“These workers are not deluded by rose-tinted nostalgia; they simply recognize that the jobs they have now don’t offer the real, tangible benefits of industrial work. Following a path common to other displaced industrial workers, the former steelworkers I interviewed found new jobs as production line workers, taxi drivers, cleaners, or janitorial staff. Most of these jobs are insecure and low-paid.

We should, of course, avoid simplistic nostalgia for industrial work, and we should not forget its dangers and adverse health effects. Yet workers are right to remember and value many aspects of industrial employment. The high pay delivered steady social mobility, the work itself fostered a sense of occupational pride and identity, and powerful trade unions provided a culture of solidarity which allowed workers to advance their rights.

Working-class jobs have now become endemically low-paid, exploitative, and insecure. Decades of neoliberalism have crippled the labor movement, delegitimized working-class history, and all but erased working-class collective memory. Most young workers now know nothing else but low paid precarious work. For them, that is the norm.

Memory of and even nostalgia for the rights once held by industrial workers, despite the risks and exploitation, reminds us of what can be achieved by workers when they have strong unions and working-class communities. Those who dismiss workers’ positive reflections of heavy industry as little more than rose-tinted nostalgia are, purposefully or not, undermining a legitimate class memory of powerful workers and stable communities. In the process, they also undermine the potential organizing power of today’s working class.”
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