from the pages of../


Book Review

 

Can Workers Have A Voice?: The Politics of Deindustrialization in Pittsburgh

By Dale Hathaway

Review by Immanuel Ness

 

That organized labor could do little more than issue blustery denunciations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) illustrates its token position representing worker rights. While debate around NAFTA signifies the AFL-CIO's lost leverage in mandating jobs and job quality in the American work place, the inability to run an effective political struggle resulted in no change of public opinion through political action. Organized labor's designation as a special interest throughout the public campaign is the final rub of its failure to protect jobs from corporate assault.

As organized labor contemplates the wreckage of NAFTA, some trade union leaders privately acknowledge that the fight to protect union jobs was actually lost two decades ago. This occurred when organized labor failed to defend industrial jobs in the face of corporate divestment. NAFTA supporters estimate that only 145,000 jobs will be lost as a consequence of NAFTA. Many of these will be trade union jobs, but these anticipated losses are a fraction of the 1,287,000 job losses produced by mass layoffs in 1983 alone and the 1.6 million manufacturing jobs lost since 1989, when a dormant labor movement did not seriously respond to corporate policies of deindustrialization,

The AFL-CIO asserts that unionized workers in the U S. are competitive with foreign producers. However, many union jobs were lost during the 1980s when corporate operations were moved to other countries where labor costs were lower. It remains a moot point that American workers are relatively competitive with many of their higher paid counterparts, since manufacturing jobs have virtually vanished. This is in stark contrast with countries such as Germany, where industrial jobs with livable wages, have been maintained. Trade unions must bear a share of accountability in the disappearance of U.S. manufacturing jobs. Employment in the steel industry declined from more than 570,000 in 1953 to less than 200,000 in 1987--over 150,000 of these jobs were lost between 1979 and 1982

NAFTA serves to institutionalize and legitimize the massive destruction of U.S. manufacturing jobs that has been on-going for the past 20 years. What kind of resistance was waged by steel workers, auto workers and electrical workers who lost their jobs during the last two decades? Did labor organizations understand and respond to these challenges? A microcosm of this story is examined in Dale Hathaway's study of deindustrialization in Pittsburgh in the 1980s. During this decade nearly 50 percent of steel workers along the Monongahela River Valley lost their jobs.

As an industrial area, Pittsburgh lost 30,000 direct steel manufacturing jobs due to layoffs and plant closures. Thousands of these displaced workers faced long periods of unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs. Fifteen percent of homeowners in the Pittsburgh region fell behind in mortgage payments.

Today, the steel industries that made Pittsburgh a thriving economic center have all but disappeared. Vast steel mills that once littered the expanse of the Monongahela River Valley have been bulldozed or become hulking artifacts of a decade ago.

Hathaway examines three grass roots movements that arose in response to the corporate restructuring of the Pittsburgh economy in the 1980s. Resistance to conversion from a manufacturing-based economy to a service economy was posed by the Denominational Ministerial Strategy (DMS), the Tri-State Conference on Steel and the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee. Overall, the strategies and goals of these groups differed in intensity, political style and vision, but served to expose the role of corporate and government complicity in dismantling working class communities in the Monongahela River Valley. While these groups were successful in uncovering damaging and worker-irresponsible policies of corporations, they were ill-equipped and under-funded to sustain an active campaign of community awareness and resistance in the face of monetary resources and government and developmental allies available to corporations.

 

Denominational Ministerial Strategy

The Denominational Ministerial Strategy (DMS), an organization directed by Lutheran pastors initiated the most militant campaign against deindustrialization, in Hathaway's analysis. The DMS's approach was to expose corporate immorality through financial research into decisions that fostered steel mill closures and layoffs in the Pittsburgh region. Plant closures and high unemployment are customarily seen by the public as consequences of ill defined market forces that are nebulous and beyond the scope of intervention, however, DMS research revealed that investment decisions by U.S. Steel, Mellon Bank and other area corporations contributed directly to regional unemployment. The basis for these decisions was to maximize investment profits. DMS attempted to mobilize public support against corporations which traded unemployment for higher earnings on their investments. Data on corporate disinvestment in the community was disseminated to the public through acts of civil disobedience that exposed "corporate evil" and the immorality of investment decisions Typically DMS activists would disrupt bank business and interfere with church services. One activist put rotting fish in a Mellon safe deposit box. Activists publicly interfered with church sermons to condemn Mellon Bank and U.S. Steel executives of the social and moral cost of their greed.

