Directed by Greg Spotts
Spotts’ documentary is about the toll that working Americans and the economy have suffered as a result of the NAFTA treaty and low-wage foreign competition. It is being released along with a companion book entitled CAFTA and Free Trade: What Every American Should Know just at the time that Congress is debating the CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) treaty, which would open up trade between the United States and El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.
It begins with a look at the textile industry. Spotts investigates the garment workers of Los Angeles, California and then crosses the country to visit the town of Kannapolis, North Carolina, which was economically devastated when the Pillowtex textile mill that supported the town was moved to China. One interviewee talks about perpetuating this downward spiral because they have no money, and since they have no money, they can only afford to buy items that are cheap, and all the cheap items are produced outside the U.S., so American companies have to leave to compete.
We see archival footage of the battle on the floor of Congress as Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and others warn of the problems that NAFTA could unleash and the need to protect American workers. Proponents of the bill argued that it would cause workers with lower skills to improve themselves and get higher paying jobs. Those arguments are quickly refuted when Spotts interviews IT people from Seattle and Florida who talk about their jobs being shipped overseas. It turns out their jobs weren’t safe either. One woman, who was making $75,000, talked about how she lost her job to an Indian worker who the company only paid $5,000. She sounded defeated as she pointed out that she couldn’t compete against 15 workers.
Spotts also looks at how the private company Boeing, once king of the airplane makers, is being overtaken in the marketplace by Airbus, a company owned by a European consortium that is subsidized by European governments. Also, Boeing is having the screws put to them because countries like Japan are only willing to buy planes on the condition that Boeing opens up manufacturing plants in their countries.
While it provides some interesting and enlightening information about past problems and current abuses of the system, it does so in a manner that is too matter of fact and feels more like reading a newspaper article. We don’t get any emotion out of the participants. There’s no outrage, no sadness. Instead everyone has resigned themselves to their circumstances. Since we travel many places covering many topics, we don’t spend enough time with any of the interviewees that would allow us to form any attachments.
I would have liked some interviews with CEOs of companies moving out of the country or members of Congress who supported NAFTA explaining their positions on why what is happening is a good thing. I doubt he could find anyone to appear on camera, but I don’t know that the effort was made. It would have provided some needed entertainment to see some suit running to his car or watching Spotts escorted out of a building.
American Jobs is an informative documentary, but it doesn’t pack the wallop that will get people motivated. He does a good job in presenting the story, but now that news and entertainment have collided, Spotts straightforward style might not keep people’s attention.
The documentary’s biggest flaw is that Spotts covers an issue that is even more serious than people losing their jobs. He travels to Juarez, Mexico to see where the effects of NAFTA were supposed to improve the area. Unfortunately, he finds that women who came to the city from small villages are disappearing and the authorities don’t seem to care. Spotts records a protest that is taking place that is trying to draw attention to these women’s plight. It’s hard to get worked up about some losing a job when you learn a large number of families are losing mothers, sisters, daughters and wives and the authorities are apathetic to the situation.