Humanities Forum: “Mill Stories” Remembering Sparrows Point Steel Mill

Humanities Forum: “Mill Stories” Remembering Sparrows Point Steel Mill


– [Nicole] Hello everyone. Good evening. – [Audience Member] Hi Nicole. (audience laughing) (Nicole laughing)
– Hi. Thank you for joining us. So, we want to thank our sponsors tonight, the Dresher Center for the Humanities, the American Studies Department, and the Media and Communications
Studies Department. So this talk is part of
the Humanities Forum series of events and I want to
encourage you to take a look at the other events in this series, either on the flyer we have available or at the Dresher Center
website, dreshercenter.umbc.edu. I also invite you to attend
the next Humanities Forum event or the next group of events. So, on December 3rd, which is
a Saturday starting at 9:00 AM in this very room, there’s
an all-day culminating event for the Baltimore Stories Project, which is partnered with the University of Maryland College Park and is funded by a National Endowment for
the Humanities grant and check out the website for the
day-long host of programming. Also on Wednesday, December the 7th, the 10th Annual Korenman Lecture, which is featuring our own, the Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies, Carole McCann, who’s giving a talk called, Figuring the Population Bomb, Malthusian, Masculinities,
and Demographic Transitions and that should be an
exciting talk as well. So again, thanks for coming and friends, these are uncertain times. There are times when we need
the power of the humanities. We need the power of our stories and with that it is my pleasure
to introduce my colleagues, my friends, my comrades in the
fight for knowledge, power, and justice, Michelle Stefano.
(audience applauding) Michelle is a visiting assistant
professor here at UMBC. She also is a Folklife Specialist in the American Folklife Center
at the Library of Congress, and Michelle has partnered
with Bill Shewbridge, who is a professor of the practice (audience applauding and cheering) in the Department of Media and
Communications Studies here at UMBC and he is the director of the extremely important
New Media Center. So, before I turn it over to
my comrades and my friends, I just want to say a few words that I believe that listening is a radical experiment in empathy. Also, listening is hard, talking is easy, I love to talk, and listening is hard and we have some hard work
in front of us for sure. So in these times we need
empathy, we need stories, we also need to ask
the difficult questions and we need to fight for the
things that make us human, the things that connect us. Since 2012, with the
closure of Sparrows Point, Bill and Michelle have been
working hard with our students, with community members,
collecting stories, editing those stories, bringing
them back to the people, asking if they’re getting it right, and that’s really hard work. And the industrialization is
a serious issue that we must face on a local, a national,
and a global front. So we should never allow,
and I say this especially to my students in the room who’ve been in my class over the past few weeks, we should never allow our economic needs to trump our humanity. Because, friends, I still
believe we are all in it together and that’s why we’re here
tonight, so I turn it over to my friend, my
colleague, and my comrade, Michelle Stefano.
(audience applauding) – Thank you. So, I do have a PowerPoint to show you, keep it a little interesting, let’s see. And it’s on? Thank you so much. (laughing)
Okay, I forgot the first slide is black. (audience laughing) (audience member mumbling) Yes, I think so. Thank you so much, this is
a fantastic showing tonight and no less is it due to,
like Nicole was saying, these hard times that we’re in. I want to stay, I’m
gonna stick to a script. Those who know me know I
tend to talk without reading but I’d like to read
tonight, especially the words of an author, whom I love and who has helped me
these past couple days. So, thank you. I must also say, unfortunately,
that I am speaking as a adjunct professor here at UMBC and not a government employee. In light of the election and
indeed our social, economic, political, and cultural trajectory, as a nation over the past several decades, I would like to take a moment
to contextualize the film before we screen it, as
well as the larger project, Mill Stories, from which it grew. Over the past couple
of days I’ve felt lost, I’m sure some of you have as well, maybe felt like you’re in a
daze, maybe you’re still in one, but I return to my bookshelves
to read and remind myself of the values and beliefs with
the help of writers, poets, and journalists, all great
thinkers of the past and present. A particular passage
that has helped me today, ideas and sentiments I
couldn’t articulate any better, comes from the 2010 book, The
Death of the Liberal Class. This is written by the Pulitzer
Prize winning journalist, Chris Hedges, who ran
the Middle East Bureau of the New York Times and was
fired by the New York Times for speaking out against the war in Iraq while delivering a speech
to the 2003 graduating class of the liberal arts college,
Rockford College in Illinois, at which some people started booing and administration cut his mic. As stated on the book’s dust jacket, “For decades the liberal
class was a defense “against the worst excesses of power, “but the pillars of the liberal class, “the press, universities,
the labor movement, “culture, the Democratic Party, “and liberal religious
institutions have collapsed “as effective counterweights
to the corporate state. “In its absence, the needs of
the poor, the working class, “and even the middle class
no longer have a champion. “The death of the liberal
class has permitted the rise “of a new and terrifying
political configuration.” While he takes the reader
through the entirety of the 20th century,
arguing why these pillars of the liberal class are
and were so important, and chronicling their
collapse and the rise of neo-liberals/corporate/proto-fascist
power, I will read an excerpt from the last chapter entitled Rebellion. You may think I’m being
gloomy, but hang with me. I have a feeling you
guys will hang with me. There are ways forward and it certainly connects to this film. I’m sure you’re already
connecting the dots now. “The corporate state is now,” and this I’m reading,
this is Chris Hedges. “The corporate state is now
as cornered as the rest of us. “The decimation of the working class “and, increasingly,
the middle class, means “that corporations must
employ ever greater levels “of corruption and coercion to
continue to increase profits. “Human misery is being compounded. “Indeed, it in itself is
viewed as a source of profit. “All essential elements for existence “offer corporations the
potential for profit. “The demand for capitalist expansion, “in a time of growing scarcity
and environmental collapse, “means we will endure harsher
forms of abuse and repression. “By silencing those who
clung to moral imperatives, “the liberal class robbed
itself of the language “and analytical means to make
sense of the destruction. “Liberals assumed that
the engines of capitalism “could be persuaded to exercise
a rational self-control “and beneficence, a notion
that would have gotten anyone “who proposed it laughed out
of old militant labor halls. “The liberal class, seduced
by the ridiculous dictum “that the marketplace could be the arbiter “of all human political
and economic activity, “handed away the rights
of the working class “and the middle class. “Even after the effects of
climate change became known, “the liberal class permitted corporations “to continue to poison
and pollute the planet. “The liberal class collaborated
and these corporate forces, “with these corporate forces, “and did so with a stunning gullibility. “The short-term benefits
