Not in many years has television given the American viewing public an example of as impressive a documentary as Home Box Office did Monday evening with the airing of "The Last Truck: the Closing of a GM Factory."
It was absent the voice and presence of a prominent network anchorman or voice-over narrations by another reporter. It had none of the silly questions that permeate so much of contemporary television reporting. Moreover, it was not the kind of hit and miss reportage that has been so common on television during the economic downturn these past few years. Instead, it made room for the voices and faces of real people, the workers of the GM truck factory in Moraine, Ohio, who had given the best part of their lives to building and assembling American vehicles that were rolling off the production line for the last time. The death knell was to be sounded two days before Christmas 2008.
Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert headed the team of producers, directors, editors, cameramen and women who put their souls into making this hour-long film. It was not anger as much as disappointment and quiet bewilderment that they captured about the future lives of the men and women, whose own parents had assembled GM trucks before them. For these white and African American workers, this was not the kind of retirement they expected. Nonetheless, their pride in producing an American vehicle on its last day, was a compelling moment. They were proud of their membership in the United Auto Workers Union whose negotiations with GM ensured them decent salaries, benefits and pensions. Or so they thought.
The Last Truck was nothing less than a portrait of the nation"s work force under siege. If tears came to the eyes of some of the GM workers, it would have been difficult for people watching at home not to have shed a few tears as well, hearing and watching blue collar Americans describe the last painful weeks and hours of jobs they thought would never end. What was not remarkable to me, but may have been to most people sitting at home, was the sensitivity and clarity of the workers, none of whom had more than a high school education.
It was not surprising to me because over the years as a reporter I have interviewed countless working class Americans on automobile assembly lines or in the farm belt of the country. They have never failed to impress me with their native intelligence, but in saying farewell to each other, they displayed an uncommon bonding that crossed racial lines and showed a remarkable love for each other. That may not have been anticipated by journalists who grew up in urban America and approach stories like this with some pre-conceived notions about how working class people could or would express themselves in the worst as well as the best of times.