While these actions were public embarrassments to the corporations, Hathaway concludes that they were able to counter these attacks financially through control over charitable contributions. Rather than directly responding to church leaders and possibly jeopardizing community standing, corporate leaders used financial leverage against DMS activists. Ultimately, threats of withholding much needed charitable contributions forced the Lutheran Church to censure and defrock pastors who publicly exposed local corporations, leading to diminished influence of the DMS on direct public opinion. It is questionable, however, how much of a force the DMS was since it may have been politically marginalized by the lack of a base of popular support among workers Moreover, the religious leadership of DMS appeared more bent on its own martyrdom through exposing corporate iniquity than actually plotting strategy toward any specific goal.

 

Tri-State Conference on Steel

The Tri-State Conference on Steel was established with the specific goal of saving steel jobs in the Pittsburgh and Youngstown region. Tri-State membership included labor, church and community leaders, and arose as a practical grass roots solution to the problem of increasing unemployment. Using methods based on a conflict resolution model of communication and responsible business-community partnerships, Tri-State hoped to counter deindustrialization by getting corporations to reinvest profits in existing mills and consulting unions and communities affected by partial or full plant closures before the layoffs took place. The Tri-State plan would make steel companies that closed mills be responsible for paying both "social and human costs of their actions." Hathaway describes various strategies used by Tri-State to resuscitate the steel industry. However most involved efforts beyond the means of this organization. Finding government bodies willing to cooperate and help raise funds to purchase property proved overwhelming, as did the formidable task of enacting Western European style labor policy that compel corporations to take social responsibility for actions that harmed workers. In the final analysis, Tri-State did not have the resources or ability to raise capital needed to take over steel mills and get them running again. Absent in the intent of TriState was a broader examination of the compatibility of the steel industry with socially responsible business.

A by-product of Tri-State was creation of the Steel Valley Authority (SVA), which tried to revitalize the steel industry and create jobs in the region. The SVA was effective in convincing the public of the merits of eminent domain, but fell short of actualization due to lack of funds to purchase and operate steel mills. Some jobs were saved, but the SVA lacked the resources to realize the ambitious goal of retaining thousands of steel jobs through declaration of eminent domain. While Tri-State and SVA could demonstrate the worthiness of these goals to the public, their inability to realize these goals is two-fold. Grass roots, community-based groups of laborers do not have access to the quantity of resources needed to fund heavy capital-based industry, nor do they possess the ideology that fosters cooperation and reliance on shared resources.

 

Mon Valley Unemployed Committee

The third group profiled by Hathaway is the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee (MVUC), a group unlike both DMS and Tri-State in composition and leadership. While the shortcomings of both DMS and Tri-State center around the lack of defined goals and a lack of capital resources, both groups were also deficient in labor-based support. Both groups were manifestations of a "liberal," service oriented approach to the employment crisis created by corporate disinvestment in the Pittsburgh area. The MVUC stands in stark contrast. The Mon Valley Unemployed Steelworker Committee was formed in 1980 by a core group of steel worker activists who urged union locals to form unemployed committees in response to huge layoffs by U.S. Steel. The primary goal of the Mon Valley activists was extension of unemployment benefits and trade readjustment (TRA) benefits to jobless workers. In May 1982 MVUC brought 2,500 unemployed steel workers to march in downtown Pittsburgh. Their demands included extending unemployment compensation until jobs were found, a freeze on all rent payments and an end to termination of utility services and mortgage foreclosures until the industry recovered. MVUC actions paid off and as a result an extension of federal unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 65 weeks was obtained and authorities were persuaded to issue a "temporary moratorium" on mortgage foreclosures of owner-occupied homes.

Unfortunately this success engendered animosity from other activist groups, and DMS and others charged MVUC with defusing worker militancy by diverting attention from local corporations through emphasizing government benefits. This action was seen as minimizing local corporate responsibility for the huge numbers of unemployed in the first place. In addition, critics asserted that local corporations contributed to MVUC programs that assisted in "helping workers cope with--not resist--unemployment."

Hathaway portrays MVUC as the "least-radical" of the three organizations, having modest goals directed at government and not corporations. The defining part of these "modest" goals was "to change government and company policies to recognize that everyone has a right to work and survival income between their jobs." It is unclear as to why demands for unlimited unemployment benefits and an end to mortgage foreclosures were somehow less militant than DMS or Tri-State activities. It is left to the reader to conclude that the accomplishments of MVUC are less radical because they did not seek control of corporate investment strategy or actual steel mills

According to Hathaway, MVUC was "bought off" and he concludes that much of its power as a threat to the establishment was lost by the mid-1980s. MVUC could no longer pose a threat because it had been coopted by corporate authority. But this is exactly the point. Corporations sought control of MVUC precisely because of its success in mobilizing and activating workers. Corporations might have been oblivious to MVUC had there been no threat. Rarely in other instances of high unemployment have corporations been so charitable with organized groups of unemployed workers. In contrast "do-gooder" and "expose" groups like DMS and Tri-State, lacking broad-based public support and focused goals, had little to no power in the national political arena and consequently were not a threat to multinational corporations.