of this collaboration “will soon give way to a systems collapse. “The true militants of
the twentieth century, “American twentieth century, “including the old communist
unions, understood, “in a way the liberal class does not, “the dynamics of
capitalism and human evil. “They knew that they had “to challenge every level of management. “They saw themselves as political beings. “They called for a sweeping
social transformation “that would include
universal health insurance, “subsidized housing, social reforms, “and worker-controlled factories. “And for this they were destroyed. “They were replaced by a
pliant liberal class that spoke “in the depoliticized language
of narrow self-interest “and pathetic Buy American campaigns. “Our collapse, economic
and environmental,” I’ll add cultural, “Might not have been thwarted
by anarchists and others, “but at least someone would
have fought against it. “The liberal class was useless. “The coup d’état we have
undergone is beginning “to fuel unrest and discontent.” In 2010, he writes this. “With its reformist and
collaborative ethos, “the liberal class lacks the capacity “or the imagination to
respond to this discontent. “It has no ideas. “Revolt, because of this,
will come from the right, “as it did in other eras
of bankrupt liberalism “in Nazi Germany, fascist
Italy, and Tsarist Russia. “That this revolt will
be funded, organized, “and manipulated by the corporate forces “that caused the collapse is one “of the tragic ironies of history. “But the blame lies
with the liberal class. “Liberals, by standing for nothing, “made possible the rise of inverted “and perhaps soon
classical totalitarianism. “As communities fragment under the weight “of internal chaos and the
increasingly dramatic changes “caused by global warming
and economic despair, “they will face a difficult choice. “They can retreat into
a pure survivalist mode, “a form of primitive tribalism, “without linking themselves
to the concentric circles “of the wider community and the planet. “This retreat will leave participants “as morally and spiritually bankrupt “as the corporate forces
arrayed against us. “It is imperative that communities
nurture the intellectual “and artistic traditions that
make possible a civil society, “humanism, and the common good. “We will have to grasp
that we cannot alter “the larger culture around us,
at least in the short term, “but we may be able to
retain the moral codes “and culture for generations beyond ours. “As those who retained their
identity during slavery “or the long night of
twentieth-century fascism “and communism discovered,
resistance will be reduced “to small, often imperceptible
acts of defiance. “Music, theater, art, poetry, “literature, dance, and the humanities “will be the bulwarks that separate those “who remain human from
those who become savage.” And I’d like to add to
this the public humanities, a term used for what I
consider the application of our scholarly pursuits and skills to prioritizing those
who are most affected by, most vulnerable to the forces of neo-liberalism/unfettered capitalism, and who have the least access to resources to fight against these forces. We ought not to write only
for ourselves and to present to each other, as academics
enjoying the remaining, yet diminishing safety of the liberalism that Hedges argues is dying. But we must start to
help amplify the voices and experiences of people,
groups, and communities, voices that are being increasingly dimmed or rendered mute, more so than us. The Mill Stories Project
represents a small step towards complicating the picture
of American boom and bust, disturbing that oversimplified narrative as presented in the media and elsewhere, as well as adding nuance
and texture, and texture, and humanity to the now
ubiquitous working class communities category bandied about during election campaigns. New slide. The project began in late
2012 following the closure of what was once the largest
steel mill in the world, Sparrows Point, once
located on a peninsula jutting out from Dundalk just across the Baltimore city border. Owned by Bethlehem Steel for the majority of its 125 years, up until 2001, it underwent a succession of
owners in its final decade before its doors were
finally shuttered in 2012. At its height, during post-World War, American industrial dominance, roughly 33,000 workers
were employed at the Point. In its last years, this number
dwindled to roughly 1500. The film you are about
to see was never meant to be a film as our first aim, Bill and I. The project sought to research
and document the significance of the mill as well as the
socio-cultural impacts, using a humanities lens, of its closure from the perspectives of
those who know it best. Intimately tied to this aim was another, to raise awareness of and
promote these memories, stories, and broader significance of
the mill and of industry, to wider audience, the
public humanities angle, through its website, millstories.org, community-based and public events such as this and eventually this film. Two years ago, Bill and I realized that there was a longer
film that could be shaped from this documentation,
based on interviews with 40 Sparrows Point
workers, associated personnel, and surrounding community members and the film has proven
to be a poignant way in which the human face of
industry can be promoted, connected to the broader discourses on deindustrialization’s aftermath. We’re happy to say that
it has been screened in several festivals in Europe
and of course here in the US. It also received a Telly Award last year. Nonetheless, from the start of the project Bill and I wanted to help
foster a sense of ownership over it on behalf of Sparrows
Point community members who wanted to be involved. Short digital stories
based on the interviews were first screened for
community feedback and discussion at the mill’s union hall on Dundalk Avenue in the spring of 2013. Work that UMBC students,
maybe some of you are here, have helped to produce, and not only were they
learning how to conduct and of course the ethics and
theories and the practices of cultural research and documentation, but they also were learning,
thanks to Professor Shewbridge, you know, how to edit and make and produce and film and light what eventually became
those digital stories that are found on the website. And they also worked on other projects and got some good press. This is the front page
of the Baltimore Sun in the spring of 2013, just below the news about the Pope resigning,
so that’s not bad. And also worked with other professors, Professor Nicole King, Stephen
Bradley and their students, on looking at the broader
patterns and experiences of deindustrialization
in the Baltimore region. And since then, we have
organized community screenings and discussion events
throughout the Baltimore area, as well as bridging the project’s themes to other places in the
region like I just mentioned, thanks to the work of
Professors King and Bradley. So, Bill and I would like the
let the film speak for itself, but hopefully it becomes
evident just how intimately these women and men
have to known the forces of global capitalism and
neo-liberalism, as well as what is worth fighting for in these times. You may not be able to tell,
but several steel workers are looking beyond the
interviewer to UMBC students, the next generation, who are
there and speaking to them about the importance
of the labor movement, working and middle class
jobs, and our future. So there’s a photo from,
one of us all to, 2013, interviewing Troy Pritt, who
was featured in the film. So I think I’ll leave
it to the film now and– – Yeah. So I guess at this point, we’re
here to take any questions or anything, any observations
you have about the film. (mumbling) And there is cookies.
