Dispatches from Decatur

Community is the first casualty in America's labor wars

The union guys are gone from the gates, their run-down folding chairs with them. The long days spent bearing witness to their grievances in a slow monotonous circle are finished. The days spent trying to keep warm around smoky oil drums in the winter or sweating through their T-shirts in the summer are ended. Decatur war zone

The signs declaring Decatur, Illinois a labor war zone still linger around town, unhappy memos from a militancy that can only seem feigned now. After almost three years, one of the most bitter labor fights the nation has seen since the early part of this century is over.

Three unions went up against three of the world's largest corporations. When these separate battles in the war of Decatur finally exhausted themselves in late December with the weary capitulation of locked-out workers at A. E. Staley, the companies pretty much got exactly what they had wanted from the beginning, and the unions had to accept mere survival as victory enough.

Father Martin Mangan, pastor of Decatur's St. James Church said last summer, "I really hope Decatur can be the Stalingrad of the labor movement, where they dig in and say: 'Enough is enough is enough.'" If Mangan's metaphor holds, then Stalingrad has fallen.

Such a complete union defeat would have been unheard of years ago. But as one embittered observer in Decatur remarks: "union has become a bad word today." Burdened as they are by an arguably unjust reputation for corruption, bloated wages, and technological obstructionism, unions no longer compel the unqualified support of the public, nor even the automatic loyalties of working union members.

In Decatur, the unions battled with what they deemed an uncaring, even brutal, corporate management, with other unions who crossed their pickets, with an AFL-CIO hierarchy that seemed at times majestically indifferent to their struggle, and finally, inevitably, with each other. There is bitterness to spare among the Staley diehards who wanted to continue the fight and the exhausted majority that wanted it to end. A new leadership has taken command at United Paperworkers International Union Local 7837; workers who had tired of the seemingly endless confrontation with management, workers ready to make a deal.

Where things go from here remains anybody's guess. Like bloodied but unbowed pugilists who simply don't know when to call it quits, union spokespeople admit labor has taken a beating in Decatur, and then start discussing strategy for the next round.

Catholic social teaching is full of grandiose terms like common good and human dignity, but the tradition started with a few more humble words that pertain in Decatur: worker and union. Whatever it has come to mean or achieve in the years since, the church's social teaching began in 1891 as an impassioned and, for its time, radical defense of worker rights before the power of capital.

Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum asserted the special dignity of human labor and defended the right of workers to form unions, the right to collective bargaining, the right, yes, even to strike. It is not a stretch to call this focus on the rights and dignity of workers the foundation of all the social teaching that has followed. Now, 105 years later and teetering on the edge of the 21st century, it may be time to blow the dust off of Pope Leo's encyclical and take it out for another look.

It couldn't have hurt a few years back if folks in Decatur had. After years of growing tension between management and labor at A. E. Staley, a producer of cornstarch and sweetener, 760 union workers were finally locked out of the plant altogether in June 1993. Management justified the lockout with accusations of industrial sabotage and vandalism. Staley's workers called it a naked attempt to bust their union.

Just a short ride down Decatur's 22nd Street from the billowing jumble of the Staley factory, the Caterpillar plant workers walked off the job the following year. Corporate managers there were seeking changes in work rules and wage and benefit concessions.

A month later, they were joined by workers at the Firestone tire factory because its managers sought similar concessions. Decatur, Illinois had become the unlikely and undoubtedly reluctant nexus of America's labor woes. Analysts and academics saw big issues being warred over in Decatur. The future of trade unionism, the future even of America's economic order, it was declared, were being determined at the battlements of Decatur.

But as in all wars, it is the foot soldiers who have simultaneously the worst and best view of the action. Decatur's workers weren't fighting for the future of unionism or to change national industrial policy—at least, that's not all they were fighting for—they were fighting to hold on. They were fighting for their lives.

Since the takeover in 1988 of the A. E. Staley company by Britain's Tate and Lyle, a multinational food-processing giant, a lot of sentences in Decatur begin with "Old Mr. Staley wouldn't have done that." Whatever faults Staley's eponymous previous owner might have had have been smothered in a nostalgic haze thanks to the noxious behavior of his corporate progeny.

J. Patrick Mohan is a Staley executive vice president and primary union bogeyman. He betrays little emotion one way or the other when he announces that the labor strife at Staley has finally been "settled." Those who have "elected" to return to work are being returned to work. Others, he says, have "elected" to accept "enhanced severance or enhanced retirement."