Aside from the plausible argument that MVUC was influenced by corporate leaders, it is necessary to examine what is possible in political struggle to alter the balance of power between labor and capital. It can be argued that MVUC succeeded in establishing a more humane framework by gaining such "victories" as suspension of mortgage foreclosures. While DMS and Tri-State attempted to confront corporate decisions directly, the strategy was not borne of a membership directly affected by those decisions (wholesale removal of the steel industry from the Monongahela River Valley). MVUC ultimately lost support among membership once it shifted away from militant action, thereby subjecting it to the same criticism leveled against DMS and Tri-State for actions which did not reflect members input and concerns.

Using John Gaventa's framework of worker resistance in Appalachia, Hathaway argues that working class challenges to corporate power failed due to the corporate control over three farreaching and overlapping dimensions of power. The first dimension of power permits corporations to use their more extensive economic and political resources to maximize profits at the expense of workers (or allows corporations to use workers like inanimate resources). The second dimension marginalizes input from the workforce regarding job security and working conditions as "socialist" or "radical," and consequently allows corporate elites to prevail through "nondecisions" around the issues raised by the "radical socialist insurgency." The third dimension gives control over the ideological terrain through public perception of the worker, corporate relationship via manipulation of media, education, and social and cultural discourse.

Hathaway perceives power in Pittsburgh to be unequally distributed between insiders and outsiders. Insiders are corporate and political elite who wield systematic power over workers and communities. Outsiders are seen as inescapably peripheral players by virtue of inadequate economic and political resources. Outsiders are simply incapable of challenging corporate power and are, therefore, taken seriously by corporate leaders or the public. Labor union leaders, lower ranking political officials, media and academics hold the mid-range of power according to this hierarchy and are disinclined to contest corporate hegemony. Accordingly, they share the philosophy of corporations--monetary profit as "bottom line." Since power is defined through this hierarchy, any form of self-determination by workers is seen as insurgency. In this system, corporate elites monopolize power, and workers and community outsiders are preordained to fail. This framework provides few viable methods for worker input, since it is seen as challenging the hierarchy from below. In a quite real sense, due to inequity in the distribution of physical resources, outsider challenges are doomed to failure in all three dimensions of power relations. What seems to be lacking in Hathaway's evaluation is an appreciation for the achievement of the activist organizations. While contests for control over community resources ultimately failed due to the power hierarchy in place and consequent unequal distribution of resources, they nonetheless served to increase public awareness of problems with the system, posed obstacles and irritants to power holders--all in all quite laudable goals.

 

Conclusion

While Hathaway provides an engaging story of resistance to corporate dismantling of Pittsburgh's steel industry, his account leaves little room for challenges, as each activist group is doomed to failure before they take action. While Hathaway feels DMS took the most militant strategy, in terms of progressive radicalism resulting in real life change in the employment community vis-a-vis jobs, this approach may have resulted more in public awareness and education than in concrete victories. Conversely, the tangible achievements of MVUC in responding to the real needs of the unemployed are depreciated. By the early 1980s unemployment benefits were at their peak, decreasing significantly during the rest of the decade. Certainly the millions of unemployed workers who exhausted their benefits during the 1980s and early 1990s without finding jobs would not minimize the importance of extended benefits.

The importance of organized labor is strangely absent from Hathaway's documentation and analysis. How labor responded to the crisis in the steel industry in Pittsburgh in the 1980s tells a story of past accommodations to the wishes of multinational corporations and foretells an ominous future of concessions. It is significant that the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) did not play a major role in challenging corporate disinvestment in the Monongahela Valley. A question that needs to be addressed is why the USWA was more active in defusing worker uprisings than in organizing rank and file resistance. Mounting an effective strategy to counter corporate deindustrialization required concerted action directed at job security--a task that was pursued by activists while being all but ignored by trade unions.

 

The Hot Zone

By Richard Preston

Review by Steve Eckardt

Today viruses of unprecedented virulence are poised to wipe out all human life.

That's the staggering message of this exquisitely-written, exhaustively-researched work by Richard Preston.

Forget Stephen King or Clive Barker; forget the pseudo-scientific doomsayings of the neo-Malthusian Limits to Growth crowd--this is the real thing. The Hot Zone is the most frightening work you have ever read. For this is no crackpot sensationalism. Preston is an award-winning science writer essentially just reporting facts--and his work has already passed muster at the fastidious <I>New Yorker,<D>where a shorter version first appeared.

