I recently participated in a family event that fewer and fewer people are involved in. I turned over my tool and die maker tools to my grandson, who is getting started in a metalworking apprenticeship. The little family event had double significance for me, because I participated in a similar event many years ago, when my father turned over his tools to me. I could tell my father felt good about it, because he thought the good life would continue for his son.
Unfortunately, I can’t be anywhere near as confident for my grandson.
The Ball can factory in Elgin, Illinois will be closing for good this December. With it go the industrial workers of Steelworkers local 7495 and their middle class livelihoods. The plant opened in the 1960s, I think, as a Sherwin Williams paint can factory. At some point some Steelworkers from Continental Can, wound up imported into the factory. I’m not sure of the ancient past of the plant because I started there in 1990 when it was a US Can plant. A “Litho” union local shared the plant running the lines that printed the can labels directly on the steel.
For those of you who have never worked in large factory (this one had about 20 acres under one roof) it’s similar to the experience of living in a small town. The factory had a population about the same as a village, and everybody knew each other because so many people had worked together for decades.
The factory had become an island of middle class pay in a sea of minimum wage jobs, and as the years went on, it became increasingly difficult to quit and move on to something better. Nothing “better” was out there on the industrial scene, and everybody knew it.
I served as the Editor of the local’s newsletter for about eight years and also served as a volunteer organizer. It was one of the fighting Steelworker locals of the 1990s that participated in the Illinois War Zone with the Staley strike and lockout. 7495 also participated in the world-wide Bridgestone Firestone strike and lockout and put up picket lines at local company owned stores. The people who worked there had a militant fighting spirit and were proud of it.
The reason Ball Corporation is giving for the factory closing is that the factory’s productive capacity is redundant, and they can serve their customers from other plants. I’m sure they will be able to.
I’m also sure that our economic system has ceased working for the majority of Americans.