"The transition [back to work] has been going very, very smoothly," Mohan says.

To Mohan the causes of the battle at A. E. Staley are clear and simple. The plant carried more workers than it needed; the workers it had were unwilling to adjust to new global competition; the union local was poised as an obstacle to that adjustment. "What the situation involved was necessary change versus a total resistance to change," he says.

"You have to look at the plants with whom [we] compete; they have significantly lower employment rates. This industry has become far less labor intensive than we once were; we rely more now on brain than on brawn."

Tate and Lyle plans to invest $60 to $70 million to modernize the facility over the next year, Mohan says. And that modernized facility will require fewer and fewer workers. He says the union workers needed to understand this reality. "We needed a modern labor agreement to go with the modernizing of our plant."

He has that now. The members of United Paper Workers International Union Local 7837, the Staley local, have grimly endured the lockout on part-time jobs and $60-a-week strike pay for almost three years. Last December they succumbed to what may have been the inevitable in the era of the permanent replacement worker and voted 56 percent to 44 percent to accept the company's last offer, which bore more than a passing resemblance to its first.

St. James' Mangan is one of the few religious leaders in Decatur to have taken a stand in support of the strikers. "I used to try to be neutral, but the more I learned, the more I understood. I really had to stand on the side of labor," he says. He calls the coming fight over the rights of workers the civil rights movement of the future.

Mangan has stood on the pickets with workers and behind them at rallies. Mangan's position has not been altogether popular in town; he's had more than his share of confrontations with members of corporate management in Decatur. Cornering the unfortunate Mohan at a community luncheon, Mangan decided it was time he did some ministering to the comfortable. "In Germany there was a systematic destruction of people called the Holocaust, and I really believe that there is also a systematic process going on now to destroy the economic lives of people. In Germany, the ministers were silent; I'm not planning to be this time."

"I said this to Mohan and he said, 'I really, really resent that,' and I said, 'You should!'" Mangan cackles in delight at the memory.

"Part of what this plant was to old Mr. Staley," Mangan says, "was to provide jobs to the people [of Decatur]. That's the sort of distance between the economy then and the economy now. This is absentee landlordism at its worst; [Staley's management] doesn't have the same ties with the people. It's a pretty classic case of a multinational corporation not having any investment in the community at all."

In fact, both the Staley plant and the Firestone factory are owned by multinational corporations. Firestone was purchased in 1988 by Bridgestone, the Japanese tire manufacturer. Though Caterpillar remains U.S. owned, management over the last few years has used its presence in the global market to justify the concessions it sought from its United Auto Workers. Caterpillar has to face stiffer global competition, they told their employees, and UAW salaries, benefits, and work prerogatives were making that difficult. Similar calls for enhanced competitiveness, modernization, and industrial restructuring were also variously cited at Staley and Firestone.

But perhaps the major issue of contention for workers at Staley and Firestone has been the switchover to 12-hour rotating shifts. Only a handful of workers at Caterpillar work 12-hour shifts—and none on a rotating basis, says Caterpillar's Chuck Hippler. "We just don't run the kind of continuing process that requires that."

But a corn-processing facility like Staley runs "24 hours a day, 365 days a year," Mohan says, arguing that limiting production disruptions is crucial to maintaining Staley's market competitiveness. Staley workers could only argue that they found the new schedules inhuman.

How to moderate the corporate behavior of multinationals like Staley's parent Tate & Lyle and Firestone's owners Bridgestone Tire will likely prove a major preoccupation of American labor over the coming years. That job has become especially difficult as the specter of the permanent replacement worker continues to haunt trade unionists. The number of strikes called in the United States hit a 50-year low last year.

These are companies that appear to have opted for an acceptance of workplace antagonism and increasing pressure on workers as the best way to maximize profits for their shareholders. The long-term efficacy of that strategy is not as clear to other American companies that have determined to seek productivity gains and profit maximization through more positive engagement with their working community.

Caterpillar was one company that briefly explored then bitterly abandoned such a "team management" approach at its plants. It's the fallout from that experience that accounts for much of the animosity between management and the UAW workers today.

"Keep the working class working, keep them out of politics, keep them out of community life . . . it's all part of the grand design," UAW hard-liner Charlie Holt assures. In addition to all the bitterness and hard feelings among one-time friends and family members, Decatur's labor woes have generated their fair share of conspiracy theories.