Truth is, there have already been dozens of super-pathogenic outbreaks--including several in the United States--that were contained essentially by freakish luck. Of course that's not to mention one of the viruses--the slow-acting HIV--which, though early in its spread, has yet become the world's second most cause of loss of life.

And it gets worse: there's not just a couple of viral mega-killers, but dozens of them. That number's almost certain to grow, because the conditions creating them are spreading like deforestation's daily 144,000 acres.

But the most compelling part is missing from this book, for even while Preston sounds the tocsin, he is yet constrained by traditional politics, and so never delivers the final--and worst--part of the news.

And that information (we'll get to it) is why the critically-important emergence of super-pathogens, along with the real causes of HIV and its relatives, has virtually escaped public notice.

Instead, an uninformed public is transfixed by AIDS--itself unexplained--and is driven to seek answers outside the natural sphere. Rightists pose the vengeful Sword of God, while leftists blame allegedly escaped U.S. germ warfare agents.

But while conspiracy theories, scapegoats, and secret "cures" abound--straws grasped by those who can neither handle nor explain what is happening in the world--HIV deaths mount. (Preston cites the thinking of one leading epidemiologist," that the death toll, in the end, could hit hundreds of millions--and that [that] possibility had not sunk in with the general public.") And at the same time, worse--much worse--organisms teeter on the edge of an international pathogenic Hiroshima.

Preston's and others' evidence suggest that the causes of both HIV and its more threatening cousins do indeed lie outside the realm of the normal ebb and flow of human pathogens, though hardly in the supernatural sphere. These super-pathogens are not like especially nasty flus. These are organisms that the epidemiologists call "slate wipers" in regards to human life. They have mortality rates of up to 90 percent--and due to human social interdependence, 40 percent is considered sufficient for virtual extermination.

Take Ebola, for instance, perhaps the best-known of new, near-Andromeda Strain organisms. Here is an extremely aggressive virus that literally rots the body internally; necrotic discharges stream from every orifice, including the eyeballs and nipples. The walking dead spew putrefaction--each drop contagious. And like all super-virulent organisms, it acts quickly to exterminate the forces opposing it: externally, the medical personnel; internally, the body's immune system.

In fact Preston explains that Ebola is so virulent that a 1976 outbreak--a simultaneous emergence in 55 Zairan villages--was probably prevented from international "slate-wiping" only by killing virtually every local--and doing it quickly. It wasn't the last minute order to seal the area--only one person made it out anyway--or the imminent halting of all air traffic from Zaire. Nor was it medical measures--there are none.

Radical social health measures may have helped, but they took the form of villagers isolating victims in single huts, pushing food and water to their door with long sticks, and then setting fire to the whole thing when signs of life appeared to cease inside. Meanwhile moon-suited medical personnel rounded up every person who came in contact with the lone refugee, put them in extreme isolation, and "nuked" the spattered facility in which she perished.

All this would just be profoundly disturbing news, like discovery of a comet heading toward Earth, except for Preston's suddenly obvious--and chilling--explanation of Ebola's and the other new viruses' virulence.

Ordinarily, diseases and their hosts co-evolve over eons, achieving a certain "healthy" (if occasionally fatal) balance. In other words, being wildly and quickly lethal is against the pathogen's interest since it eliminates the host on which it depends.

For example, if cold viruses were so virulent that they quickly choked off breathing, soon there'd be neither humans nor colds. Or if mosquitoes' bites were like cobras', both the little bloodsuckers and their prey would not be long for this world.

Unfortunately this exquisite balance--arrived at over a period of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years--no longer applies if a pathogen suddenly jumps from preying on its one co-evolving host species to an entirely new one.

Pathogens that do this--jump species--are referred to as "zoonotic" organisms. Such a pathogen, suddenly introduced to a species that is bereft of defenses, poses spectacular dangers. That explains why the new viruses are so virulent and so lethal--Ebola, HIV et al--are all zoonotic organisms. They operate outside the framework of eons of evolution against a defenseless host--us.

But what is the source of these pathogens? And why are they emerging now? Here lies the answer that makes such sudden--and frightening--sense. Ebola, Lassa, Rift Valley, Chikungunya, Kyasanur Forest, O'nyong-nynong, Simliki, HIV (or, if the naming pattern were followed, Kinshasa) are all products of the tropical rain forest or adjoining savanna.

