Posted: 09/04/2009


The Last Truck—Closing of a GM Plant

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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The Last Truck—Closing of a GM Plant struck a chord with me, even though I’ve never worked in a factory. The reason for the documentary’s familiarity is that the closing of the Moraine Assembly Plant in Dayton, Ohio, seemed to tear the fabric of the entire town, as not only the GM plant closed, but for every job lost, the documentary noted, at least five or six more jobs around town were also lost, as suppliers, restaurants and other businesses either supported the GM plant or the workers there.
The documentary will air on HBO on Labor Day, Monday, September 7, and it’s poignant that it’s premiering on Labor Day, since the documentary marked the end of “labor” for thousands in that Ohio GM town.
During tear-filled interviews, employees revealed that most of them had neighbors who either worked at the plant or knew of others who worked at the plant or at businesses supported by the plant’s production line. Many interviewed had little education but many years tenure building a product that once was in such demand—big, long, road-hogging GM trucks.
As the documentary opens, the plant has about six weeks’ life left in it, with a scheduled closing date a couple days before Christmas in December 2008. One worker stated, “Merry F****** Christmas,” when asked his thoughts on the plant’s closing. Workers revealed the circumstances upon which they first came to work at the plant, many reciting the date on which they started work, as if reciting numbers off of military dog tags.
Women in their mid-40’s spoke of coming into the plant when they were in their early 20’s, and although they initially were unique in the workplace, they said they eventually earned the brotherhood and respect of their fellow male workers.
Most blamed GM management for “mismanagement,” even on the last day when they ran out of hinges, while making the last truck to roll off the assembly line. And this last truck seemed to bring more tears to the eyes of those who built it than it ever would bring joy to whatever customer that would eventually purchase it. Many expressed similar sentiments about what could have gone wrong and how could the plant just close after so many years.
The Moraine Assembly Plant was reportedly bigger than the U.S. Pentagon, and the factory itself ran about three-quarters of a mile in length. When the plant’s machines were shut down for the last time, one female worker likened it to a big animal taking its last, dying breath.
Afterward, reality set it, workers admitted, when they had to turn in their badges. They lamented that this meant they no longer held jobs which they had proudly executed.
The themes of brotherhood, sisterhood and family resonated throughout the documentary, as women hugged and kissed, while taking their tool boxes home, and grown men cried, while saying they never needed to express themselves in such an outward manner while they worked the assembly line, because they had each other—they were therapy and support for one another. Many wondered out loud just what they would do to jump start another career, and others pondered returning to school to ironically “re-tool,” even those with only high school diplomas.
The Last Truck—Closing of a GM Plant is directed and produced by Ohio natives Steve Bogner and Julia Reichert and will premiere on HBO Monday, September 7, at 9 p.m. Eastern. It’s part of the HBO thought-provoking documentary film series presented this summer.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.

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