JANUARY 26, 2010 (Originally published in Open Salon)
This is where I go to work every day.
The traditional American carpet industry, is hanging on by its fingernails.
Maybe this is just justice.
At one of the plants, in a surprising moment of candor, the owner said "the people who do these jobs aren't able to get any other kind of work." and then described the process that is used to put backing on a rug or carpet and the conditions in the factories (loud, dirty, hot, vaporous), all legal by our government's standards.
The American carpet industry used immigrants and the broken as fuel for the machine.
Were they lucky to have a job?
I've had some tough jobs but nothing like working in a carpet/rug mill.
But were they lucky to have a job?
Reports differ, but it is widely agreed that the unemployment here is at least double the national average. Some of the mills and factories are running at 25% of their usual production.
I drive by row after row of closed small businesses and empty corporate business parks.
The people suffering the most are the Hispanic mill workers who drove the explosive production of the 80's and 90's by working 12 hour shifts without overtime in non-union shops at some of the worst jobs imaginable.
In the area they call "Beaner Town", people are losing their houses.
In the middle-class neighborhoods people are losing their houses.
Would it be stating the obvious to say that the last people to feel the sting live in the huge houses in the old money status neighborhoods?
The devil you know?
One of the people I spoke with who lost his job said, "The owners will cut jobs before they will give up either one of their summer homes!"
Many of the companies in this area are actually international, and if they are local and American, only a very few that aren't giants have survived. The biggest companies have used the economic crisis to swallow up the mid-sized and smaller firms.
A lot of these companies are making the product in the USA but the money is going elsewhere.
I've heard that the economy is slowly recovering.
What I can't understand is why nobody at places like MSNBC is showing these pictures. Maybe I missed something but it would seem like somewhere in their programming day,
maybe between "Lock Up" and "Lock Up Raw" (or whatever the hell it is called), they could go to North Georgia and turn their cameras on for an hour or two.
Everything is out in the open.
But it is all so sad that nobody wants to look.
All of the answers to the question "what do we do?" are deeply troubling because the answers from the people living here, with the power to make the change would continue to reward the system that has been in place since the very beginning of manufacturing in the South, where poor is better than destitute and the destitute steal to survive, and the mill owners know that desperate men serve as great sacrifices to the machines.
The churches are full, the prisons are full, and the houses are empty.
This is where I go to work every day.
Update (2015)- It hasn’t gotten any better.
Georgia Highway 41 (someday we'll look back)
(special guest, Annie Mosher)
I’m driving into a Nickel Moon
The Georgia hills will be bare soon
This is no ordinary fall
The factories and the mills
Stand silently and still
Nothing lives between the walls
On the streets they pray to Jesus, just to keep the little pieces
Of their blessings and amens
It’s a thin line they’re hanging on, God is great, he’s good, he’s gone
And he’s not coming back again
Someday we’ll look back on this
We’ll look back on this
And it still won’t be funny
You follow all the rules, drive your kids to school
Save for a rainy day
Until it rains all the time, and one day you find
It’s all been washed away
And I’m just passing through to somewhere I’m going to
I'm a tourist in the ruins
I can tell myself, it’s always somebody else
But I know my time is coming soon
There are always dreams to dream
And stories to tell
But our memories it seems
Don’t serve us well
And it’s just as well
I hold my tears, aching back and 50 years
And travel like a ghost
And I wonder why some men fall and some get by
And I am luckier than most
Words and Music by Nathan Bell copyright 2010