a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, October 29, 2007

Swept out the door

Welcome to nowhere, chapter 9

By Scott Beveridge

U.S. Steel Corp. delivered the news on a muggy July 1962 morning that its Donora works was shutting down forever, leaving the borough’s fate in the hands of its citizens. The company was sweeping its nearly 3,000 Pennsylvania workers out the door as if they were dust bunnies that had been allowed to collect for too many years in the corners and under the beds of an unkempt house. In keeping with tradition, the Donora Herald-American newspaper showed itself as a mouthpiece for the corporation and took sides with management. Never was it more evident than in the lines of an editorial that was printed in bold letters under the front-page story about the mill closing that July 24:


A Time for
United Decision

American Steel and Wire Division’s announcement today that the steel making and the obsolete Number Three Rod Mill operations will be discontinued permanently in Donora is not, or should not have been, a surprise to Donora and the Monongahela Valley.

Those who have read carefully the annual report of United States Steel Corporation who have followed the development of technological changes in steel-making in this country and abroad, and who, indeed, watched only yesterday the European television networks showing steelmaking operations in the industrial Ruhr Valley of Germany know what has happened.

As a woman housecleans her home and discards articles which have outlived their usefulness, so steel companies, or any other industry for that matter, must also houseclean for efficiency of operation.

Donora has been without these operations for more than two years now, and has continued to survive, as already has been proved, but it also can and must go forward. Progress, however, will depend more than ever before on an intangible commodity which Donora has in abundance – good people, working together toward a common goal.

The Telstar broadcast yesterday pointed out that the world is becoming more highly competitive daily. Today’s worker produces products which must compete, not only with products of immediately surrounding industries and the country, but also with products on the common world market. No longer may he be satisfied with “good enough.” He must produce highest quality goods or see the goods he has produced unsold in a highly competitive market.

He also must compete to keep the very industries for which he produces these products. No longer may he be complacent and content to let his community remain a one-industry town.

Donora, therefore, would be wise to heed the ancient Biblical handwriting on the wall, “Mene, mene, tekel upharsin.” Translated freely it reads, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” It is time now for Donora’s people to weigh the situation in balance and determine that Donora shall not be found wanting, and that its united people are ready to begin rebuilding for the future – starting today.

Strangely, the folks in Donora didn’t believe the company was telling the truth, said John Lignelli, who was a grievance man in the blooming mill and would go on to serve as mayor of Donora three decades later.

“We all thought it was nothing but a threat,” Lignelli said last week.

U.S Steel, he said, had just overhauled the blast furnace at great expense. Nearly everyone was praying that the announcement was a ploy to sucker the union into giving back benefits or wages. But the company wasn’t attempting, that time, to manipulate anyone in Donora.


Chapter 10

(The photograph and editorial were published with permission of the Observer-Reporter, Washington, Pa., which owns the rights to the old Donora newspaper.)

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