PBS Great Depression Series, #1
Producer: WGBH, Boston
Narrator: Joe Morton
The first film in the WGBH Great Depression Series, this documentary uses the rise of the Ford system of manufacturing and workplace control as a prism into the onset of the socioeconomic cataclysm by the end of the 1920s known as the Great Depression. Stocked with oral histories with workers, managers, and working-class families, as well as archival film footage, it analyzes the ways in which the automobile, as a product of labor and a catalyst for deep transformations in American society, dominated American life and dictated its economic fortunes. Cars offered far greater access to travel and cultural experiences, especially for women and rural residents, than ever before. Auto work also attracted migrants from across the country, as well as from Mexico, to manufacturing centers in Detroit and the industrial North. Crucially, “A Job at Ford’s” illustrates the repressive labor-relations system that governed not only the workplace environment of auto workers, but also the daily lives of their families in order to ensure compliance with Henry Ford’s desires for social control. Additionally, the film devotes ample time to Ford’s anti-Semitic, racist beliefs, to the worsening conditions of the Depressions, the struggles of everyday people to survive largely without the direct help of the federal government, and the community-based efforts of political radicals and neighborhood groups to respond to the crises. Culminating with the Ford Hunger March in which Ford security guards killed four marchers and wounded over sixty others, the film conveys violence as not only a real threat to organizing at this time, but also a thread through, and force mitigating, working-class daily life in the early twentieth century.