Howard Stern might not be everyone’s friend, but he’s got the point when he articulated in his radio show a decade ago that what was eating out this great nation was not racism but classicism. The recent unionization movements among service industry workers, such as Amazon and Starbucks, indicate that the demand for the dignity of workers supersedes ideological politics that discourage the growth of American esprit de corps. American Made is a story about this American class consciousness that will put together disintegrated tesserae of the collective national mosaic made by the people and events.
The author follows the three principal workers of the now-defunct Rexnord Factory in Indiana: Wally, a black man whose diligence and amiability promoted him to a coveted position in the factory; Shannon, a single white woman with an abusive partner taking pride herself in being a wielder, a male-dominated position, and John whose fortitude and conscience never left him during his long, turbulent unemployment days. Sex and race don’t matter when it comes to losing their jobs, let alone loving them because the importance of what they do for a living and the need for their livelihood are their commonalities that build a sense of camaraderie. In fact, class solidarity can never be achieved if class consciousness is transcendent of racial prejudice to be achieved first. Unfortunately, the antebellum wealthy southern plantation owners systematically destroyed the poor white laborers’ wage systems by replacing their workforce with the free labor of African slaves, thus planting the seeds of racial hatred in the hearts of the poor whites. The vicious cycle of devious racialized economic caste system has since firmly constituted the American economic system ethos under “Separated but Equal.” The author sees the absurdities of American society as a result of the disintegrated labor movements primarily due to racial prejudices, which is why worker’s solidarity is a way forward to achieve national unity.
Wally, Shannon, and John are not just working-class Americans. The author emphasizes differentiating her elite station characterized by expensive private higher education and intellectual “profession” from those with hardened coarse hands of workers in the factory. They are ordinary people, a majority of Americans making up this country, ubiquitous in the landscape of our daily life. They are expendable at the whims and caprice of profit-driven employers who see their employees as no more than living at-will automates. That is what happened to the Rexnord Factory, where workers’ lives were no less than collateral damage for a successful operational mission of the company.
At times, the author positions herself as a conscientious liberal intellectual, paralleling her fortunate environment with her unfortunate subjects. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard for being an NYT journalist. Nevertheless, the book succeeds in pointing out a lack of national cohesion resulting from the politicization of racial rhetorics into bipartisan ideology, which falls by the wayside of solidarity of labor movement overcoming institutionalized racial prejudices. Recently, I have read that the workers of Starbucks and Amazon in New York have voted to unionize. American Made is a story about them and us too because the dignity of work makes us who we are.