Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Requiem for a town

This is the front door of the house in Galion, Ohio, where I grew up. The papers on the front door are foreclosure notices and other legal information from Freddie Mac, apparently the owner of the mortgage note (no doubt collateralized and resold for quick profit to take advantage of the government guarantee). I was told by an old classmate at the reunion that I probably could pick up the property for less than my parents paid for it when we moved there in 1955.

Galion was once a booming industrial town made prosperous originally by its location at the intersection of the old Pennsylvania and Erie-Lackawanna railroad lines. High school graduates from my era could go get a job at the Perfection Auto Body plant, North Electric, Galion Iron Works, Fisher Body in nearby Crestline, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, two overcoat factories and a couple of steel grave vault makers. If you didn’t like that job, you quit and got another one. Now those factories are ruins, and the working class neighborhoods that surround them are wrecks. A local website says 700 houses in the town sit empty.

My only surprise was hearing that crystal meth labs are still rare. However, my old classmates say heroin is big.

So this is what a few decades of deregulation and ‘free trade’ have done to the industrial heartland, thanks to the joint efforts of Democratic and Republican regimes alike. In my early adult years the jobs in Galion started to move south to the anti-union ‘right to work’ states. North Electric, for example, shipped its production to Tennessee.

Not content with moving operations around the U.S. to de-unionize their workforces and save on wages and benefits, the companies soon discovered the marvelous advantages to be found in corrupt, repressive regimes overseas that could provide limitless streams of docile, powerless workers, China being the classic example. How ironic after our McCarthyite 1950s childhoods to find it wasn’t reds under beds that threatened our country but the business elites who would sell out the country to communism.

As many observers more knowledgeable than I have pointed out, despite all the quacking and howling about getting the nasty state out of economic affairs, the United States does have an industrial policy. That policy for decades has been to dismantle domestic manufacturing and globalize it so that the large corporations can shift a greater percentage of earnings to profits and pay out less to workers. Reagan, Bush, Clinton and the rest are in full agreement on this point.

If we had had a worker- or union-based political party with a radical bent, perhaps the industrial transformation, were it really necessary, would have been resisted so that the masters of our universe were forced to do it in a less brutal way. Perhaps transitional planning could have occurred in which communities such as Galion could have acquired the tools to adapt and grow in new directions to take up the slack created by the waning of its industrial golden age.

Instead, its inhabitants were thrown willy-nilly into their own future to sink or swim as they might. Many thousands moved on.

1 comment:

Tom Roberts said...

I know with Eisenhower's signing of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that business at Galion Iron Works couldn't have been better. My father was the chief engineer there. As a boy I remember him taking me to the plant on Saturdays. There were graders stretched for blocks. When the interstates were completed in the late 60s, that market went very flat.