Film chronicles impact of shuttered GM plant

October 6, 2012
Film chronicles impact of shuttered GM plant
By DAVID SHEPARDSON / Detroit News Washington Bureau
An hourlong documentary airing Monday on PBS recounts the painful impact of General Motors’ decision to shutter its Janesville assembly plant in 2008 — a factory that became an issue in this year’s presidential campaign.

“As Janesville Goes” follows the Wisconsin community over three years after the Detroit automaker closed its oldest plant in North America. It will air at 10 p.m. in Metro Detroit on WTVS.

The documentary also recounts the bitter 2011 fight over the rights of public employees to collective bargaining and the failed effort to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

In August, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan — who represents Janesville in Congress — attacked President Barack Obama about the closed GM plant.

“I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he’ll keep that plant open,” Ryan said. “One more broken promise.”

Obama spoke at the Janesville plant in February 2008 and suggested a government partnership with automakers could keep the plant open, but made no explicit promise.

“I believe if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to retool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years,” Obama said.

The plant, which employed 2,400 workers when GM announced it would close, remains on standby.

The area also lost two Delphi Corp. parts plants, and Chrysler closed its nearby plant in Kenosha as part of its 2009 bankruptcy restructuring.

The film says nearly 11,000 people lost their jobs in the Janesville area when the GM plant closed, including an Alcoa factory that was a GM supplier.

But the film notes that Wisconsin as of July was ranked No. 41 among states in job creation.

Gayle Listenbee, who lost her job at Janesville Assembly after 24 years, accepted a job in Fort Wayne, Ind., at a GM assembly plant.

The film recounts how she left her children during the week to keep her job at GM.

“Are you going to say your prayers for me?” she tells her daughter over the phone from Indiana, during the film.

GM cooperated with the film and allowed cameras to watch her working in Fort Wayne.

“Janesvilleis a true microcosm ofAmerica; good people trying in different ways to solve their economic problems during polarizing times,” said filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein, who hopes the film provokes “dialogue that unites people across ideological and political boundaries, so they might rediscover all they have in common and work together to improve the economic health of their communities.”

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