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Silja j.a. Talvi
Silja j.a. Talvi
Stephen R. Shalom
Nonviolence Versus Capitalism
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Trajectory of Change
Jan knippers Black
Eleanor J. Bader
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The End of an Era
The blast furnaces loiter on the horizon in this grim steel town of East Chicago, Indiana. They are broken down, inert masses. They are hollow tributes to the bygone days when the American steel industry was strong and vigorous.
One more mill fell silent. The mill predates 1920. It housed operations for several steel companies over the years until LTV Steel entered in the 1980s. Last December, LTV Steel filed for bankruptcy. More than 2,500 employees, hourly workers, and managers will lose their jobs. The dislocation is attributable in part to imported steel, which has driven prices down.
Dave Raybuck worked as an iron worker at LTV Steels Indiana Harbor Works mill. His responsibilities included structural repair, burning, welding, and field installation. Raybuck, who has three children and seven grandchildren, is just one the casualties of the layoffs. He grew up in Pounxatamy, Pennsylvania. His father worked in the mills in Donora, Pennsylvania, until the blast furnace shut down in the early 1950s. Raybucks grandfather worked in the mines of North Central Pennsylvania, where he got his son a job in the mines. The family legacy continued when Dave Raybuck began serving as a welding instructor in the Army.
I got out of the Army and got a job driving a truck, Raybuck said. Youngstown Sheet & Tube was looking for journeymen welders.
Raybuck did not come up through an apprenticeship. Rather, he came in off the street as a welder. At the time of the layoffs, Raybuck had worked in the industry almost 27 years. He started with Youngstown Sheet & Tube. Shortly thereafter, the company became Youngstown Steel, which merged with J & L Steel. The company later merged with Republic to become LTV steel. Raybuck stayed with the company through its evolution.
I worked for five different companies in 27 years, explained Raybuck. I was a welder up until 1983 or 1984. Then, they combined us into iron workers.
Mariana Flores, likewise, has steel in his bones. He grew up in the shadows of the union hall in East Chicago, where his father worked for the power combustion department in the service end of the mill.
My father tried to talk me out of it [going to work for LTV], Flores said, adding with a chuckle that his father worked for Inland Steel. LTV was the little kid on the block. Inland was the big dog.
Flores, who has a wife and three kids, worked as a machinist for LTV. His responsibilities included making parts for different departments in the mill. Flores also served as a union representative. At the time of his layoff, Flores had worked for LTV for 27 and one half years.
Like Raybuck, Mike Street worked as an iron worker for LTV. He differs, however, in that his father was a pressman with the Chicago Tribune. His grandfather also had ink in his blood. He worked as a pressman with the Sun-Times. Street was born in Chicago. Then, his parents moved to Hammond. Street started in the steel industry at 19 years old. He had put in applications with Bethlehem Steel and Inland Steel.
Eventually, Youngstown Sheet & Tube hired Street.Everyone was hired back then, Street said. It was the Vietnam War. The prospects excited the young Street. He went to work at a rate of $2.98 per hour, which was big money then.
LTVs bankruptcy and the subsequent layoffs have created a pervasive uncertainty about health insurance, pensions, and other benefits.
The uncertainty is complicated by the grim reality that some of the workers who lost their jobs have worked very little outside of the steel industry. Many former LTV employees remain optimistic. They cling to the hope that another steel company will come and rehire many of LTVs former employees.
Right now, I am going to wait and see if they hire anyone back, said Street. I am going to look into being a boilermaker.
Former employees such as Street with 30 or more years experience may enjoy more security, since they are eligible for pensions. Others like Raybuck are more likely to feel the squeeze financially.
Most guys who have got 30 years wont have to scramble financially, said Raybuck. Guys like me with 27 years will have to scramble. I will have to work at something until Im 62
Flores, who studied manufacturing and engineering technology at Purdue-Calumet, already found success in making the transition. He has experience as an instructor. He also had a management position at one time. He parlayed the experience into a job as a substitute teacher.
I know I will survive, Flores said. I know my family will survive. Flores is concerned about his friends because many are unprepared for their current predicament. Former LTV employees will be forced to take pay cuts when they go elsewhere to seek jobs. Whereas an employee at LTV Steel might have earned $21 per hour plus good benefits, the same person may fetch $10 per hour at another job.
Mike Street shares many of the same concerns. He considers himself and his family among the fortunate, in that his house and vehicles are paid for. Now, he sets his sight on July of this summer, when his daughter will get married. Street knows his savings will evaporate with the expenses incurred for the wedding.
The hard times in East Chicago go back to the days when Youngstown and Pittsburgh encountered hardship in the face of steel industry troubles.
It [the lay offs] will be devastating, Raybuck said. I went through this down in Youngstown. It took five years for Youngstown to come back.
The results of the massive layoffs will be manifold. The real estate market will suffer, as many people leave the area. The value of property will decline. Businesses will go by the wayside. And, as the tax base shrinks, school districts will be impacted.
Obviously, the employees will be hit hard by the layoffs, said Joe Kosina, president of the Lake Shore Chamber of Commerce. But it will have a spiraling effect throughout the community.
East Chicago, Indiana is like many other cities in the rust belt. It must cope with a non-diverse job base. Now, all the indications of desperation blemish the landscape. Casinos and other outlets for gambling can be found throughout the communities of East Chicago, Gary, and Hammond. Many families will pick up the stakes and move elsewhere.
This area has been dying for a long time, explained Mariano Flores. And I think it just died a little more.
The manufacturing base in the U.S. continues to weaken, giving rise to questions about the makeup of the American economy in the future. It would seem that as the economy becomes more service based, the gap between the rich and poor will widen. The LTV closure, likewise, points to the end of a way of life.
I will miss the camaraderie of the guys I worked with. We spent more time in the mills than with our families, said Raybuck. It is like a big family. Many of us have been together for 27 years.
The layoffs are indicative of the larger problems that the American steel industry continues to face on the global landscape. Nearly 30,000 jobs disappeared in the past 16 months. Since late 1997, the number of domestic steel companies entering bankruptcy has exceeded 20. The decline is attributable to low-cost steel from the international market and, over the past year, to the recession. Furthermore, American steel companies are paying the health care costs of retirees.
Five of the nations biggest steel companies are considering a merger into a single corporation. U.S. Steel is outlining the developing U.S. merger plan. It would require the implementation of President Bushs three-part program, announced to manage the excessive imports of steel that have given rise to the depression of the U.S. steel market. Z
Joseph Hoff is a freelance writer based in Chicago. He has contributed to the Indian Star, Sailing World, and American Artist Watercolor magazine.