the steel mill

I’m so fucking sick of this fixation on obsolete manufacturing jobs that only get attention because they’re seen as blue collar white man jobs. We’ve lost 90,000 retail jobs since Trump was elected, which is more than the entire coal industry employs. But we’ll never hear a peep about those because that’s work for women and POC.

And fuck all this demagoguing about foreigners stealing your job. A robot stole your job and it’s never coming back. 50 years ago a steel mill producing 500,000 tons of steel wire per year would employ 1,000 people, enough to prop up the economy of a small town. A steel mill with that same output just opened up and it employs, wait for it, 14 people. You won’t even see any humans on the production floor, just watching the monitors in the office above. No pussygrabbing orange fascist is gonna turn back the clock on that one. Oh sure, there was a candidate with a plan to retrain everyone in green technology jobs, but solar panels seem vaguely effeminate, not like the muscular labor of dragging shitty rocks out of the ground for pumping poison into the air. How about we really get back to basics and let dentists stick leeches on you again, there’s a lost source of income they could use. Maybe get some blacksmiths back to work. We’ll have a purely nostalgia-based economy and all the old demographics that we’re comfortable with.

Elsie Driggs was inspired to make this painting by a childhood memory of Pittsburgh’s steel mills. Returning twenty years later to capture the scene, she initially tried to paint it from inside the mill. The owners thought the factory floor was no place for a woman, though, and management worried that she might be a labor agitator or industrial spy. Today the painting may seem to warn of the dangers of industrial pollution, but Driggs did not have an oppositional agenda. She ended up basing the work on drawings she made from a hill above her boardinghouse, later writing that she stared at the mills and told herself: “‘This shouldn’t be beautiful. But it is.’ And it was all I had, so I drew it.” See the work now in Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900–1960

[Elsie Driggs (1895–1992), Pittsburgh, 1927. Oil on canvas, 34 ¼ × 40 ¼ in. (87 × 102.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Accession number 31.177]

Tapping the blast furnace #6 at Novolipetsk steel plant. The furnace had been put into operation in 1978. It produces 3.1 million tons of hot iron a year.

i know we exist because of what we make. my dad works at a steel mill. he worked at a steel mill my whole life. at the party, the liberal white woman tells me she voted for hillary & wishes bernie won the nomination. i stare in the mirror if i get too lonely. thirsty to see myself i once walked into the lake until i almost drowned. the white woman at the party who might be liberal but might have voted for trump smiles when she tells me how lucky i am. how many automotive components do you think my dad has made. you might drive a car that goes and stops because of something my dad makes. when i watch the news i hear my name, but never see my face. every other commercial is for taco bell. all my people fold into a $2 crunchwrap supreme. the white woman means lucky to be here and not mexico. my dad sings por tu maldito amor & i’m sure he sings to america. y yo caí en tu trampa ilusionado. the white woman at the party who may or may not have voted for trump tells me she doesn’t meet too many mexicans in this part of new york city. my mouth makes an oh, but i don’t make a sound. a waiter pushes his brown self through the kitchen door carrying hors d’oeuvres. a song escapes through the swinging door. selena sings pero ay como me duele & the good white woman waits for me to thank her.
—  José Olivarez, “I Walk Into Every Room and Yell Where the Mexicans At,” published in Poem-a-Day

(via 0360-IHB 8817 09-1998tif | IHB NW2 8817 rolls into Lakefront… | Flickr)

Caption: “Indiana Harbor Belt NW2 8817 rolls into Lakefront Yard in East Chicago, Indiana.“

September 1998

Photo by Art Gross

Pittsburgh Gothic
  • You’re waiting for the 61D. A 61A goes past. A 61A goes past. A 61A goes past. A 61A goes past. 
  • The closer you get to the Squirrel Hill tunnel, the slower everything moves. Cars. People. Particles. It’s cold. Oh god, you’re so cold. 
  • It was raining this morning, now it’s sunny outside. You check the thermometer, and it reads sixty. Better salt your sidewalk, gonna snow tonight.
  • You dropped a rock in that pothole on Brookline, and waited to hear it hit the bottom. You’re still waiting.
  • The sidewalk is getting steeper and steeper. Now there’s stairs. You climb and climb and climb. Look, a mountain goat. 
  • Your GPS tells you to take a sharp right to stay on Forbes. Your GPS tells you to take a slight left to stay on Forbes. Your GPS tells you to hit the man in the suit to stay on Forbes. Hit the man. Hit him. 
  • No one goes to Carlow University.
  • Bleeding? Buildings don’t bleed, don’t be silly. That’s just the steel rusting.
  • An orange sign just ahead of you reads “End Road Work.” You laugh, and see another sign. “Please. Please, I have children. End it.”
  • They built a bridge under the bridge to keep the bridge from falling on the other bridge under that bridge. The trolls are confused. Where can they live?
  • Someone said that if you fall in the Mon, when you climb out, your skin will peel off. Ridiculous. No one escapes the Mon. 
  • You’re trying to get home, but every single street is a one way that takes your further and further away. Where is home? What is home? 
  • They say the steel mills poisoned the air and killed the sky. Is that why it weeps? Whenever thunder roars, you swear you can hear a sob. 
  • A man is stabbed with a bottle outside the bar, and ichor the color of tar drips from between his fingers, flecked with gleaming yellow. He bleeds black and gold. The gutters overflow with black and gold. Steelers going to the superbowl.
  • You woke up and found U P M C etched into your wrist. You went to UPMC physician, and he sent you to UPMC Shadyside. They checked you out and said it’s nothing serious. Good thing you have UPMC healthcare, could have been pricey otherwise. 
  • The guy at Phipps laughs when you ask him what they use for fertilizer and shows you big bins of mulch in the back. Pitt students keep disappearing. The bins are never empty for long. 
  • The treasure map reads “Turn left at the big church, then go straight till you see a PNC.” Thirty souls set out to find it, each took a different path. None returned.