By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On
My home town of Aliquippa once hosted one of the largest steel mills in the world. Now, after the shutdowns and job exporting of the 1980s, it has one of the largest ‘brownfields’ in the world. That’s seven miles of highly polluted empty land along the Ohio, It’s hard even for weeds to grow there.
So Aliquippa had the good luck Dec 24, Christmas Eve, to be on the receiving end of a $3 million grant from the state to help clean it up, in order to prepare for new industry. Most people praised our Mayor, Dwan Walker, for helping it along. But not some, such as one letter-writer in our local paper who asserted that retirees of the ‘greedy union’ should clean it up, since they made the mess and ‘profited’ from it.
The notion of ‘greedy unions’ tells us all we need to know about this guy.
The workers at this steel mill and others earned every cent they got, and then produced the profits for the bosses as well. Where do you think wealth comes from? And some paid a heavier price—I had a grandfather and a cousin killed there.
In the last days, the union, nearly to a fault, made every concession it could to keep the mill open. But the owners decided they wanted to gamble in oil futures instead. ‘I’m in business to make money, not steel’ was the famous boss quote of the day.
That tells you the nature of finance capital vs. productive capital. They ‘make money’ but they do not make wealth. Same as the folks who own casinos and race tracks. They make money, but no real wealth.
Cleaning up this ‘brownfield’ creates infrastructure that can attract some productive capital—and labor along with it—to make new wealth.
Whether workers are hired locally and get a decent wage and a union is a point of struggle. We’ve always had to organize and fight to get anything. Otherwise, we’d still be working for slave masters or bowing down on our knees to Kings, Queens and the Lords on the Manor.
The workers did indeed see the land being poisoned, and most supported the EPA rules against it. It was the owners who exported mills to Brazil and others places without EPAs.
Why do you think the frackers are afraid of union labor? Because union members have the backing and the backbone to report on toxic spills. Why are they afraid of local labor? Because the families of local workers live here too, and they also thus have good reason to oppose toxic dumping.
But perhaps our ‘greedy union’ critic is right in a backhanded way. It may very well be that we can’t have capitalism along with jobs for all, a living wage and a healthy environment—not because it can’t be done theoretically, but out of sheer greed and stupidity. If so, I thank him for making my case for moving to socialism of the 21st century.