We are seeing the wanton gutting of the nation’s heavy industrial plant. This tragic waste of blue-collar jobs and working-class lives will not cease as long as we allow government to abet the sacrifice of production facilities to the momentary needs of private cash flow. Without greater social control of capital, horror stories like this one from South Chicago will become ever more commonplace.
Some 3,500 steelworkers in South Chicago (Chicago’s far South Side) were notified, as they collected their weekly paychecks last March 28, that their mill would close indefinitely that day. They were workers at the Wisconsin Steel Works, one of America’s oldest and most successful specialty steel-rolling mills. True, their mill had been sold by the International Harvester Company to an undercapitalized affiliated concern, Envirodyne, Inc., some months earlier. Yes, the long strike at Harvester had cut deeply into orders for bar stock, spring steel, and plowshares, but now the strike was settled. Although in need of some
modernization, the mill was sound. Hadn’t the federal government guaranteed the operation of Envirodyne’s managers with a $90 million loan, much of it still unspent? Why had the workers received no communication whatsoever that the plant might close “indefinitely” and that Envirodyne was filing for bankruptcy?
These were only a few of the questions that stunned workers asked themselves as they filed home to nearby mill neighborhoods that day.
Many of the steelworkers from Wisconsin Steel stopped in one or another of the popular taverns that line Torrence Avenue facing the length of the plant. The discussions continued long into the night over drinks bought with beer money from paychecks cashed by tavern owners like Rose
Alivojovic, or Tina Guel who owns the Juan and Tina Tavern. Other workers sped home to break the bad news to their families and to prepare for the customary shopping expeditions that night or the next morning. Their checks would be cashed by the supermarket tellers. Or would they?