"One world government; they've been after that since the turn of the century. They're all doing the same thing; it's all unions everywhere they're attacking," Holt says, leaning up against his desk at the office of Friends of Labor, a group of Decatur residents, business peo-ple, and union workers that serves as a bridge between the workers and the broader community in Decatur.

"George Bush talked about it constantly—the New World Order. All the New World Order means is that all of the working people in the United States have to go down to Third World standards. I want no part of it.

"These giant corporations—you cannot even classify them as Japanese or American or British because they don't have any allegiance to any country—they go all over the world. They have plants all over the world, and they're taking advantage of all the working people all over the world . . . Once you get in and learn and actually see what's going on, it becomes quite evident.

"The people who do not see this, choose not to see it. They've been working on this for decades, and now it's all coming together. . . . They got the farmers in the '80s, and now a decade later, they're going after the unions."

Crazy talk from a disgruntled paranoid or unflinching insight into cold corporate realities? That probably depends on whether you happen to be clutching a pink slip or a golden parachute after the latest round of "corporate restructuring" is finished. But whatever else it is, Holt's soliloquy is the kind of language taken up by at least one presidential candidate to great effect this year. Pat Buchanan has made corporate bashing all-American through his campaign promise to repeal GATT and NAFTA and rein in runaway American capital.

In their 1986 pastoral letter on Catholic social teaching and the U.S. economy, "Economic Justice for All," the U.S. bishops quote Pope John XXIII's Mater et Magistra: "The dignity of the human person, realized in community with others, is the criterion against which all aspects of economic life must be measured.

"All human beings therefore, are ends to be served by the institutions that make up the economy, not means to be exploited for more narrowly defined goals . . . all economic institutions must support the bonds of community and solidarity that are essential to the dignity of persons. Wherever our economic arrangements fail to conform to the demands of human dignity lived in community, they must be questioned and transformed" (28).

Decatur has certainly been transformed by the "economic arrangements" that have evolved there. While workers have suffered in the Decatur labor wars, what has been the town's greatest casualty may be its sense of community, of wholeness and common purpose. Decatur survives now in splintered passions and loyalties. For years Decatur's Herald & Review has run a series of diatribes and commentary, charges and countercharges in its letters section as Decatur residents attempted to work out their divided loyalties.

Community is one of the human goods that Catholic social teaching has sought to protect. And community has been devastated in virtually every sense in Decatur—community as that place where people encounter one another geographically or encounter one another professionally or interact emotionally. The church teaches that it is only in community with each other that people become fully human. That's a vision that holds true whether you appreciate community as an anthropological artifact or a spiritual requirement.

The strikes and the Staley lockout have generated enough betrayals and bitterness to last at least a few generations. Uncles are not speaking to nephews who crossed pickets; neighbors are building walls of silence around neighbors who took jobs as replacement workers.

"There's real hostility in some of these neighborhoods," "Debra" says between blue streams of Camel smoke. She's stopped by the Schaefer Bowl Cafe to throw a few balls and drink a few beers with two friends.

"In our neighborhood," she says, "a guy lost his job because of [the Staley lockout]; he went out of business [as a subcontractor]. He got called in at Cat. His wife worked for Kemper, and their office closed. She got called in at Cat as a replacement worker. The couple on the other side of the street is not talking to them now.

"On another street you got Cat strikers who are not talking to the guy across from them because he crossed the picket line at Firestone."

Her friends relate similar stories. But there's more to the breakdown of community in Decatur than just union versus capital or neighbor versus neighbor. Crime, drugs, gangs: these are just a few of America's contemporary urban woes these lifelong residents say have migrated to Decatur over the last ten years as Decatur's manufacturing life extinguished. These three women have among them decades of experience in the town's manufacturing workforce. Debra launches into the litany that is her work history. It quickly begins to sound like an industrial obituary column as she describes the series of layoffs and plant closings that have brought her to the work she does today at the city's public-aid department.

"I am so thankful that my child is grown up," Debra says after watching one friend leave to go home to take care of her children. "I wouldn't want to raise my child in this town. . . . It's sad, ain't it. I don't think you'll ever forget this town.

"We got people living on the streets here; prostitution is unbelievable here; drugs are unbelievable here." Debra punctuates each sentence with an angry toss of her arm. "This used to be a nice town," she says, shaking her head.

