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Back to South Works

In this month’s Progressive, Luis J. Rodriguez accompanies a former steelworker as he returns to Chicago and visits his former place of employment, the old site of South Works.

Near the entrance of the now-razed plant – it once covered 600 acres, had 70 coke ovens, employed nearly 20,000 workers (their softball league had 63 teams) – the two come across a Chicago police officer sitting in his car.  They ask what he’s doing and he says he’s “waiting for the high school kids to come out.”

Says the cop:  “Not much to do here but stop the fights after school.  It’s a daily occurrence.  It never used to be this way.  When the mill was running, there were hardly any gangs.  You had good hard-working families.”

Says Rodriguez, also a former Chicagoan, the largely Mexican community around U.S. Steel “thrived when the blast furnaces and massive forges went at it all day and all night.  In those days, there was little crime, everyone knew each other, most people owned their own homes, maybe two cars.  Now apartments sit empty, many families have moved out, and the Latin Kings and other street associations roam parks and gangways, surviving on drug sales, vice, and robberies…

“Tony and I turned onto Commercial Avenue, the once thriving strip of shops, businesses, and three-story flats.  Tony recalled the annual Christmas parade that brought thousands of people out into the street.”

The two bear witness to “the destruction that capitalism has wrought to many of our once-thriving, working-class communities,” he writes.  “While wealth continues to get accumulated into a smaller and smaller number of hands – helped by government bailouts – our country is rife with communities that have been written off.”

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Category: economy, history, Southeast Side


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