Author Topic: The steel mill -- a local history Part 4  (Read 575 times)

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Tom Rubillo

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The steel mill -- a local history Part 4
« on: March 26, 2022, 04:02:44 PM »
                                                                                                       The black and white of blue collars

    As previously pointed out, events at the steel mill occurred in the decade following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- in the days of "passive resistance" to racial segregation throughout America, not just in the South.  Violence broke out all across America in reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King.  It also erupted amid demonstrations against busing to integrate schools throughout the country from Boston to Los Angeles.   Changes in the law do not change what is in people's hearts, minds and souls.  Racism, sexism, religious bigotry, and the like -- hatred of anyone or anything perceived as different or threatening -- are hard to kill.  Like a deadly viruses, they are highly contagious.  The only preventive vaccine or curative antidote for them is a strong dose of the Golden Rule.

     During the late 1960's and early 1970's, prevailing social attitudes about race contributed to the reaction of some to the appearance of the United Steelworkers of America in town.  It has a long and proud history of promoting racial harmony and equality among workers without regard to race, religion, nationality, color or creed.  Its open arms approach carried through its organization efforts in Georgetown, upsetting the long-standing, deeply felt social norms and traditions that supported the advantages and preferences enjoyed by white males for the best paying jobs.  The union threatened those, at least among blue collar workers.  The union persisted nonetheless and was successful in its efforts.  It was, in large part, because it actively promoted serious cooperation between black and white blue collar workers.  That frightened many back then and still scares a few to this day.
     The major sign of success of unionization at the steel mill was, of course, the negotiation and ratification of a collective bargaining agreement.  It set out the terms and conditions of employment with reasonable clarity, along with the wages, hours and benefits to be received by workers for their efforts.  Any disputes were to be resolved by reference to this provisions of this "law of the shop."  It removed unbridled and arbitrary powers from the hands of management and replaced it with an orderly process for the peaceful resolution of differences.  By-in-large, this approach worked well over the years.  While there were a few interruptions or disruptions of operations over the years, they were almost exclusively related to renegotiation or renewal of expiring contracts.  Overall, and in fairness to both sides, the existence of organized labor at the steel mill had many more positive than negative effects there.  In truth, labor/management relations have grown more harmonious and cooperative than combative over the years at the mill.  As a direct result, the mill proved to be a profitable enterprise for both its owners and its workers for much of its existence.   Bottom line decline in its profitability in recent years -- something of a straight line fall -- has had a great deal more to do with the age and decreasing relative efficiency of its infrastructure than anything related to the cost or efforts of labor.  The more modern equipment and operations of local competitor Nucor Steel serves as proof of this point.  Nurcor's extends good wages and benefits extended workers.  Like those at Georgetown's steel mill, Nucor's employees work hard.  But the latter are driving a new car, not some old clunker.