, there are still a lot of goods available within people's budgets." McGill mentioned Wal-Mart, Apple and Motorola as companies that conduct their procurement primarily overseas, but are committing to locate some of it in the United States.

A caller raised the issue that is now being promoted by labor of raising the minimum wage to $15, and McGill in turn questioned whether consumers would buy the products.

Another caller expressed opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but McGill sees opportunities as well as objections created by the NAFTA regime.

He concluded (this time expressing a conservative view) that at the end of the day, consumers, not Washington, should determine the direction of the U.S. economy.

The guests stressed that they both come from families with manufacturing backgrounds, and this is their main motivation for spreading the message that manufacturing can succeed in America.

The movie's website is here.

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