Friday, February 11, 2011

Aliquippa: Sports Works for a Few, But We Need Jobs for All

Steel Town Finds Unity and Hope on Football Field

Posted February 11, 2011 at 8:00 am, in From the News

NY Jets Darrelle Revis at Aliquippa High School

By Carl Davidson
Author and writer for Beaver County Blue Blog

via USW Blog

For those of you who haven’t seen the current issue of Sports Illustrated, with the feature on Aliquippa, do yourself a favor, buy it or find it online, and sit down for a long and rewarding read.

It’s titled “The Heart Of Football Beats In Aliquippa: Over five decades of economic decline and racial conflict, a Western Pennsylvania mill town has found unity and hope on the football field.” Thorough the lens of sports, it will tug at your heart with a much larger story of de-industrialization, race and class privilege, class struggle and unity–and it will do it up close and personal, in a way that every steelworker knows is true.

I was born nearby, in Hopewell, Pa. Actually, my family was there before there was an Aliquippa or even a Beaver County. Many of my folks worked in J&L; my grandfather was killed in that mill.

The Beaver County Times did a decent story on the SI piece, and it kicked up some discussion in the online responses. For some reason, whenever Aliquippa is mentioned in any of these online debates, all the racist attitudes come out from under their rocks. This time, a few guys said Aliquippa should simply be bulldozed; and since my Mom and her husband, a retired steelworker, still live on Franklin Ave., it got my dander up. Instead of nasty quips about bulldozing, I wrote in and told these guys to read the article, especially the part about the seven coaches who work for free, simply for the love of the kids, the game and the area. Take them as a role model–then you can be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The tragic sense of the article is that only a few escape to a better life through sports. We should be proud of them and those who helped them. But what about the rest? We have to be concerned about them, too. If we had the political unity and will, we could put every kid in Plan 11 to work in a decent Green Job cleaning the environment, winterizing public buildings, or working on things like Raccoon Creek State Park that was built by the WPA and the CCC in the Depression Era, an FDR project that’s still rewarding us all.

We have a decent shot at this if we combine the USW’s green industrial policy with Rep, John Conyer’s HR 5204 Full Employment Bill that starts where the need is greatest. That’s what Aliquippa and many other towns around here urgently need, and we don’t have any time to waste.


Carl Davidson, a retired computer technician, is a USW Associate Member now living in Aliquippa, Pa., his hometown, and the location of the former J&L Steel Mill, where many in his family worked and where his grandfather and a cousin died on the job. In Chicago, he served as a computer consultant for SEIU and several other unions, and was the editor of FIRR News for the Federation for Industrial Retention and Renewal during the campaigns against plant closings. In the 1960s, he was active in the civil rights movement, a national leader of student new left and the anti-Vietnam war movement. He worked on President Barack Obama’s first political campaign in Illinois, on his campaign for the U.S. Senate and for the presidency. Together with Jerry Harris, a former Chicago steelworker, he is author of CyberRadicalism: A New Left for a Global Age and editor of Solidarity Economy: Building Alternatives for People and Planet. He is the author and co-author of several other books and lectures on the topic of the Mondragon Cooperatives, a network of 120 worker-owned factories centered in Spain, and writes for the Beaver County Blue website.

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Tags: Aliquippa, Beaver County Times, de-industrialization, J&L Steel, Sports Illustrated, Steelworkers, USW

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