Pittsburgh I can remember driving into Pittsburgh decades ago when the belching smoke of steel mills was the clouds in the gray and overcast sky. Having the ACORN Canada staff in Pittsburgh offered an opportunity these days to not only see real clouds, but to also have them see something more than the great restaurant and bar scene of Carson Street on the South Side.
Hardly a hundred yards from our hotel was a riverfront biking and walking trail along the still active rail lines. We were driven a few blocks from Carson to see the trail and an impressive monument that was built by all the building trades unions that had worked at the mills in memory of the forges that once burned there. The erector set construction looked almost like it belong on the Transformer movie set, but was now guarding the bike trail that runs more than 200 miles to Washington, D.C.
Lloyd Cunningham is the longtime Homestead City Council president and ACORN member and supporter, and we could not have asked for a better guide to the famous Knights of Labor and Amalgamated Iron and Steel Union’s 1892 strike against the Homestead steel mills owned by Andrew Carnegie and managed by Henry Clay Frick, both major industrialists and robber barons of the time and later putative philanthropists of a sort. The battle near the bridge was decisively won by the union members and the thousands of townspeople who came to the river to support them, but the war, tragically, was won at the time by these union busters who refused to recognize the union. Cunningham noted that many, including the History Channel in some of its shows, count this strike as one of the top ten historical events that made the United States what it is today. The buildings overlooking the river and the water tanks had stood since those times. They, like a huge printing press across the street near the USS steel offices overlooking the battleground, are still standing, too large and expensive to move.
Our morning included a look at the social enterprises, including a building rehab and a future Fair Grinds Coffeehouse at Baker Street in central Homestead and a printing operation recently opened in a co-working space converted from an old school in West Homestead that ANEW has organized to create both jobs and the funding for community organizing in the area. Maryellen Deckard, ANEW’s Executive Director and formerly the regional organizer for Pittsburgh ACORN, laid out her vision and the hard work ahead for members to create a funding base in coming years. If they can create the self-sufficiency that are trying to forge here with these projects, she may be right, and like the vestiges of the steel makers, they will then be impossible to move as well.