(audience laughing) There is cookies, so, but
hopefully it’s observations and then cookies, but uh, anybody, yes? – In the larger community
of Sparrows Point, were there other businesses
besides Bethlehem Steel? I mean, like, were there companies
that made asbestos gloves or were there other independent businesses that contributed to the making of steel or did Bethlehem control all operations?
– At the point as well? Do you want to talk a little
bit about the background of the community of Sparrows Point? I think it came through in the film. At one time, the actual town, the town of Sparrows
Point was a company town, so it was actually owned
by the steel mill itself. I’m not aware of any
additional companies– – [Michelle] I mean, there
were other manufacturers such as GM–
– Yeah there are, right. But on Sparrows Point there is
a concrete factory there now that was there when the mill was there, which is a separate entity. There was the shipyard, which
was owned by Bethlehem Steel at one point but it became
kind of a separate company as well and at the end, there was still actually some work going
on in the shipyard. I don’t think it was actually
shipbuilding they were doing, but there was, it was
something other than, at different points in time, yes. There had been different
companies that were working there. So, in the back row. – [Male Audience Member] Is
there still a community there at Sparrows Point or is
it sort of non-existent? Like I remember my parents started talking about it and I went, “What’s Sparrows Point?” because my parents were like, “You weren’t aware of that,” (mumbling) in the 1980s and they saw the whole thing and then they saw it go off and I was, you know, a little kid. – So, you want to talk about the community?
– Yeah, well, there’s no mill anymore,
so it’s been dismantled, imploded since 2012, so
these past couple years. I think what is now coming in, is it– – Tradepoint Atlantic is there now, and then, you know–
– Yes. Amazon warehouse.
– Under Armour. Yeah, yeah, right. – But there, I mean, of
course there are steel workers who are, you know, that still work there, who are still alive and they
not only live in that region of Baltimore County,
but in Hartford County. I mean, once the highway
started getting built in the 1950s they could move further away. So yeah, the living heritage of this place is still very much alive and enduring. – And as they talked about
at the beginning of the film, in the 70s, the company owned the houses. They rented it to the workers
but they closed down the town so they could, you know, move the steel, the new steel plant, the
new furnaces into that area. So that town was–
– And move the workers. – Right, exactly. So the town of Sparrows Point was actually obliterated at that point. – [Male Audience Member]
Like I’m from Baltimore City, and so it’s just in my mind, (mumbling) my dad, like his friends lived in Dundalk. They had a mechanic shop down there. They still do.
– Oh, sure. – [Male Audience Member] And
so we used to go down there to get our car fixed and you would, or we’d go down there to go to their place and we’d drive past by the
mill, or past some giant– – But you couldn’t go into
it at that point, yeah. – [Male Audience Member] Yeah,
past some big giant thing that–
– Yeah, access was very limited. – [Male Audience Member] And
now it’s all totally gone, there’s nothing there anymore– – So, a lot of the steel workers did live in the Dundalk area but it actually was spread
all through Baltimore. Basically, it really
affected every neighborhood in the city when it– – Many of the African
American workers lived in the, still there, the historically African
American neighborhood, Turner Station right south of Dundalk and as well as West Baltimore
and throughout the city, yeah. Yes.
– Yeah. – [Female Audience Member] In the film, you said that the (mumbling). – So, Bethlehem Steel was
the owner for the majority of its life since the late 19th century. It went bankrupt in 2001 and since then, between 2001 and 2012,
there were five owners. And these are supra-national corporations, one was Russian–
– Right. – And, you know, so we can talk about those allegiances to
nations, they don’t really have any, you know.
(laughing) They’re above the patriotism, yeah. – [Male Audience Member] Could
you tell us about the history of workers’ protest at the mill? Were there any significant
strikes and did that, was there, at the time of
its, you know, decline, was there still a strong
culture of, you know, you might say ardent or
even militant humanism? – Well, I mean, at the
time the mill closed, actually, a lot automation
had come online. It came on late at Sparrows
Point, but it did come on, especially with the old furnace
and I think they were down to, maybe, as Bill Barry says, 2,000 some active steel
workers and that was down from, you know, 30,000 at its
peak in the fifties. So there was still union activity at the end.
