Monday, September 8, 2008


It was quiet this morning when I went to work. The birds were chirping, in the distance I could hear the very faint hum of traffic and that was it. Gone was the constant hum of the factory. After 119 years of continuous production, the factory that was the purpose for our town's founding has shut its doors.

Six hundred jobs are gone now. The jobs averaged $23.00 an hour. That is twenty seven million dollars annually that is no longer being directly contributed to our community. That's a lot of money. Of those six hundred jobs, roughly seventy five are in our village. The rest are in the numerous towns in our vicinity.

There was a rally on Saturday put on by the union for all the workers. It started at 3:00 and was kicked off by a long steam whistle going off at the factory. I'd never heard it before that day. I took the girls and walked to its location. The papers said that there were 3000 people at the rally. I'm not great at counting crowds, but there were a lot of people there and there were speakers there too. Politicians and union officials. I couldn't stop and listen for long. The girls got bored.

But what I did hear was that the new owners of the factory (who owned it less than a year before shutting it down) made a case before the U.S. government that the Chinese and other Asian countries were unfairly dumping product into the U.S. market, flooding the supply. The government came back and disagreed, saying that they could find no proof of that. Within the month, the private investment firm that owns the company who bought the factory started shutting down factories. Not once was it mentioned that the factory was being closed because of its inefficiencies or deficiencies.

The rally was meant to be a bipartisan, but it had definite Democratic leanings. Politicians touted "fair trade" rather than "free trade." Adam Smith and the "invisible hand" were denigrated and belittled. Union representatives promised an end to corporate greed gathered on the backs of the workers. And the crowd was very vocal in its support.

At one point, one of the speakers who came up had the same last name as the builder of our house. It's an uncommon name, so I know that he is somehow related to Bill. I wonder if the speaker was aware that his own relatives blocked the purchase of the land by the factory fifteen years ago. And I wondered again if our house really had been a cause of the shut down of the factory. Maybe it was foreign markets dumping product in the U.S.

The owners of the factory have said that they are closing plants because of the glut of product on the market. They are hoping that once the supply goes down, then prices will go up and they can afford to re-open some of the factories, which is why they are not selling the factory. I wonder though what will keep foreign companies from flooding our markets more once the domestic supply is gone?

I am a worrier. I always have been, except for a five year hiatus I took during college when I was too distracted to worry. I worry when I see good paying middle class jobs go away. And this is the closest I've ever been to a factory closing. I've lived through a few lay offs in my life, and seen a few people go. For the most part the people that were cut were not top performers and the loss to the company wasn't great. Most of them landed on their feet, and some even benefited as they got double pay from severance and the new job. This is different. Everybody is losing their job, and to hear people talk, the factory was highly productive, with up-to-date machinery and processes. And the factory was supposedly making money.

The simple truth is that a lot of these people are going to have a rough time ahead of them. Some of them will stay in the area, but good paying blue collar jobs are harder and harder to find. Heck, good paying white collar jobs are harder to find now than they were ten years ago. Some of them will try to move, but they will have to fight a bad housing market, an uptick in home inventories, and the overall loss of jobs.

I wasn't there at the end of the rally, but I know when it ended. At 5:22 pm on Saturday the steam whistle at the plant blew one last time. And then it was silent.

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