Steel City Solidarity is the first installment of the multipart documentary series Citizens of Industry, which explores labor culture in many of its aspects. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has one of the richest labor histories in this country, and is the perfect place to examine the subjects of worker solidarity, organized labor and community culture. Utilizing in-depth interviews, essays and photo documentation, Steel City Solidarity explores the current state of labor activism and tradition in one of the strongest union towns in the United States.
Advocacy & Activism is the final chapter in Citizens of Industry’s first installment Steel City Solidarity, which chronicles modern day labor activism, working class culture and community unionism in the great city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In this multimedia piece, you will hear social activist and community organizer Mel Packer speak about what it means to be an activist, give advice on maintaining the struggle of advocacy in hard times and talk about the future of activism in this modern age.
Growing up in the Ohio Valley, forty-five minutes west of Pittsburgh in the Steubenville, Ohio – Weirton, West Virginia metropolitan area, I witnessed the deindustrialization of the community and the effect it had on its citizens. Once a thriving center of commerce for the steel and coal industries, employing tens of thousands of workers during its heyday, the economic center of Steubenville and Weirton began to collapse when companies such as Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel and the Y&O Coal Company ceased operations due to bankruptcy and internal reorganization. Between 1980 and 2000, the population of Steubenville dropped faster than any other city in the nation. My father, a fourth generation coal miner, lost his job due to company layoffs when I was ten years old, and I watched as he diligently worked to make ends meet. A responsible and resilient man with a family who depended on him, he was able to recover, but others enduring the same ordeal weren’t so lucky.
It is through this experience, along with my blue-collar background, that I became interested in documenting labor and worker solidarity. Moving forward through the 21st century, the nature of work and organized labor will continue to change. The manufacturing industry, which was the identity of this nation for a long time, has been replaced by a service based economy, with healthcare, food and public service being the fastest growing sectors. This change has precipitated a new response from the labor movement; one where workers, activists and organized labor are seeking unique and alternative ways of organizing and engaging the public through the creation of community unions and outreach programs. Steel City Solidarity conveys this vision by capturing the essence of working class Pittsburgh and the people who embody this spirit.
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