– Absolutely. – In fact, when, our first
introduction down there, when we, when Michelle
and I first went there, we went to the union hall, at the time, the final closure happened. You know, it just timed out that way. We just happened to be
there at that point. It wasn’t really, yeah. – Maryland traditions. – Yeah, Maryland traditions.
(laughing) Thank you Maryland traditions. But, you know, at that point, it was kind of some interesting conversations going on between the workers and the unions because frankly the workers felt not only that they had been
deceived by the government and had been let down by the government and had been let down
by the state, you know, by both parties, but also
by the unions as well. They felt like they were
deserted at that point. So it was a very complicated
kind of environment that, you know, to try to pull
things out of at that point. – But there were many strikes
over the 20th century. – Yes, starting in the 19th.
– To fight slowly and to implement change,
whether that’s safety or as Joe Rosel talks
about the respirators for, I mean, Joe was young.
– Right. – Relatively speaking,
so that wasn’t long ago they were fighting for
respirators and things like that. So, yeah, it was, I
mean, maybe not militant that you would, you know,
hear about it on the news, but–
– Okay. – In the fifties there was
actually some very major stories that–
– And, you know, the gentleman, Don Kellner, got locked up in jail three times so they were fighting. – [Male Audience Member]
I guess I’m just trying to figure, like, what the
sentiment was amongst workers and, you know, what
power they felt they had as the mill was on its deathbed, but I think you explained that in the film.
– I think the last 10 years was really the union,
they really were looking to the union to try to save
some aspect of their pensions, that was like really practical things and litigations, I think
they’re still going on on some levels–
– Yes. – In a lot of these cases. The workers were able to
recoup, I think, a small percentage of their actual
pensions through litigation. It’s an interesting history to see again the four companies that sort
of turned over as it went. When it was originally sold,
the company that it was sold to would only buy it under the condition that they would not be liable for the, you know, the pensions and the costs. So at that point, it
was a mess and still is. So we’ll go here then
there, the over here. – [Green Jacket Man] A
question about the litigation. So you mentioned that
some of them were able to get a portion of it back. Is that, like, quote-unquote justice? I mean, to what extent are
you, you know, legally owed all of the promised pensions by your employer when they go bankrupt basically? – That’s an open question today, isn’t it? Yeah.
– And then, just one more small question. I spent some time by
a steel mill in Brazil and the surrounding city,
you know, pretty much daily, depending on how the winds were, you would have like your balconies covered by kind of like this a coat of this fine dust–
– Yes, particulate matter. – [Green Jacket Man] Yeah, particulate. so I was wondering if that was part of the surrounding area of Baltimore. you know, having that–
– Is there anybody here from Sparrows Point community? I think there might be a few, yeah. Do you remember this, from like when– – [Female Audience Member]
It did, a red dirt. Yeah.
– Yeah. – [Female Audience Member]
Covered with it, a red dirt. – Yeah, everybody talked about it. It just sort of–
– Covered with red dirt. – Yeah and it would just be, you know, I’ve heard several people,
you know, say the same thing about the laundry and
just the practicalities of living in this environment. You know, they had to adapt. – [Female Audience Member]
They had to hose me off from outside from the, they told me that my mother and grandmother
did from playing outside. – Yeah, wow. Anybody else? Yes, so, all the way in the back. – [Steel Worker’s Wife]
Just a comment here. I am a spouse of a retiree
and I too lost benefits, but I just think it’s remarkable that the steel workers
union is still in existence, that who they’re supporting
is the Sierra Club and they’re supporting the
college football players. And I just want to know who’s funding that because as a steel worker’s wife, we paid lots of union dues
and now we get nothing and it’s just a comment and an observation–
– Right. – [Steel Worker’s Wife]
How come they’re still in existence and what are they doing? – Right.
– Well, it’s an international union, right?
– Yeah, yeah it’s– – [Steel Worker’s Wife] But the colleges aren’t international. They’re in the United States. – Yeah, I mean, I don’t know
that they’re funding this. – [Steel Worker’s Wife] You can go on the United Steelworkers’
webpage and it’ll tell you the industries and the many
things that they are funding. Just a comment.
– No, no, thank you. Over here. – [Mill Worker] I worked
at that mill for 27 years and just a comment on the
successors of Bethlehem. The first group were two New
York bankers the Ross brothers. They held it and flipped
it in less than four years and along with $5 billion
that the workers lost, they got $2 billion profit. So our benefits went to two guys. – Right, here. – [Male Audience Member]
I moved down here in 1990. I’ve gotta say that Beth Steel was, from a working standpoint,
probably the best thing that ever happened to
my company and myself. And it goes back to the
gentleman’s question earlier on in terms of were there
other businesses there. There were tons. I mean, the thousands of people that Bethlehem Steel
employed, there were thousands of people that made a living
because the steel was there. So, you know, when they went bankrupt, they didn’t affect just the steel workers, the workers and managers at Beth Steel, but all the suppliers.
– Right. – [Male Audience Member]
And all the customers. It was millions, hundreds of
millions of dollars were lost by those folks who made
a living selling product into the steel company and buying product from the steel company. There were tons, there were
many, many steel companies there that bought steel from Beth
Steel and then turned it into some kind of a finished
product and resold it. So it was, it was kind of a
living, breathing organism that supported not only the workers, but this whole community around there for years and years and years. And so when the investment group came in after the bankruptcy, the
International Steel Group, ISG, it was a big deal. They did that and they’re
really successful. I mean, we bought our independence, but they did a lot of really good things and it was really
unfortunate that they decided to take the money and run
because it was a bad thing from a supplier’s perspective. There were things really
starting to crumble with (coughing drowning out speaker) the India company, which I
think was the final owner of that mill.
