I worked briefly as a steel worker, but I consider myself more of an honorary member. My dad spent almost 45 years at Wisconsin Steel and he made me promise that I would never go to work in the steel mills. So I embarked in business—the business of politics and government jobs. I worked as an organizer and opened what we call the Friends of Labor back in the days when the mills were still working and there were a number of strikes back then late ‘70s early ‘80s. I was living in the suburbs at the time and working on a strike assistance committee, and I happened to own a building in downtown Harvey with a partner that was the president of a steel worker local that I had helped support and organize, so we became a strike headquarters.
Tom’s phone keeps ringing, and by this point he’s just decided to turn it off. He’s a busy man, but excited to talk about the labor history in Chicago.
You can hardly find anybody in this area that works in steel. There’s hardly any steel manufacturing being done in the city of Chicago, all the big mills are closed. Finkl Steel is going to be moving out here. They’re taking over what formally was Versa-Steel.
Joshua Williams just graduated from the arts-focused charter school he attended alongside Lisa Gardner, called Innovations High School. He’s a tall young man, lanky, and quick to laugh or smile at any joke uttered. Even those, it seems, that merely pass through his mind. He just got his first job—OK, maybe his second, technically— in a coffee shop across the street from Union Station. And so far, he loves it.
I love Chicago, period. I love the city. I love being in the atmosphere, everybody moving and going places and doing things. I feel a sense of importance when I’m down there, ‘cause it’s like you’re either going down there to do business or going shopping or you know everybody. I just love going downtown. There’s nothing like downtown Chicago.
Tom Shepherd, local historian and go-getter, has been fighting Wal-Mart’s intended move into his historic Pullman neighborhood. To Shepherd, the runs counter to the area’s connection to the early days of the American labor movement, but the big box store has a in common with Pullman’s idea of a company town.
This neighborhood of course was built by George Pullman. He came out here with a grand vision in 1882. Most of the homes around here were remarkably built up within a year or two. At that time it was quite an achievement, and was heralded throughout the country, indeed throughout the world, as a real accomplishment that an industrialist was building a model town for his employees.
Tom grew up on the South Side. Although he spent a few years living in the suburbs, he came back to the South Side after retiring . . . and now, he says, he’s back in action.
A friend of mine who I visit in Florida every year, he grew up over here and moved to the north side as soon as he could get out of the household. He helped to open my eyes to another world on the other side of Madison Street. He used to bring the Reader out. He’d say, Tom, I’m gonna bring the Reader—you know what it was like. It used to be, Oh man, I gotta haul this Reader down, it’s gonna be another few pounds. And now it’s like, I’ll put it in my back pocket. I brought my friend in Florida the Reader and he was—I thought he was gonna break down in tears when I brought it out. It’s just like every other publication, eradicated practically. All those writers they had, and those full feature articles that you don’t find anymore.
I can’t stand picking up the newspaper and seeing something that’s presented as a story that you know was just hand-delivered as a fluff piece from a corporation. And then people pick that up and read it and say well it was written.
I’ve always been a crazy newshound my whole life.
Lisa was explaining that she doesn’t spend much time with friends after school.
So what do you like to do for fun?
To tell the truth, I don’t even watch TV. TV just doesn’t really interest me. I’m on Facebook. I go on Facebook, I would say, every other day. Facebook is a lot of drama. It don’t do nothing but put your business out, ‘cause everybody writing on each others’ wall, talking about whoever doing whatever, like the world wanna know. It’s just a lot of drama on Facebook. You get a lot of people in trouble. I don’t even go there. MySpace, I haven’t been on that since last year.
There’s a lot of people I think I can meet and I become friends with. I don’t like to be in the public a lot. I couldn’t go to a club—it’s too crowded, and there are too many people. I don’t like to be around a lot of people. I don’t like to be around young people because they like to fight. I don’t wanna be around all that. I try to stay away from trouble as much as I can. I guess because of the way I look, people always assume I got an attitude, so I just try to stay away from people.