by Andrew Perchard (University of Stirling), Lachlan MacKinnon (St Mary’s University – Nova Scotia), and Steven High (Concordia University – Montreal)
Deindustrialisation has ruptured the lives of tens of millions of working class lives in the latter half of the twentieth century and into the twenty first from the Rustbelt of North America to the coal and steel towns of north eastern China. Between 1969 and 1976, an estimated 22.3m jobs were lost in the US alone, with some 100,000 manufacturing plants closed between 1963 and 1982 (Bluestone and Harrison, 1982: 7; High, 2003: 93). In the 1990s, an estimated 30m workers were left unemployed by the collapse of industry in north eastern China, with the country’s steel province, Hebei, expected to lose 60 per cent of its steel companies by 2020 (Financial Times, 28 March 2016). These job losses represent a significant disruption in the lives of workers and in the fabric of communities from which capital vacates, but they are not the whole story. Industrial work, the social relationships to which it has contributed, and the cultures that emerge alongside are profoundly world-making. Plant closures, and the associated lost jobs, shatter all of these types of connections – not simply the economical.
These, arguably more intangible legacies of industrial closures, are often lost in layoff numbers or within a literature that talks about the transformation of economies or Schumpeterian waves of creative destruction. In the globalized world, with corporations shifting production to non-union, low-paying areas of the global South, displaced workers are sometimes framed as greedy or uncompetitive. What right do workers in Canada, the United States, or Western Europe have to these jobs or their spin-offs, especially when they contribute to the development of deeply impoverished areas goes the neoliberal line. In this progressive economic narrative, these casualities are a necessary corollary of growth; as the authors of an International Monetary Fund paper put in 1997 (Rowthorn and Ramaswamy): “Deindustrialization is not a negative phenomenon, but a natural consequence of further growth in advanced economies.” It is commonly supported by reified figures on employment transitions. Besides, industries are polluting and dehumanizing and so have no place in our post-industrial and gentrifying cities. Those areas that have failed to make the transition have frequently been peripherialised, with residents then demonised in the media and subjected to further punitive policy measures.
Most recently this anger, after decades of neglect, has been manipulated and misrepresented in debates around the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency and the Brexit vote, with the irony that both movements have been dominated by elite populists. In all of this, complacency to the plight of post-industrial working class communities has been marked. The Deindustrialized World (eds. High, MacKinnon and Perchard, UBC Press, 2017) responds to this historical moment by excavating the profound impact of deindustrialization on the lives of working people but also the wider ramifications of these structural economic, political, and cultural changes. Many will argue that total manufacturing numbers do not bear out the thesis of precipitous decline; but, for all of the increases in productive capacity, the types of jobs that are now available are oftentimes more precarious and require less skill than did those of yesteryear. In the words of one Scottish steelworker coming to terms with his redundancy: ‘How do you tell fifty year old steelworkers to sell tartan scarves to Americans?’ Such arguments also miss the often-profound regional, local, and personal impact of these changes. The book demands that we go beyond national aggregation. In some cases, it has been accompanied by further capital flight and the collapse of civic infrastructure, leaving communities to deal with the legacies of multiple deprivation, ill-health and contaminated air and water, such as in Flint, Michigan.
Arising out of the ‘Deindustrialization and Its Aftermath’ conference in Montreal in 2014, this collection – scaling up our analysis from deindustrializing bodies to concerns of political economy – seeks to capture the complex cultural, environmental and social legacy of deindustrialisation (and industrialisation) for communities and individuals in Australia, Canada, France, the UK and US. The fifteen essays demonstrate the different experiences and responses of those affected by industrial closures. Chapters by Jackie Clarke and Sylvie Contrepois (France), Cathy Stanton (US), and Lucy Taksa (Australia) explore questions over the contested memory of industrial identities, places and spaces. While Arthur McIvor (UK), Lachlan MacKinnon and Robert Storey (Canada) consider the environmental and health legacies of such industries. In their urban studies of Australia, Canada and the US, Tracy Neumann, Andrew Hurley and Seamus O’ Hanlon discuss the tensions around regeneration and gentrification with urban studies. While chapters by Steven High (Canada) and Andrew Perchard (Scotland), include discussions around deindustrialisation in association with geographical peripheralization, racial exclusion, and regional policy failures. Andy Clark (Scotland), and Jackie Clarke (France), explore the role of female workers in resisting closures and maintaining an industrial legacy. There is a confluence between many of these issues and discussions across the collection. The editors and Jim Phillips (Scotland) consider these questions within the context of the notion of ‘moral economy’ and the viewing of plants as collective resources. Crucially, in amongst these voices seeking to make sense of what has happened to their lives and communities, are those of children living with the aftermath of deindustrialisation, alongside those of the adults shaped by an industrial culture and now left without it.
To contact the authors:
Andrew Perchard: firstname.lastname@example.org, @Aluminiumville
Lachlan MacKinnon: email@example.com, @LachlanMacKinn
Steven High: Steven.High@concordia.ca