– Yeah, basically. – [Male Audience Member]
Just abused the whole thing so it was a crime and then
when they finally let it go, you know, the instructions
were to cut holes in it because Air Products was one
of those feeder companies that make a lot of money
on it and supplied gas because the furnaces and things like that. You know, they came in and,
you know, they just basically gutted it so that if there
was a buyer out there, just wasn’t gonna happen
anymore because of that. – Wow, yeah, we’ve heard a
lot of these kind of stories. Can I ask what your company did? – [Male Audience Member] We’re
an electrical parts supplier so, you know, we lit it up, you know?
– Yeah, yeah. – [Male Audience Member]
If they needed breaker, then we–
– And we talked to a lot of electricians that
actually worked on there, but I mean, the ripples were just felt obviously throughout the whole community. – [Male Audience Member] You
know, we had tons of trades. They were all, when they
talked about the plumbing, plumbers were in there,
you know, contractors of every imagination were in there working to support that and make a living because that steel mill was there.
– Right, right. – Over here. – [Male Audience Member] In you research, did you ever interview any
legislatures, legislators or government officials
about why they didn’t do more to get their perspective on what happened to Bethlehem Steel? – We never really went there. I think we were always, given the nature of how the project started,
it was always the idea of we really wanted to capture
the voices from the community and it wasn’t until later when
Michelle and I realized that, you know, these are, it
would be better served if there was a little context
here so that the folks outside of the community could, you know, these stories would resonate
with a wider audience and that’s why we brought
in Deborah Rudacille and Bill Barry to sort of
talk a little bit about it, even though, actually Deborah,
who actually teaches here at UMBC, grew up in the
community, so she was of the community but had also
written about it as well. Bill was a labor historian
who, you know, had, you know, done a lot of work there with
the steel workers over time, so he was very familiar with it. There’s, you know, that’s another film. (laughing) We certainly, we were actually
approached by several, we were, Helen Bentley’s
office contacted us about, you know, that she really,
you know, big advocate for the poor and wanted to
talk about it on camera. We respectfully declined that. We didn’t, we just didn’t want to go there because I’m, at that point, you know, you’re sort of opening it up to a lot of different interpretations
that we just thought was beyond the scope of
what we were trying to do. – Yeah.
– Yes. – [Female Audience Member]
Given the environmentalists’ point of view on that
because they had a whole lot of respiratory problems, health problems and stuff at the mill from the stories, do you that that had a lot to do with the company going bankrupt and eventually closing down, you know? – I don’t know. As far as the remediation? – [Female Audience Member] Yes, of course. You know–
– I know it’s something– – [Female Audience Member]
The gas they were saying that people was getting
asbestos and all of that and all kinds of other
health problems going on across the magnitude of
the company, you know. I’m thinking that because
of that, you know, that it could close down
federal lawsuits and stuff that people had to leave the company– – We haven’t really heard that. – I don’t know. – I get what you’re saying. I mean, it makes sense.
– Yeah, and it– – There were a lot. – And it’s been certainly an issue with–
– Peter Angeles. – With moving, you know– – That’s why he’s so wealthy.
(laughing) – Yeah, they’ve contacted us as well. (laughing) But that’s been a big issue with, I know with Tradepoint
Atlantic and it has been one of the reasons that
things have been so slow as far as redeveloping
the land down there, has been, you know, having to remediate the environmental issues that are there because the contamination
goes down I forgot, like, 50 feet at least in the ground. You know, they don’t know what’s there. I mean, you know, this was
operating for 100 years and they were just dumping
everything, you know, into the ground. You know, there’s no records of it. You just sort of find it. In the early days of Tradepoint
when we were down there, I was talking with them and
they were finding benzene leaching out on the beach,
you know, down there, so it’s, it’s something that
they’re still dealing with and they will be for probably
the rest of our lifetimes. Yeah, anybody else? Go ahead. – [Male Audience Member]
The film mentioned how that the (mumbling). Was that because of just
like the amount of money it would cost that if they
put all those (mumbling) or was it that they were resistant to it or even if they had more
money comes (mumbling) towards the 90s or 2000s. (mumbling) – Who knows, I mean, it’s,
there’s so many factors that were in play at that point. You know, something that
always resonated with me is, again, I always come
back to what Bill was saying and what Deborah was saying
about how slow US industry was to adapt to new
manufacturing techniques. That had a lot to do with it. The healthcare issue was
huge, you know, apparently. Just, you know, going back
to the Truman administration they were talking about, you know, universal healthcare in this country. We never really came
to terms with it here, so that was passed on to the companies and that was on the companies’ backs, so they were, of course
they were operating at a disadvantage at that point. – [Male Audience Member]
My dad is self-employed but, like, you know, from what he does, (mumbling) and that means there would
be no money in our account, so I sort of understand the idea of like when you have all these costs,
it means people can’t work and then–
– Right. – [Male Audience Member] It
means you’re not feeding people or that it just costs a ton of money, so like my dad has to
have health insurance and my mom and my brother
and I do because my mom works for our church, so
I have health insurance through my mom’s job– (mumbling) – Good, good, yes. – [Female Audience Member]
I know the film mentioned that they were really
casualties, like accidents that happened at the mill. As time went on, were
more safety precautions added within the mill or was that added–
– Well, you know, probably for the first 50 years
of the mill’s history, there weren’t any safety precautions. You know, in the early 20th century. I’m sure it was much
worse there at that time. Do you have anything say about this? – About how dangerous it was? – The safety precautions, or– – [Female Audience Member] That were added to maintain safety at the mill. – Well, we learned a little bit about it. Joe-Ed was very into–
– Right, yeah. – Joe-Ed’s the one who said he was young when they built the,
when they made the steel for the Golden Gate Bridge. He was a person who, within the union, was on the safety team that
would help to, you know, fight for the improvements
of the regulations for workers but also to promote knowledge of acting in ways that
you could protect yourself amongst, you know, employees. It just was very dangerous. There were so many moving parts. – Yeah. – Like physically, like cranes
going by, swooping, swinging. I mean, many of the workers
told us about how, you know, you just have to keep your eyes open. And also Darlene Redemann, she’s in the pink shirt, mentions, “We’re all best friends ’cause
we watch out for each other.” That’s, she really means that. You know, it’s not just your own eyes. It’s your coworkers’ eyes and
ears that help you as well. So many reasons why it
was insanely dangerous. – Right yeah. – And why they were
compensated so well as well, but they know it was, you
know, people could die, yeah. – Just an interesting point to bring up is that a lot of what we heard
was people knew the risks and yet, you know, it was
sort of the deal they made. They were willing to do
that, and, so, anyway. Go ahead. – Yeah, please. – [Mill Worker] On the
question of safety– – Yeah. – [Mill Worker] Things change gradually rather than quickly with the
union negotiating the ability to shut down operations if it was unsafe. – Right.
