(There’s a movie at the end!)
For decades we have been hearing about the loss of industrial production through out what is called the “Rust Belt”. It’s presented, even as recent as the prior presidential election as a relative regional problem that only began post Reagan. What gets me though is that the reporting and ultimately the politics are as if the rust belt is/was unique in their experience with the west and east coast experiencing nothing of the sort. The presentation is of the west coast Hollywood economy and now the “tech” economy, the east coast (namely New York/Boston) being the money economy. The south east is not considered other than Disney and orange production. The north west? Microsoft and Starbucks. Well I think it used to be lumber.
Wiki notes that the rust belt is not geographic but is a term that “pertains to a set of economic and social conditions“. It includes the northeast which is proper in that industry started there but I have had the feeling for a few decades now that such history is forgotten and thus no longer considered when we look to understand what the hell happened to the middle class.
Let me start with this fun fact. Rhode Island was the most industrialized state per capita in the nation at one point. Wiki notes that:
…Aldrich, as US Senator, became known as the “General Manager of the United States,” for his ability to set high tariffs to protect Rhode Island — and American — goods from foreign competition.
We were where the super rich came to escape the heat and play. And then it started to die. Not just here though. Neighboring Massachusetts was hit as was Connecticut. If you ever get a chance, come visit the New Bedford Whaling museum and read about the massive industry that was there. Example, the worlds largest mill of weaving looms. Some 4000+! Whaling from that city in the later 1800’s generated some $71 million per year! Not impressed? Well, using the GDP deflator it’s $1.480 billion per year!
But it wasn’t to last. Some people from the south decided to sell it as the nonunion place to be and so moved the mills. I wrote about one major player in this in 2008. He did not like the moving of jobs to China as he understood it was undercutting our labor class. The middle class. Yet, he had no problem doing the same to the north east. Democratic Senator Hollings. Hated unions to the end. (The post is still relevant today.)
Ah, for the want of the old days and tariffs. Oh well. It’s a new world order.
But, here we are yet still again. Election time. The poor middle class. Only, the catering seems to be to those who are recently losing their industrial jobs. Recent as in only since the 1980 as if the non-northeast part of the rust belt could not have learned from the northeast.
This gets me to the point: Farewell to Factory Towns? It’s a documentary fill about the Sprague Capacitor Factory, a strike and what has been tried but not work as planned. It’s a bit of history that I believe might just help bring together those of the “heart land/rust belt” with the “elitists” on the coasts. We really have, as part of the middle class, all had and are having the same social, economic and political experience. It is an award winning film.
With a focus on North Adams, Massachusetts, the documentary raises that question for similar communities throughout the United States. Beginning in the 1970s, the film deals with the concepts of deindustrialization, the fraying of the social safety net, globalization and neoliberalism. During the same period that factory towns from Youngstown to Buffalo to North Adams were hit with factory closings and massive unemployment, government policy moved to the right and Federal and state economic and social programs, like AFDC, were cut back or ended. What were factory towns to do? Where would help come from? If not from government programs, then from where?
I’m posting this to add to the discussion of PGL’s post regarding the Bread and Roses strike. Do take the time to watch it if only for the interest in our history.