+The Dust Bowl years of the 1920s was an era of destitution unparalleled in American history. Draught and wind caused many hardworking peoples' dreams to dry up and blow away like the soil of the fields. In the book, The Grapes of Wrath, Oklahoma farmers packed up their rickety Ford trucks and took to Route 66 in search of work and a new prosperity in California. All along the way, people kept moving them along with promises and rumors of work picking fruit and vegetables in the "next town" or the "next county." The promise was for 5 Cents a unit or 10 cents, but always the incentive was high enough to draw the workers. Invariably there was a glut of labor when many people arrived and the going price was lower than hoped for. And they moved on. Fathers, mothers and even their children toiled long days into the night to earn enough to live another day. Always the labor moved on to be replaced by yet another hopeful family of Okies looking for an honest wage for honest labor. Rarely did they find it. Labor, the sweat of ones brow, the bending of ones back is for the buying and selling. Situating an industry is partly transportation, partly raw material availability, partly political and partly labor based. Typically, a heavy industrial operation such as a steel mill did not have to consider locating where there was adequate labor. All the labor would come to them. Braddock, Pennsylvania grew up with the Edgar Thompson Steel Works on the banks of the Monongahela River. The plant thrived for many decades as did the town that sits on the hillside over looking the plant and the river. Times were good and times were bad. Men earned wages and raised families. With their earned wages they spent in the saloons, hired prostitutes, gambled and smoked cigars. They accepted the wages offered without much fuss, feeling more or less lucky to be working and later died in strikes that attempted to coax higher pay out of the industrialists. They worked long shifts and died in the mills, just another cog in the machinery. ~!~
Many decades later, the whole steel industry would close shop and leave Pittsburgh. The steel workers were left behind. They were rooted to the traditions that were important to human beings. The industry moved to places where labor was cheaper and plentiful. Steel making was always very sensitive to the cost of labor in the eyes of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, whose names still are notoriously synonymous with Steel.
After the departure of the steel companies, the descendants of the men who poured the steel and rolled it into girders and rails that built our cities and the plates that made our sea power during WWII were sitting in bars drinking away their sorrows and pining for the days when they were able to earn a living. When a man is 50 years old and has had basically one job making steel since graduating high school or dropping out of it, there is not much else to do. The market place for a middle-aged steelworker was nil while he still had 15 to 20 income producing years ahead of him, according to the actuaries. According to the Social Security Administration, it was 12.5 years until he could retire and receive full benefits. Many men were left without fully vested pensions as well.
The Chapter 11 Bar and Grill in Braddock, PA, was but one local hangout of former steelworkers who sat idle while the industry itself languished locally and flourished elsewhere. That was the 1970s and early 1980s. The Chapter 11 was only an example of the hundreds of establishments around the country that catered to the celebratory drinking of the men who worked their long shifts and were contributing to a rising living standard and to the doleful drinking of the men who had seen it all evaporate. For them, their lives had been bought and sold by the steel industry who went off seeking a lower cost workforce and a location where the people and government did not care about the environmental impacts of steel making. In another set of factors in the relocation plan, the new plants and mills were all new, high-tech and computerized. The men in control of the process were college graduates who knew the chemistry of the steel making process from a quantitative basis as opposed to the qualitative basis on which steel making was invented. No longer did they just toss in the components and expect the outcome to be correct. The new process measured and timed everything. The grunts of the old days were not particularly suited to the new processes.
Steel workers and the steel industry are only a microcosm of the whole global shift of manufacturing away from the local market. It was said in the 1970s that it had become less expensive to ship our raw steel to Japan and have them make our parts and ship them back than to do the entire process domestically. And it was true. The Japanese had all modern steel manufacturing and forming plants after we nuked them at the end of WWII.
Large blocks of what are euphemistically called American jobs are relocated to the Third World in order to maximize the bottom line and to ease the pressures to be a good corporate partner with the environment. Although the individual workers or bargaining unit groups of them are not the bidders on the wage and compensation determination process, the governments of the countries into which American companies relocate are. And those governments want the revenues at any human cost.
Unlike the Dust Bowl years when the promise of a few cents an hour or per bushel of crop moved populations of displaced farmers around the western states to keep them moving, the new paradigm is to move the company and leave the population behind. In those years there was an excess of people for the work that needed to be done but only on a state-by-state level. Today, that excess of people is the global market. While Americans lose, Asians and Chinese gain. Only those people who live a standard above the average stand to lower their living standards when more people must live at the average level. We are those people.
With about 300 million people in this country, approximately 100 million people suited to working. India has over 1 billion people with 300 million available for gainful employment in jobs that formerly were the sole claim of Americans. Their economy is on a different currency. Where as Americans are below the poverty level at $11,000 per year, in India that amount makes a person well-off. And a Reebok costs the same no matter who makes it or in what country. So if Reebok or Nike wants to sell shoes to Nigerians or Pakistanis, the cost of manufacture must be low enough and the worker income high enough for them to be able buy them.