(clearing throat) – [Mill Worker] And that work, the mechanism for it was any worker could claim an unsafe condition,
the operation stopped, if it could stop, union
officials and other officials from the safety department got together and resolved the issue
or worked out the details and that sort of thing, but
when union got that control, it made a difference. – If you go to our website,
there’s actually a lot of additional materials
from the steel workers and there’s actually some,
I’m blanking on his name, who did the CAC with us. – Jerry. – Jerry, right, thank you. Jerry’s last name is? – I forget. – I forgot what it is.
– Sorry. (laughing) I’ve been up for 12 hours. – There’s some great
stories that, you know, are on the front page and, it’ll
come to me in a minute, that are–
– Ernst. – Narratives of some of these
stories about, you know, safety and some of the
tragedies that have happened at the steel mill and they’re very, very
poignant to listen to. Even in taking every precaution, you know, when you’re working around
these kind of environments, you know, things happen. – [Mill Worker] I worked for 10 years in workers’ compensation–
– Right. – [Mill Worker] Reviewing and dealing with all the workers’ comp cases and the deaths of some of those
people was pretty terrible. – Yeah, that’s what we heard too. – A question for that gentleman. After they instituted
the new union program where they would stop
work, was there a reduction in injuries and deaths? – [Mill Worker] That’s
what we’re talking about. We were very, very concerned about safety. There were regular safety
meetings every week and I managed a testing laboratory, and every week we’d stop
work, we got together, and we discussed any concerns at any, concerning the regulations on safety. So safety was always
at a pretty high level and the deaths and the injuries fell. – Good, they did. – Anybody else, yeah? – Said enough, okay. – No, go ahead. – You mentioned the
small amount of pension that had been recovered. I was wondering what’s
the source of those funds? Is that coming through
an insurance company, from the government, or from
the private corporations? – I’m not sure on the details on it. I think it was negotiated. The state actually had something to do it, but I don’t know if it came
from the state funding. Sir, do you know? – [Mill Worker] It’s the
Pension Guarantee Board. – Pension Guarantee Board. – [Mill Worker] And
that’s done by Congress. – Right. – [Mill Worker] What happened to that was–
– So it’s the federal government, yeah. – [Mill Worker] Any funds
that the corporation had when they declared bankruptcy
went to the federal government but that’s never been enough, so the taxpayers pay the balance. – But it’s not the full– – [Mill Worker] No. – It was never the full amount. You got a third. – [Mill Worker] About a third out in full. – Yeah, so, sure. – What’s interesting about that is, I don’t hear about
it, there was big party not that many years before the bankruptcy, where as a result of
the stock market guys, that there was new celebration of (audience members drowning out speaker) and then I guess it was the stock market you know–
– Right. – Collapse or whatever and
they did that fully funded celebration and, you know,
just turned the light out. – Okay, sure. – I had a comment. Is, I know it’s not your film’s charter, but when a company goes bankrupt, especially a large
manufacturing concerned, all the partner companies
get hammered and hit, the small businessmen, all
the organizations around it, but there’s another side of this, too. It’s the shareholders, the bondholders. They also get pummeled too. You can look at the recent GM bail-out. A lot of small folks got hammered. The Washington Public
Power System in Washington in the Northwest during the
1970s decimated families who had bet the farm on it. So, you know, this,
it’s a expansive problem that it’s not easy to resolve. – So there was something else over here. Armand, yeah. – [Armand] I mean, we
see a lot of industry that’s going overseas and outsourcing that’s happening right
now and a steel mill that’s operating in the US has
to $25 an hour and insurance, health benefits, housing
in some cases, and pension, retirement, life insurance
as opposed to $3 a day in China or in anywhere else like in the eastern part of the world. What are we going to do to
save all these industries and help grow industries? I mean, we’re not seeing
any growth right now in the industrial world–
– Well, the planet is. You know, still working, still happening. It’s just not here in the US, as you identified. – [Armand] I mean, Apple
is making their phones and right now is costs
them $100 to make a phone. – Yeah, there’s no allegiance
to American workers. That’s the irony. – [Armand] I mean, if they
can make it and try to sell it in another country it’ll
cost like $500 to make it. – Right. – [Armand] And what are we
doing to save our industry, our American industry? – And one of the other
ironies is, you know– (audience member mumbling) – [Male Audience Member] I
mean, from my perspective, in terms of, it’s like we’re
gonna save these industries. Instead, we’re gonna–
– Absolutely. – [Male Audience Member]
And then they voted for him. – Of course. – [Male Audience Member]
I mean, part of it’s like, you know, whether or not he can actually save those industries but like it’s like, coal isn’t not necessarily
the most viable. Steel is definitely really important. Steel makes almost
everything in the world. From pots and pans to
like giant skyscrapers. You need steel and even if we don’t, then you lose that
community and that resource. – Absolutely. – [Female Audience Member]
But what you have to do is if you’re a country and
your costs are too high, which let’s say making
steel in America, right now, is then we the people have
to decide as taxpayers if we’re going to subsidize so
that, you know, it works out. And, you know, most people in
