A side of history with your nightly web browsing.

I was planning to go on a run yesterday morning. But I woke up to a steady rain and slept in instead. The pleasures of training week being over.

Yesterday was the first meeting for the Alliance to Reindustrialize for Sustainable Economy (ARISE) project this summer.

ARISE was started several years ago in response to Ford Motor Company’s announcement of the closing of the Saint Paul plant on the Mississippi River. Lynn Hinckle, a long-time worker and union organizer, spear-headed an initiative to create a plan to keep the plant open. This effort lead to the creation of ARISE, bringing together students, union members and other organization in the metro area to develop a plan for the 140-acre site which took into account ecological concerns, social justice and future trends in manufacturing.

Postcard depiction 1930 of hydro.

Entrance to the Ford Plant

Lynn gave an excellent introduction to the project earlier in the week, highlighting the necessity of reindustrialization to revitalize the American economy. Cities in the Midwest and across the country were built on industry. My trip on the train at the end of May from Rockville to the Twin Cities was a veritable labor history tour.

Getting a glimpse of Gary, Indiana, along Lake Michigan was a highlight. Gary was named for the founding chairman of U.S. Steel, Elbert H. Gary, and built in 1906 to house a new plant. Its location along the Lake was strategic to harness the water and rail transportation potential and triangulate the coal of Appalachia, the iron ore of Minnesota and the limestone quarries of Michigan all needed for steel production. Housing was also built for the management of U.S. Steel, but ordinary workers were left to their own devices to obtain housing in the rapidly populating area. Shantytowns of recent immigrants mushroomed outside the manufacturing area.

Like many industrial cities across the region, Gary is a shell of its former prominence. With the retreat of the steel industry in the 1960s and beyond, many of its residents have left for greener pastures and the casino business has entered the vacuum. However I must recognize that credit is due to Gary for the Jackson 5. (More on Gary here: http://www.gary.lib.in.us/historyofgary.htm).

Gary Steel Works

Abandoned industrial plant in Gary.

I didn’t ride through the site of the Pullman strike so I will resist the urge to go into that. You should just read this: http://www.stfrancis.edu/content/ba/ghkickul/stuwebs/btopics/works/PullmanStrike.htm.

The Saint Paul Ford plant holds similarities to Gary. It was built along the Mississippi River to harness the incredible hydropower of the river. The dam was completed in 1917, making it one of the oldest on America’s most diverted, dammed, and drained rivers. Extensive tunnels were built under the plant to mine the sand of the river banks. The sand was used on-site to make glass for windshields. How’s that for local? After the 1930s the glass production was moved offsite. But the tunnels remain, explored by few intrepid souls (like these: http://www.actionsquad.org/ford.htm).

ARISE’s vision could be called the next generation of company town. One where the workers have a stake in the company and their community. And one where the goals of healthy working conditions and environmental sustainability are pursued in tandem. The current proposal for the Ford site includes housing for workers, community buildings, green space, the manufacturing base, bike, pedestrian and rail access and on-site renewable energy production.

This summer we will be crunching numbers to determine the energy needs and potential energy outputs of the site. We will also be gleaning the lessons learned from this project to be implemented at sites across the country. The plant is currently operating at half its past capacity, but Ford has extended its closing date several times. However there are countless sites across the country in places such as Gary which have been long abandoned and are ripe for reindustrialization.

Thanks for bearing with me along a trip down Labor History Lane. Stay tuned for the next chapter in U.S. industrial history.

Workers in the Sand Mines

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