To the editors:
Any book is fair game for criticism; but none should be subjected to the kind of outright distortion which characterizes Jim Williams's letter regarding Rusted Dreams [May 8]. As a coauthor of this work, I'd like to set the record straight.
Williams alleges that the book does not include blacks in its portrait of southeast Chicago and that it assumes that "there are not black families that have worked in the steel mills for generations." In fact, black steelworkers are quoted throughout the book. Moreover, it specifically describes the fight that blacks had to wage against discrimination both in the mills and in the mill community since the earliest days of steelmaking.
Williams claims that "considerable attention is given to east-side charitable and social service organizations" while Local 65's efforts are "mainly lost." In fact, Local 65 receives more attention -- an entire chapter -- than any other organization in the book. We included profiles of a range of other groups -- toxic waste opponents; unemployed workers, small businesses -- because we believe all are important parts of the community's attempt to cope with crisis.
In the only specific example he could muster of our supposed "rusty research," Williams says we wrongly identify Ike Mezo as the "head" of the Unemployed Committee and implies that we fail to acknowledge Hosea Ivy's leadership role. In fact, each man is identified in the book as a "co-chair" of the committee.
Williams complains that we neglected to include in our policy recommendations a proposal for nationalization of the steel industry, "an idea which the workers themselves over a long process developed." It's difficult to believe he wrote this with a straight face. We interviewed scores of steelworkers and only the smallest fraction evidenced the slightest interest in this idea. I would welcome intelligent debate on the idea of nationalization. But attempting to pass it off as the will of the workers simply evades substantive argument for fantasy.
It's hard to fathom what would motivate someone to resort to such misrepresentations of fact or to descend to the kind of gratuitous personal attacks with which Williams concludes his fetter. We wrote Rusted Dreams in the hope of calling attention to the disastrous human and social consequences of deindustrialization and to challenge the notion that basic manufacturing is doomed in the U.S. It's a shame that Williams chose to grind some ideological or personal ax rather than engage in a serious discussion of these issues.