Saturday, May 2, 2009

Don't bash factory workers

Let’s not bash Kenosha

Even though Bosmo and the 17 rocket scientists are utterly incapable of filling potholes with anything other than bicycles, motorcycles and subcompacts, it’s important to point out that now is not the time to bash Kenosha and, more specifically, Chrysler workers.

I say this because I was particularly disturbed by a comment posted on the Kenosha News website which essentially said good riddance to Chrysler because now Kenosha might be able to shed its factory-town mentality.

How insulting.

No doubt Kenosha was less than progressive in the years following the Great Depression and American Motors, an absentee corporation at that, controlled much of everyday life in this area. We all know that when AMC caught a cold, Kenosha got pneumonia and we rode that roller coaster for decades.

It was also an especially hard hit in 1988 when Chrysler pulled the plug on auto production here because the city had just begun to diversify its economic and social fabric and a more orderly transition would have been more favorable. Nonetheless, eventually Kenosha was dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century.

The posters who bash our factory workers and factories overlooked the benefits these people and institutons bestowed on us.

First, money turned around in the local economy. Kenosha had nice homes, good schools and beautiful parks. These things wouldn’t have occurred without the good paying jobs and benefits that AMC workers enjoyed.

Yes, we did bemoan on more than one occasion how Kenosha may have been backward, but it turns out that our conservatism saved this community.

When financial institutions overextended themselves with risky lending and foolish ventures, Kenosha’s banks and savings and loans would have nothing of it. As a result Kenosha Savings and Loan and First National Bank were among the soundest financial institutions in the nation.

The fact that we didn’t do a lot of goofy things (notable exception: the ill-fated downtown “mall”) turned out to be good because when the time came, we were also to do things right.

Just look at the most recent industrial and commercial development in the greater Kenosha area. This couldn’t have happened in the old days. Waiting turned out to be a plus.

In addition, Kenosha did something quite unusual because the suburban-style expansion was coupled with inner city redevelopment. Kenosha is a national model, folks. Who among us would have thought that 20 or 30 years ago?

Those factory workers were our fathers, uncles and grandfathers who built nice homes, paid high takes and sent a not-so-subtle message to us baby boomers that went something like this: “I lived through the Depression and when World War II came was drafted. When I got out I came home and worked at American Motors. I never got a chance to finish school. But you -- you’re going to go to school and make something of yourself.”

Folks, those factory workers some belittle made a lot of themselves -- and us -- and we owe them our respect and gratitude. These are the folks who made it possible for us to succeed.

When auto production ended in Kenosha, it wasn’t just a plant closing. It was stealing this community’s soul and identity. Even in the worst days of this city you could go almost anywhere in the country and as soon as Kenosha was mentioned you’d hear, “That’s where they make Ramblers.”

For better or worse, we had an identity -- and a not so bad one at that. Now we are a nice bedroom suburb. Nice, but not the same.

Instead of belittling the factory workers who were the bedrock of this community, we ought to be thanking them and remembering in meaningful ways what they gave all of us.


Anonymous said...

You are correct. The blue collar mainstay has been the bedrock of both Janesville and Kenosha for decades. You are mislead however in how those factory workers developed the ability to change when the car world became global. It is just denial at this point to note that biz decision makers close their slowest productivity plants. That my friend is the reality

rich said...

"...we ought to be thanking them and remembering in meaningful ways what they gave all of us."

...yup, a bar on every corner :)