|"Employment trends..." |
The following essay was written as an introduction to a catalogue I prepared for a multi-media show, based on the decline of the American steel industry, titled, Home Scrap: Post-Industrial Landscapes, shown at Carlo Lamagna Gallery, NY in 1988. Several of black & white and color photographs were components alongside paintings in the show. Nearly 20 years later, re-examining the photos, I realize that the same issues still remain and that the photographs are still relevant today.
Raymon Elozua, 2008
"Two geographies together constitute a "unity of opposites," life space and economic space. Although both are necessary for the sustenance of modern societies, they are inherently in conflict with each other. Over the last two centuries, economic space has been subverting, invading and fragmenting the life space of individuals and communities
We can see the result in the dissolution of life space and their progressive assimilation to economic space. The capitalist city has no reverence for life
It abandons entire regions because profits are greater elsewhere. Deprived of their life spaces, people's lives are reduced to a purely economic dimension as workers and consumers-so long, at least, as there is work."
John Friedman, "Life space and economic space: Contradictions in regional development," manuscript (University of California at Los Angeles, 1981)
Quoted in The Deindustrialization of America, Barry Bluestone & Bennett Harrison, Basic Books, NY, 1982.
Since 1980, over 444 steel manufacturing and related facilities have been closed or shut down. Since 1980, employment in the steel industry has dropped from 399,000 jobs to 150,000 jobs. The cities and towns that housed these steel plants have endured severe economic upheavals: reduced tax revenues and services, abandoned businesses and homes and the general deterioration of both environment and opportunity. The delicate social fabric of community and family has been undermined and destroyed as every individual has slowly and painfully come to realize the new truth, that what once was is no longer; that the future is a dim, anxious, unsettling vision; that the "American Dream" of economic progress and social stability lie in rusted ruins.
The reasons for this "de-industrialization" or "re-structuring" are varied. Steel companies and executives all too often chose to believe in their own rhetoric and American myths of superiority. They stubbornly persisted in clinging to old technologies and structures and paid too close attention to short-term profit taking. At the same time, union leaders chose to abdicate any concern for influencing or shaping corporate economic strategy and instead focused their energy on simply enhancing wages and benefits without regard for commensurate productivity gains, at the ultimate expense of their own jobs.
The world economic scene had changed. Nations in Europe and the Far East took to heart the example of America's industrial "miracles" of the 1900's and methodically adapted new efficient technologies, planned economic strategies and vigorous market competition. They quietly and quickly challenged our heretofore dominant industrial position. The rules of the game had changed without our realization or our participation. And as the effects of this new reality, the global market, became evident, both the companies and the unions became partners in echoing pious and specious claims of unfair foreign competition, subsidized import dumping and stifling environmental regulations as they beseeched the government to save them from their own shortsightedness and mismanagement.
Today the steel companies and unions survive, albeit in reduced numbers and in reduced positions of economic significance and influence. Diversification, modernization, productivity, efficiency, specialization and cooperation are the "new" strategies as both sides realize their own existence is at stake. Other industries, auto, machine tools, computers, textile and so forth, as well have realized that the myths and dreams that sustained America since its birth have become tenuous, fragile, self-serving and extremely suspect. And that despite our natural resources, our economic assets, our technological inventiveness, our brash enthusiasms; that if we as a nation and a people refuse to look at the world as it is coming to be and make no effort to adjust and adapt to this new world; the inexorable law of survival of the fittest applies just as well to us as anyone else.
NYC, Oct. 1987