And Decatur may still be a nice town. But a short visit makes that difficult to imagine. Decatur is encircled by busy four-lane roads and precarious intersections. No one seems to walk anywhere in Decatur; everyone's in a car. The neighborhoods in the city proper have an exhausted and defeated feel. And whatever small-town charm may have previously shown from shop windows and restaurants of a past age is lost in today's Decatur among the glassy, monotonous exteriors of one large chain store and fast-food restaurant after another.

The corporate service industry appears to have assumed nearly complete control over the town's commercial life. Here is a community that is going global but not as an expression of self-determination and willful engagement with the world, but as evidence of something more like a collapse, a center not holding, a civic individuality fading into beige and aluminum. If workforces go global, why not communities—one plastic mold of Burger Kings, Big Boys, McDonalds, and Wal-Marts after another.

"Welcome to Decatur," the sign reads as you pull into town off the interstate, "Pride of the Prairies: population 84,000." Folks around town will tell you there are probably fewer people than that here in Decatur.

Since the early 1980s, good-paying union jobs have been exiting the city, heading south or out of the country altogether, as American capital chased low-paying workers in other regions. Many working families simply gave up and left town; others stayed to compete for the jobs that did remain. "But it seems like most of the new industry comes in at much lower wages," Bob Lewis, who works at a downtown Sears' store, says. "There's just been a gradual erosion, and the jobs have not been replaced by comparable jobs."

He should know; Lewis once worked as a counselor for dislocated workers. "My job was to find jobs for people, mostly workers laid off from Borg Warner. They used to get $12 or $15 an hour there. The factory jobs now, if they can get them, are always lower—$6.50 or $7 an hour. The whole situation has changed." Eventually, even Lewis got laid off. "I became a client of my own program," he says. He's grateful to be working now at Sears. "Brand Central," where Lewis is a sales rep, is as shiny and well-stocked as any consumer-electronics department you might encounter in any other town. And why not? Business has been good.

While some of the longtime Decatur residents may be a little reluctant to spend money too freely, Lewis says, "some of these young guys living in the hotels are sick of eating at the restaurants and they're buying microwaves." Those "young guys" in the hotels are just some of the people who have come into Decatur to capitalize on the disarray in the union ranks.

Following ads placed in newspapers in cities and towns in southern states where unionism has never had much of a tradition, many of Lewis' new customers are young men who came up to take the union jobs. Some are living, sometimes at company expense, all around the outskirts of Decatur in motor lodges and highway hotels, but many have begun to move into empty apartments in the town proper. Some may even entertain hopes of building a home in Decatur and joining this community. That may not be so easy. "I think a lot of them will move on," Lewis says. He doesn't sound like he's going to be all that unhappy to see them leave either.

Lewis may be happy to take their money, but it's clear he maintains some distaste for these new members of the community. "My impression is that they're a bunch of jacklegs that come up from Texas and Mississippi." (A jackleg, he explains patiently, is "someone who says he can do anything, but can't do nothing.")

Of course not all his new customers come from out of town. "Firestone got a lot of locals to scab in for those jobs," Lewis says. Already long experienced with the pleasures of flipping burgers in America's service industry or finding nothing else but low-paying, benefit-poor manufacturing jobs, De-catur's own young people have been accepting the work that their older neighbors and acquaintances—even close family members—have lost.

"You know, it's the first time a lot of these guys have ever had any money," Lewis says. "You're a young guy, get a good job at Firestone, and all of a sudden you're making—with overtime—$1,000 a week, and you're still at home with Mom and Dad. You come in here and blow all your money."

Terry Howley is also a man with a new job. Like a lot of people in his community these days, he works two jobs. His bread-and-butter gig is financial consultant and vice president at Smith Barney. His other job? Howley is Decatur's new mayor.

Howley decided to run for office after years of watching his city decline. "The recession was kicking the holy crap out of this city." Howley says things are on the upswing in Decatur today, though, and that the latest round of union problems has barely affected Decatur at all.

"It's having the worst effect on the small towns around here," Howley says, explaining that most of the union workers from Cat, Firestone, and Staley live in Decatur's suburbs. "It's ironic but [the labor disputes] have been good for the Decatur economy."

Since the replacement workers began showing up in town, the hotels and motels have been filled, he explains. Even better, all those empty apartments and unsold houses leftover from the last industrial downsizing are finally being filled as some replacement workers settle in for the long haul. The impact these new residents might have on civic morale or how those who stay might be integrated into the wider community, Howley professes to be unconcerned.

Eventually, he thinks most of the union guys will have their old jobs back and those replacement workers "in for the quick kill" will have drifted off.

Some are born wretched, some achieve wretchedness, and some have wretchedness thrust upon them. In few places in the world is the latter so true as in Decatur. Workers describe the nightmare that has descended upon their factories and their families with the stunned, disbelieving breathlessness of car-accident survivors. There are stories of divorce, of selling off family assets, of exhausting family savings, of losing homes. Most of the workers whose lives have been disrupted so much by the labor strife are older men with families, many near retirement age; most are unwilling at 59 or 60 to accept working schedules that would give even a young man pause.

What the unions have lost in Decatur is a lot. The company demands that led to the strike at Firestone and the lockout at Staley read like a return-to-sender list of the great union achievements of the past 70 years. The eight-hour day has been repealed throughout much of working Decatur. Workers at Staley and Firestone have been forced to accept 12-hour shifts—two days on, two days off—with overtime that could have them on the job as much as 60 hours a week. A rotating schedule means that most workers will have to switch back and forth monthly—if not more frequently—between day and evening shifts. Job classifications have been watered down (making it easier to shift workers around according to production demands but more dangerous for everybody, workers say, as inexperienced personnel are asked to perform a variety of industrial jobs). Seniority has been eliminated.

Of the workers who remain after a wave of strike-inspired early retirements, about 400 of the striking Firestone workers have returned to the job; another almost 200 are waiting to be called back in. Randy Gordon, vice president of the Bridgestone United Rubber Workers Local 713, says morale among the union workers is terrible. Gordon has just arrived at the union office after finishing his shift at Firestone, and he sounds beat. "The 12-hour rotating shift has been real tough," he says wearily.

"It's causing a lot of stress," he says. "Your body clock just can't adjust. You don't have an outside life; you're just not involved in the community. You spend all your time trying to organize your life around your work schedule and the plant. That's just not the way it's supposed to be.

"They took away [holidays for] Thanksgiving; they took away the Fourth of July; they took away Labor Day. They're just showing a total disregard for the workers. They believe if we don't like it, they can just replace us. And they already have."

Gordon is referring to the hundreds of replacement workers who have assumed permanent positions at Firestone during the months of the strike. "They outnumber us; it's terrible. There's a very bad atmosphere in there." Gordon says that the lower-paid replacement workers get preferential treatment from management. He views these daily slights as subtle-to-obvious attempts to prod the union workers slowly off the job.

But bumping elbows with people he previously dismissed as scabs is only part of the unpleasantness on the line at Firestone. Gordon and the other union holdouts also have to work next to the "crossovers" who used to be friends, who still are their neighbors, or who may be members of their own families. "There are three factions there, and everyone pretty much keeps to themselves; it's not pleasant."

Negotiations for a new contract are just beginning, and Gordon says he's hopeful but not optimistic. He expects Bridgestone to push even harder this year against the weakened local union. "We're not fighting for anything more [in terms of salaries or benefits]; we're just trying to maintain where we're at." He doesn't expect to see wages increase no matter how well the company does this year. Gordon has almost seven more years to go before he reaches retirement. "Something's got to change," he grumbles.

"What kind of legacy are we leaving for the next generation?" Firestone striker Dave Frazier asks. "We're already leaving them a national debt that's disgusting and an environment that's pretty trashed. Do we compromise on everything?"

The AIW's Dike Ferris says his local understood that the Staley workforce needed to be reduced. He says they were willing to work out a plan with management to achieve that reduction through attrition with a plan that may not have maximized profits but would have mitigated as much human misery as possible.

Ferris charges that Staley had no interest in that approach to corporate downsizing, that the company wanted to achieve the competitive level it wanted as quickly as possible. Ferris' charge does not appear to be just union rhetoric. According to J. Patrick Mohan, now with everything "settled," Staley should reach its reduced workforce target within the year. That would mean cutting the previous workforce by more than 500 jobs. The plant will be run, he says, by state-of-the-art equipment and about 250 human bodies pushing buttons.

Whether he's a pragmatist or just a man with limited vision, Mohan seems unable to imagine any alternative to the adversarial position his company took with the men and women who contributed sometimes as much as 30 years of their lives to Staley.

Asked if he would do anything differently today if he had it to do all over again—after all the hard feelings and the individual tragedies the lockout has engendered and the substantial abuse he and his family also endured—Mohan simply says, "No."