As Preston puts it, "when an ecosystem suffers degradation, many species die out and a few survivor-species have a population explosion. Viruses in a damaged ecosystem come under extreme selective pressure. Viruses are adaptable: they react to change and can mutate fast, and they can jump among species of hosts. As people enter the forest and clear it, viruses come out, carried in their survivor-hosts--rodents, insects, soft ticks--and the viruses meet Homo Sapiens."

Thus "the emergence of AIDS [and its cousins] appear to be a natural consequence of the ruin of the tropical biosphere. Unknown viruses are coming out of the equatorial wildernesses of the earth...as a result of the destruction of tropical habitats.... I tend to think of rats leaving a ship." (Oct. 26, 1992 New Yorker)

Indeed, according to the August 6, 1993 Science, "four years ago, at a landmark meeting on emerging viruses, it became clear that there was growing evidence that pointed to<193>changing environments as the main cause of emerging infectious diseases. " This evidence "made such an impression on the field that by 1992 a panel of infectious disease experts produced a report for the Institute of Medicine stating that `environmental changes probably account for most emerging disease'."

But Preston's characterization of this as "the revenge of the rain forest"--however on the mark--does not go far enough. Massive environmental destruction--earlier ravages of the tropics, for instance, or the ruination of the pre-Conquest North American ecosystem--is not a recent phenomenon. Nor does the argument that "we've created new pathways for these viruses to travel rapidly from place to place" (virologist Stephen Morse, quoted in Science, ibid.) suffice. Massive population influxes both in and out of the rain forest are not truly recent either-take the 16th and 17th century kidnappings of over 40 million Africans for slavery, for instance.

What is a more recent phenomenon--one absent from The Hot Zone--is the intensification of exploitative pressure on the Third World by the neo-imperialist powers.

First World-imposed austerity, privatization, soaring prices for finished goods, and plummeting prices for raw materials have created spectacularly grim conditions of starvation, ruination, and internecine butchery in the Third World. "We are the living dead," spoke the Mayan survivors of southern Mexico as they launched their Zapatista rebellion earlier this year. Things are likewise in Africa--the only continent in which the GNP has actually fallen in the last ten years.

This economic war (what the Zapatistas called "the death sentence") has as its immediate medical consequences the elimination of health services and the weakening of human immune systems. Victims of malnutrition, of unchecked "normal" diseases, of broken and desperate communities are inviting targets for the viral "rats" fleeing the ruins of the rain forest.

So while a healthy male's risk of HIV infection from unprotected intercourse with a positive female may be one in ten thousand, it's over 1,000 times greater for a poorly nourished male with untreated syphilis.

Were Preston's report on the super-pathogens' emergence not jaw-dropping enough, adding the missing political element makes the situation all the more compelling: this is not a glitch. Structurally-driven imperial ravages of Third World living standards lie behind the zoonotic micro-monsters.

But it's even more fiendishly exquisite than that. Environmental devastation combined with extreme human oppression may still not be sufficient conditions for the emergence of potentially-apocalyptic zoonotic organisms. After all, the European Conquest of the Americas accomplished that without producing a single Andromeda Strain (perhaps little comfort to the nearly 90 percent of the Mayan population that fell victim to smallpox).

It seems that the appearance of "slate wipers" requires a long, intricate line-up of conditions to occur, like tumblers on a complex lock. (Of course if it didn't, there'd be no one left.) Something else is going on. The last click! is the work of scientists summarized by Jay Gould in the March 15, 1993 Nation: according to Drs. Andrei Sakharov and Ernest Sternglass the most widespread--and wildly underestimated--effect of low-level radiation is significant weakening of the human immune system. In fact, "effects of the [far-distant] Chernobyl accident were even apparent in small but statistically significant excess mortality in the United States in May 1986."

In short, low-level radiation has "lethal effects on the immune system."

And the fact is that atmospheric radiation from bomb tests, bomb-building, and nuclear power vector into the human population almost entirely through rain.

And where is the greatest amount of this? You guessed it: in the very rain forests that are birthing--surprise!--the zoonotic slate wipers.

Super-pathogens may be the agents, but the profile--nuclear weapons, nuclear power, environmental pillage, Third World oppression, and austerity--gives us the face of the real killer: the existing international social order. Capitalism has become like the classic Ebola-infected zombie, spewing lethal contagion.

That's why there won't be sudden turn-around or a technological silver bullet. Only a fundamental social and economic re-structuring of the world has a prayer of preserving human life on earth--and it's already very, very late. For as Preston says, "the presence of international airports puts every virus on earth within a day's flying time...." And if the prospect of human extermination doesn't pose the need for revolutionary change, what does?

Steve Eckardt is a Chicago-based free-lance writer best known for coverage of Mexico. He thanks Stacy Gordon, MD for her assistance in preparing this article.