RUSTED DREAMS: Hard Times in a Steel Community by David & Roberta Lynch Bensman

RUSTED DREAMS: Hard Times in a Steel Community

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KIRKUS REVIEW

How the Rust Belt got that way, and the consequences for the nation as microcosmed by what happened to South Chicago when the steel mills closed. South Chicago, almost as much as Pittsburgh, could lay fair claim to being one of America's steel centers. From 1880 on, steel was the community's core, its economic, social, emotional and spiritual heart. Three, even four generations from the same families knew no other way of life--or source of income. Then the dream seemed to shatter as mismanagement, union avarice, foreign competition, recession and, perhaps, not a small measure of lassitude, combined to do in the mills and a way of life. Beyond detailing what unemployment has done to South Chicago in human terms (suicide, divorce, alcoholism, the malignant loss of self-esteem of workers unable to find any jobs), Bensman and Lynch examine the decisions made in faraway executive suites that helped to precipitate the closings. Executives of both management and labor, answering to antagonistic constituencies that, too late, realized they shared common objectives, postured, threatened and eventually reached positions where they could not bring back the jobs. Aging plants were halfway modernized, then abandoned; facilities were upgraded to make products no one wanted to buy; environmental upgrades sapped too much capital, and South Chicago saw its lifeblood hemorrhaging. Bensman and Lynch do a fine job of assembling and explaining both the individual and communal failings that have laid South Chicago--and the nation's industrial heartland--low. They're not sanguine about its revival either. In their concluding section, they set forth a plan for rebuilding the steel industry, but with its massive doses of government intervention (the American steel industry, they contend, is the only one in the world expected to compete in a free marketplace) that flies in the face of Reagan Administration doctrine, their conceit seems politically unworkable for some time to come. A penetrating and thoughtful analysis of a dilemma that will be long with us. At times, it is achingly acute.

Pub Date: March 2nd, 1987
Publisher: McGraw-Hill