Just before Labor Day, Gallup reported a plunge in public approval of unions to 48 percent, the lowest since they first asked the question in the 1930s. This is possibly a result of the blame some politicians and the media placed on unions for the collapse of the auto industry.
The results might look different if they had all first seen The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant. At least people would have to have hard hearts not to come away from this documentary of the closing of a huge truck plant near Dayton, Ohio, with deep empathy for the 2200 IUE-CWA union members who worked there.
The film by Steve Bognar (maker of Personal Belongings) and Julia Reichert (maker of Union Maids) is poignantly told through the voices — often cracking with sadness – of the workers as they lose not just jobs but a touchingly diverse “family” of co-workers. And it’s beautifully, lovingly photographed from the opening flag and snowy parking lots to the final good-bye waves.
It debuts on HBO today — Labor Day — at 9 p.m. EDT. A videoclip is here.
The Last Truck doesn’t analyze the auto industry crisis or deal in much detail with the union’s role, except to give workers an opportunity to explain why they weren’t overpaid – and didn’t make $72 an hour, as so many reports claimed.
Mostly through the faces and voices of workers it conveys how hard they worked, how much they cared about their work, what a difference a good union job made in their lives, and how they had bonded with each other.
They worry about their future, their children’s future, the country’s future without well-paid manufacturing jobs.
The film follows the last six months of the plant, intensifying the focus as time counts down to the last truck rolling off the assembly line shortly before Christmas last year.
“They’re closing our plant,” one worker says. “This is our plant. We don’t own it, but this is our plant.” Despite that feeling of ownership, he and fellow workers had no voice in the decisions that counted, even if the union did provide a voice on the job.
The Last Truck at least gives them, as they leave, a last voice. It’s worth hearing – and seeing.
David Moberg, a former senior editor of In These Times, was on staff with the magazine from when it began publishing in 1976 until his passing in July 2022. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy.