When the GM Corporation announced the shutdown of the GM Lordstown Assembly plant, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, called the news a "new Black Monday in the Mahoning Valley," a reference to the day in September 1977 when the closure of one of the Valley's largest steel mills was announced (Source: The Vindicator, 3/27/19). GM closed the plant on March 6, throwing 1,500 autoworkers out of work. These workers now join thousands of their neighbors laid off in years past.
Lordstown is just outside Youngstown. On September 19, 1977-41 years ago-"Youngstown Sheet and Tube (S&T) announced that it would close its Campbell Works Mill, laying off 5,000 steelworkers. Known as 'Black Monday,' that announcement marked the start of a punishing series of shutdowns in the area. Over the next five years, nearly 50,000 people would lose jobs in steel and related industries in the Mahoning Valley. The community has never fully recovered from deindustrialization, and its long-term economic and social struggles make this new closing at once familiar and even more painful.
"Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown released a statement describing the closing as 'shameful,' noting that although GM had "reaped a massive tax break from last year's GOP tax bill," it did not "invest that money in American jobs" but instead moved production to Mexico. Brown called the decision "corporate greed at its worst." (Source: CityLab, 11/27/18).
The steelworker-church-community campaign to save Youngstown S&T, partly led by former Vietnam Anti-War leader Staughton Lynd, was a turning point in U.S. corporate decision-making. It was the first time in the late 20th century that American citizens and communities questioned unilateral corporate plans. The rabble-rousing campaign was captured in a dramatic documentary from that disaster in late 1970s called The Business of America.
Black Monday set the stage for a series of campaigns and struggles to intervene in "business-of-America as usual" capitalism. In the 1980s, unions like Steelworkers, Machinists and Pilots began retaining investment bankers to intervene in corporate restructuring. Black Monday set the stage for the plant closure and unemployment movements in the US. Black Monday set the stage for the rebirth of worker and community ownership movements. It led directly to the formation of the Tri-State Conference on Steel, the predecessor of the Steel Valley Authority (SVA), which fought the corporate abandonment and collapse of the Pittsburgh-steel valley. The SVA co-founded the Heartland Network with the USW.
Senator Brown was the keynote speaker in the Century Foundation's Cleveland Summit in 2018, part of the raucus road show through the Heartland to push for real industrial policies to rebuild manufacturing communities. It's appropriate that we dedicate a deep-dive to the Lordstown closure, asking: What were the real causes? How can we reverse these trends? How can workers ensure that their retirement and savings aren't being used to destroy companies? Please read these astute articles from Andy Stettner and Steve Herzenberg, along with Sue Helper. All three led or participated in the road shows. And a piece from Hedgeclippers.Org about the monied mayhem behind the curtains. There's also an article about the UAW lawsuit.
There was a lot more hell-raising around these closings-in Lordstown and especially Detroit-than corporate shutdowns in recent years. And that's a good thing.