this country don’t, you know, who’s going to Wal-Mart? Pretty much just about
everybody’s going to Wal-Mart. We lost all the, you
know, mom and pop stores or the local stores, whatever and, but you can’t compete. It’s not an even playing field. – No, it’s not. It’s a race to the bottom. – [Female Audience Member]
You’ve gotta involve the government and, you
know, we don’t really, we don’t want our taxes higher, we don’t. You know, it’s tough and
it’s sad to see things change as they have, but you know,
there’s not an easy answer. Somehow you have to
get people in China to, and all these other countries
to really understand that they should be asking
for a lot more money to even things out, but, you know. (laughing) And it’s happening slowly! – Well, one of the
areas I have a colleague who has told me that China,
you know, the steel industry in China is facing a lot of
the same issues now, and, you know, they’re closing
steel mills in China as well. So, yeah. – So, you mentioned that
it went bankrupt in 2001. How many employees did Bethlehem
Steel have at that point, do you know? – In 2001, I’m not sure. I think, Bill says in the
film like 2,000, I think. – I think he meant by the end in 2012. – He means by the very end. – That’s where 1500 by the end. – 1500 by then, so– – But I would say a couple thousand or just several thousand.
– Yeah. – That’s a great question. Probably bigger at one point. – So then the other one
reference point we had was somewhere in the 50s
there was as maybe as many as 33,000.
– Yeah, yeah. – Along that point, was
there, like in 1970 was there a drop off of 20,000?
– Oh yeah. It was slowly declining. – Was it slow or was it a great big cliff? – I’m sorry, you know, I
recommend Mark Reutter’s book on the whole history of Sparrows Point, just so you’ll get all these details, but it was just a slow decline. I’m sorry, I don’t know exactly, but, I mean, that was definitely the peak and the golden years and it never, ever– – But it was a combination of things. It was the economic things
but also the automation that was eventually–
– Absolutely. – Coming online at the very end. – [Female Audience Member] In the 80s they started with a lump
sum buying people out. – That’s right, that’s right. – [Female Audience Member]
That’s how that started. – So what are some of the future projects? I mean, surely you could
find the same scenario with GM or you name your
factory that’s shut down here, but are there you’d like to explore? – We’ll do UMC.
(laughing) – Well, you know, we’ve
actually been talking. I think, you know, what we
found over the past year, couple of years in taking this around is that these stories resonate
in other communities as well, so–
– Sure. – Other countries. – There’s certainly a
lot of work to be done, you know, in a broader, I mean
we have the whole Rust Belt sage which has certainly become, you know, very foregrounded. Not that it shouldn’t have been before, but it certainly is now. We can’t ignore it. So, yes, Fran. – One thing. Is it, sort of a kind of,
I guess I’ve been trying to figure out a way to say this, but I’m struck by a kind of,
in there Deborah mentions about the whole industrial
boom being a kind of bubble anchor, actually
that being discussed on the radio in terms of
this economy recently, you know, so that they’re, and they mention this fantasy island idea so that the whole experience
that was happening when things were really good was not ordinary, not sustainable really. And I worry a little bit that
there’s some romanticization going on about life there. I mean, it’s true–
– Right, yeah. The experiences are
true, the grief is true, and all of that, but the
sort of larger context seems like it’s a little bit missing, like this–
– Yeah. – And not to mention just
industrial economy at all. I mean, my understanding
is that a lot of people emigrated to Baltimore from
West Virginia and all that. – Definitely yeah. – From the Carolinas they
were brought up, yeah. – Once they’re there, they’re
basically prisoners, right? – Right, right.
– Yeah. Especially during the war. – And then dependent on that
company and the global economy and then when that’s gone,
you’re left hanging as we see. Because the government
doesn’t sustain that, so it seems like, I just
was a little bit struck by the emphasis on the sort of loss and the emotional– – Well, again, that’s where we started and it was important to
have the stories coming from the community and
that’s what we heard. We sort of took–
– It is. – There and moved on from that. So yes, there is a tendency in that and that’s the common
criticism that we have, yeah. – Well, see, it is, but
not romanticization, which I totally get, but it’s nostalgia. – [Fran] Yeah. – And, you know, just from
working with steel workers and talking to other people
who have similar projects in other parts of the
world, there is nostalgia. – [Fran] Oh yeah, no. – They wouldn’t go back
there and work tomorrow, (laughing) but they’re damn proud
of it and they love it and they want to tell the story. – [Fran] Right. – And so, you know, Nicole
brings up this wonderful notion of dignity in decline,
in industrial decline, but also that, you know,
as human beings we’re, our dignity is being attacked but there is a dignity in there as well. It may be painted as nostalgia
or look, appears as nostalgia but, they’re proud of
these stories, you know– – Yeah. – And they are nostalgic. – [Fran] Well yeah,
their lives are invested. – Yeah, and there were good times. I mean, Ham-Bone, Darnell,
would go on his days off. (laughing) Well, it wasn’t though
from the larger data set if you will, in this research project. I mean, these segments are whittled down from 30 to 45, an hour, yeah. – Everybody’s story was different. I mean–
– Yeah. – It depended on where
you were in the process. Some of these people did
spend their entire lives working for this mill.