But doesn't he think the dispute could have been handled any differently—that Staley could have found a way to reach its corporate goals without causing so much trauma to its community of workers and the community of Decatur?

Staley, Mohan says, has always been good to the community; it has always contributed in resources and donations. "We are good corporate citizens," Mohan says. "We believe we pay competitive wages, and we provide excellent benefits."

Mayor Howley thinks he can turn Decatur around, but he doesn't think that's going to happen if the city remains addicted to heavy industry and manufacturing jobs.

"Ten to 20 years ago, you got out of school, and you could expect to get a job and to keep it. But job security is a thing of the past. We have to take a look at where the country is heading economically, where the society is heading.

"We're trying to be more aggressive on economic development without being totally dependent on heavy industry."

Over the long haul, he doesn't think Decatur's working class can depend on big corporations to stay in town and be the community cornerstones they used to be. "They'll go where they can make money," he says. "I think what you're gonna see come out of this is that business as usual in industrial America is over."

Mohan shares Howley's view. Though the already profitable company may yet realize even greater returns, he does not think that Staley is likely to expand its workforce any larger in the coming years. Further modernization will preclude any need for highly skilled laborers or the unions that represent them.

"We encourage our people to engage in lifelong learning; we think everybody should be ready for whatever happens because no one can predict what will happen in such a fast-changing world," he says.

"We're no different from any of the other corporations around the country today who are doing the same thing," Mohan says, "downsizing, primarily through technological modernization.

"Our responsibility is to make sure the corporation continues to survive and prosper. We have to look to the good of the corporation as a whole and the good of all the other workers, not just for a small pocket of workers. We want the jobs that do exist to be viable and sustainable. Is it morally responsible for a corporation to operate in a fashion that forces it to go out of business and close factories?"

There's a certain reasonableness to what Mohan says. And like his counterparts at Bridgestone and Caterpillar, he can probably provide statistics and economic analyses that back up all the decisions Staley's managers have made.

But that's the problem with logic sometimes—it can be terribly inhuman. There's a problem here, a problem with making an idol out of economies and numbers and relieving yourself of the obligation to include the human factor. Staley's performance may make sense under the logic of economics, but it falls far short of the vision of human dignity and the primacy of community asserted in Catholic social teaching. In that vision, economies are constructed to serve people, not the other way around.

Mohan says A. E. Staley has been a beneficent contributor to the Decatur community. And he's right.

Mayor Howley says the labor war hasn't affected the community of Decatur as badly as some think, and that it is Decatur's nearby communities that have really been hurt. And he's right.

But one has to marvel at how small a community these men have assigned themselves to when the word offers such a broad world to embrace. But maybe that's what happens when systems come under stress, when people feel threatened—our idea of community becomes smaller. Maybe companies facing the challenges of the global free market decide it's safest to start constricting their community. Maybe it feels easier for them to leave their own workers out, assign them to an economic formula, and base their decisions on its cool returns.

And when that constriction of community reaches workers, how quickly do they respond in a similar manner, when their world begins to become populated with "crossovers," "holdouts," and "scabs," when their community constricts to even exclude the "undeserving poor"?

"We'll never get back what we lost," URW's Frazier says, remembering better times on the line at Firestone. "There was a cohesion, a camaraderie. You get to know all the people, see them from shift to shift. Working on a job for 25 years, it's like coming into a family on a grand scale."

It's clear that in Decatur, as in the rest of the rapidly deindustrializing United States, community is being transformed. Howley's prognostications are probably correct. The manufacturing jobs that used to guarantee a living wage are gone; the ancient brick-and-mortar testaments to America's industrial past are being torn down or abandoned across the country, or else converted into modish "industrial-look" co-ops and condos for the salaried employees who can afford them.

What remains at issue, though, is how will the United States deal with this problem of deindustrialization: what will it accept for the communities that are being left behind, and what conditions will it tolerate in the Third World communities that rise haphazardly in their place? What kind of community will we choose to build for the future?

Two roads lead from Decatur: one follows a familiar trail to continuing labor strife and sacrifice for working people and ends in a place where low-to-moderate skilled workers are apparently doomed to fall behind in America's shiny, happy post-industrial future. The other road could lead to a place where management and labor seek a collaborative future, one that is based on mutual respect, a place where quarterly targets have not replaced people as the primary objects of economic policy. It is a place where they are both more likely to find the community that resides as the unspoken desire of every human heart and the place where Decatur, Illinois could be built again.

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