My Blog

10.05 20130

“With These Hands”

By: Renee Categories:Buzzworthy, The Hive

As I travel, looking for new furniture and new design ideas, I meet a lot of interesting people and learn about so many things. On one of my trips, I met someone who suggested I watch a documentary, With These Hands: The Story of an American Furniture Factory. Here’s the trailer for the documentary by the Unheard Voices Project:

With These Hands is the story of the rise and fall of a furniture factory in Martinsville, Virginia. As you watch the documentary, you get to hear from the son of the founder of Hooker Furniture, Clyde Hooker. This retired CEO tells how he was there to blow the whistle on the first day. Workers tell of the great pride they took in their work, how this was the type of job that you couldn’t train for by reading a book. Hands-on learning was necessary, and the skill was handed down from mentor to worker over a period of 82 years.

When the factory in Martinsville shut down, 280 workers lost their jobs. These were people who loved their work, took great pride in their workmanship, and truly were unprepared when the doors closed. The documentary discusses the changing economy and the difficulties competing with imported goods. They had been growing and booming and opening new factories in the late 1990s, but in a very short time period everything changed. The Hooker Furniture company was shutting its last wood furniture factory down by 2006.

The last decade has been hard on manufacturing jobs, and the furniture industry has been no exception.  Labor from skilled workers in the United States can cost a company so much more than outsourcing. WalMart, in particular, has driven the demand for cheaper and cheaper materials, and everyone has to struggle to compete. Many of these manufacturers simply cannot stay open, because Americans won’t buy the domestic product due to the higher cost.

At one point, Clyde Hooker laments that the company has changed fundamentally from a furniture making business to a marketing company. The fact that the furniture is no longer built by the people of Martinsville, VA reflects the changing times. The story of the Martinsville factory has played out over and over through the county in the past decade.

The full movie can be seen at FolkStreams, and I recommend you watch it when you have an hour and a half to spare. It’s an interesting look into the hearts and lives of the people who are being displaced by the changing economy. The amazing thing about the film is the optimism and goodwill these workers had, even after losing their jobs. Yes, they were discouraged, but they held no resentment towards the company. They understood the situation, and were sad to see their close-knit family break up, but in the end, the message is an inspiration. These people still have hope and determination.

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