– And their families. – Others, you know, when this happened, you know, it happened in
their twenties or thirties. We’ve had some of them, like Troy Pritt, who’d tell you it was the
best thing that ever happened to him with Bethlehem Steel
closed because it gave him an opportunity to go back
and pursue his college degree and now he’s working on
an MBA and you know– – And yet, talks about it like it’s his family.
– Yes. – He’s the gentleman who said, “We’re like soldiers. “We march in every day.” – Yeah, yeah. – [Fran] Yeah, I was gonna
say that the parallels with the military experience– – Right, oh sure. Yeah, it’s definitely there. Yeah. – [Male Audience Member] For
conducting the interviews themselves–
– Yeah. – [Male Audience Member]
Did, how did you approach the people and did you ask them questions or did they just, you say, “Here, the camera’s on, go ahead.” – No.
– No, no, no. – No.
(Audience laughing) It takes lots of time. Well, as much as we can
take, but the project started really, it’s a long story
but the state’s Arts Council, the government has a program
that honors cultural heritage in the state, including
places that are important. The mill just closed in August 2012 and for that award
program, we had nominations from the public to honor the mill and two of those nominations
came from Deborah Rudacille and Bill Barry, who provided
the context in the film and so they were fantastic connectors. They already have trust
within the community, from their own work. Bill Barry is a labor historian who worked at the community college, Dundalk. – Dundalk. – [Both] Community College. – And taught many of the
steel workers in his classes. So we piggybacked on that
trust that they built pretty much in the beginning
and then for the past four years now have built
our own rapports with, you know, people I consider my friends. But, so in terms of
setting up an interview, that’s all talked about ahead of time. “Are you comfortable?” There’s a lot of consent
giving and then of course we don’t spring a camera on them. – [Male Audience Member]
No, not spring a camera– – But that changes things.
– Yeah, yeah. – It makes people nervous,
absolutely, it does. Even an audio recorder. You know, so sometimes you gotta, Dustin
(laughing) was, can’t hear me.
(laughing) He was a student and he
interviewed some steel workers back when he was a student, but yeah. Initially there’s nervousness
but then once those stories, that nostalgia, that pride
starts coming through then, I mean, there’s
a comfort that is made. – It was actually kind of interesting because it’s a little
different than we would do in a regular, typical documentary or journalistic kind of
thing in that we had students with us–
– That’s right. – They had an audience when
we were doing these interviews and I think the steel
workers, for the most part, really appreciated that. I mean, it really evolved
into them talking directly to the students.
– To them. – [Male Audience Member]
So, they felt comfortable, or they felt more comfortable
having an audience. – Yeah, especially the younger generation. – Yeah, because they want
to tell their stories and they told all, again, visit the site. I mean, some of the wonderful comments that were made by people like Don Kellner to the students, you know, just saying, “I am very concerned for your generation “because of where we are.”
– Yeah. – And it was, there was just
a lot of poignant moments like that that just didn’t
made it into the final cut of the film but they’re on the website. Come over here. – So there was a mention
of the Golden Gate Bridge and I guess back then there
wasn’t a buy local kind of movement.
– Yeah. – Was there any talk
about how that contract ever got made between East
Coast and the West Coast? – That’s interesting.
– Yeah. – I mean, we sort of took
his comment a little bit out of context. I think a lot of the steel
that was made for the, when I looked at it a little further, actually came out of Pennsylvania. I think it was–
– But there is that pride of the larger company. – It was, it was Bethlehem Steel. – And so what he’s saying is, “Bethlehem Steel built
the Golden Gate Bridge “and I worked for Bethlehem Steel.” – And I also think that he’s not talking, when he’s talking about the new bridge, I think he’s talking
about the Oakland Bridge. He’s not talking about the
new Golden Gate Bridge. I think he’s really– – [Mill Worker] It was Towers Point produced the Golden Gate Bridge steel. That was the only water, the
only pipe in the United States that was on the water. – Right. – [Mill Worker] So when
you ship all that steel, it was by ship. Rail costs were huge. – And Bethlehem Steel actually
owned their own shipping line at that point, too.
– Right. – Yeah. – [Mill Worker] For a long while. – So, great, yes. – So one of the things
we’ve mentioned was like the dignity that was generated
in this field of labor. Did any of the former
employees contrast the dignity they felt working at the
mill with whatever job that they got afterwards? – Well, at the time the
majority of these interviews were conducted, they just, you
know, the mill just closed. So it’s really only
Troy and I know Lettice, who joked about when she saw her paycheck, she didn’t have a fear of heights. She was looking, at the
time of the interview, this is spring 2013, she
was looking for a job at Camden Yards in the service industry. So it was only really
Troy whom we followed post losing his job into
the University of Baltimore. That’s where his
interview was taking place because he became a business student. So, no, no, and that is
something I’m interested in– – Yeah. – Is kind of like a follow-up. – We really could do a lot of tracking. – You know, what’s going on. You know, the longer
term, not study, but view. – Again, for a lot of people
it was early retirement. It was, you know–
– Yeah. – If you’re, you know, of a
certain age, like late fifties it’s really hard to reinvent yourself, especially in this economy. – One thing we do need to
add to the end of the film is that Darlene Redemann has since passed away.
– Yeah. – She unfortunately had cancer
and passed away this spring. She’s in the pink shirt, yeah. – Pancreatic cancer. Well, if there’s no other comments or, I invite you to have cookies.
(laughing) – Thank you so much. (audience applauding)

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