A Job at Fords

The Great Depression toke place from 1930 to 1939, it was a period where America saw grinding poverty and fabulous wealth side by side. The members of this nation were questioning if democracy could survive, and felt that a revolution may have occurred if President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not elected. The severe depression caused the people to come together and be responsible for their own destiny to make the nation work for them, through this they found that when the Great Depression had finally ended, they had made a new America.

The film, titled “A Job at Ford’s”, gave us a detailed look at the struggle placed on many workers in Detroit, who were employed by the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford was responsible for revolutionizing the assembly line in 1914, and mass-producing his line of automobiles, the Model-T. With this innovation came many job openings and Ford Plants were employing tens of thousands in the Detroit area alone. After the ‘roaring 20’s’ America became a nation of gadgets and hungry consumers, an attitude of prosperity that caused a high demand for the Ford model’s and allowed the Detroit plant to turn out over 6,000 cars a day.
With high profits Henry Ford was able to pay his workers a salary of $5 a day, it was obvious that all members of the market were benefiting. In 1927 Ford controlled the most important industry, in a then booming American Economy. Soon after, Herbert Hoover was elected to office in 1928 and the mood of the general public was one of optimism and confidence in the United States economy. In his acceptance speech Hoover proclaimed, “We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poorhouse is vanishing from among us” (American History 102, http://us.history.html). We know now that the period to follow would be the complete opposite of the expectations held by the American people.

To meet the demands placed on Ford, the company began to speed up the assembly line and lower the quality of the workers life. They were soon paid less then Chrysler and GM workers and saw themselves as machines performing the same repetitive task each day, causing them to eventually hate their job. They felt that there was no industrial democracy, and they were prohibited to talk, whistle, or conduct any discussion of the possibilities of labor unions while on the job. Soon it was realized that although Ford had blazed a trail of breathtaking change, Chevy was now performing on the same level and had caught Ford by surprise. This caused over 40,000 Ford workers to be laid off, and as a result the Michigan economy shuttered, with the effects being felt even as far as Wall Street.

The Ford Motor Company decided to revamp their line, to surge ahead in a now competitive market, with the release of their Model-A. This came as a huge success, and brought about great consumer spending in the product. Americans began buying new items above their means, such as new cars, stocks, and bonds, all purchased on easy credit. With this explosion in credit transactions America had unknowingly slipped into the Great Depression. The stock market crash that occurred in 1929 did not start the Great Depression, but it did send a fearful message that the boom of the economy was now turning into a bust. Soon after many layoffs started and the economy began to collapse. Michigan now faced a staggering unemployment rate of 20%, which was the highest in America, a number that quickly grew as high as 50%. While the number of welfare recipients skyrocketed Henry Ford still managed to earn a $30 million salary in 1930. Salary wages for those still employed fell to $4 and hour and one third of the countries Ford Dealerships closed. Finally in 1931 the Detroit auto plant shut down and stopped making cars, and another 60,000 former workers were out of a job. President Hoover tried to resolve the problem by committing billions to restricting the economy, giving loans for business and state public work projects, in hopes that the money at the top would stimulate jobs at the bottom. Unfortunately these attempts failed because the problem was simply overproduction and under consumption, both contributing to a stagnant economy.

On March 7, 1932, three thousand men and women marched to the Ford Plant with ideas of communism to fix the problem. The demonstrators had conflicts with police and the situation quickly became hostile. Shots were fired and in the end four were dead and several were wounded. The people were tired and hungry and had no other solution to the problem. At the conclusion of the film it stated that in the end there were hungry Americans fighting Federal Troops in the streets of Washington D.C., Franklin Roosevelt was running for President and the worst year of the Great Depression had only begun.

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