Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown

Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown

by Sherry Lee Linkon, John Russo
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Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Ausonius More than 1 year ago
STEELTOWN U.S.A. has grown on me. There were times when the Marxist-determinist class-struggle mindset of the two authors put me off. And generally speaking their thesis that remembering history is important, though often asserted, is only weakly argued for. I accept that thesis myself, but also see merit in Henry Ford's famous point that "history is bunk." Clearly, the world is divided into two camps on this issue. Authors Sherry Lee Linkon and John Russo are academics on the faculty of Youngstown State University in northeastern Ohio. She does English and American studies. He does Management. Together, they are Co-directors of the University's Center for Working-Class Studies. In mid-June 2010 I heard them expound together and defend STEELTOWN U.S.A. eight years after its publication. I detected no major changes of view from what the book asserted. Then and now Linkon and Russo try to make sense of why, starting in September 1977, the decades old steel manufacturing industry of Youngstown, Ohio shut its doors and within five years cost the jobs of 50,000 workers. These reflections are embedded in a general geographical-historical narrative which takes Youngstown from around the year 1800 to the year 2000. That is essentially prolog to a second question: how did the former steel workers and other residents of Youngstown and vicinity react to the closing of the mills -- and why? A third question: does Youngstown conceivably have a good future? If so, can it be better created by people who deliberately keep alive the city's history or by people who deliberately close their minds to the past? Youngstown became a great steel manufacturing center because it had coal, water and iron and local entrepreneurs who put those elements together -- as well as a steady inflow of workers. The steel industry fell apart in Youngstown because it did not modernize. The old families whom steel made wealthy lost their spirit of boosterism, moved away and/or sold out to newcomers with no interest in the local community. For years after 1977 there was post-industrial shock. People basically did not make a community-wide effort to rethink their future. Churches supported efforts of workers to buy abandoned mills. There was a rush to build prisons: four new ones. Organized crime moved beyond its older role in gambling and numbers into prostitution. City and county officials, including court officials and a member of Congress grew notably corrupt. That is the basic line of march of STEELTOWN U.S.A. The book is well illustrated and includes posters, cartoons, poems, song texts, excerpts from interviews by the authors and others. There is far more content than the main line of argumentation just sketched would suggest. For one thing, two local families created and spread American's first shopping malls. The treatment of crime and corruption in Youngstown is notably compelling. The ground for the rise of crime families associated with Pittsburgh or Cleveland was laid in the desperate need of earliest workers, mainly immigrants from Italy, Germany and elsewhere for strong local protectors, father figures willing to do battle for the little fellow against State and Federal officials initially in the pockets of big business. As one scholar asserted: "You've got to have somebody ... who can fight dirty, or you'll get nothing" (Ch. 4, p. 222). I had to read this book slowly and carefully. It is sometimes obscure.