I remember when I first noticed my hometown was dying. I was young and it was an industrial town. Summers were spent playing along the Schuylkill river, and to get there I had to cross an old wooden bridge over the Reading railroad tracks. My side was blue collar residential, the other side was blue collar industrial. When I crossed the old bridge I could feel the planks rattle when a car went by and if I hoisted myself up on a girder, I could spit on the Reading's rails.

The industrial side of the bridge was flanked by two factories. On the right was a gate to the Bethlehem steel plant. They made steel girders and had them stacked in the yard between the bridge and the factory doors. I had a friend whose father worked there. He had thirteen paid vacation weeks a year. On the left was Nucrete. The building was out of sight, but the yard by the road was filled with pre-stressed concrete road beds and bridge abutments.

That summer, the town decided to replace the old bridge with a new concrete and steel span that didn't rattle and shake. The steel beams and pre-stressed concrete abutments were shipped down from Canada. They were cheaper than Bethlehem Steel and Nucrete products

Those plants went out of business. Firestone was sold. The factory that made steel shells for power tools closed when power tools were given high impact plastic shells. Stores began to close downtown. Some would re-open as another business; each re-opening featured cheaper and more homespun looking signs. Then they'd close and not re-open, facing the main drag with black dusty windows and their peeling, hand painted signs.

I heard on the radio that one of the big three American auto plants may close. Meanwhile, Toyota and Nissan plants in this country have as much work as they need. I heard someone suggest that one of those foreign owned plants could hire the workers from the struggling American plants. Trouble is, the big three only employ union workers and the foreign owned plants operate without needing unions.

Penn State
April 18, Symposium 2009; reimagine.
New content. Symposium 2008.Digital Commons at Penn State. Improve the workplace; hire for variety.


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