Years later I brought the Rolling Stones for a concert at the Rosemont Horizon, an arena I had put together outside Chicago. The Stones, whose show was more outrageous by an order of magnitude than the Beatles ever were, drew every mover and shaker and aspiring somebody in Chicago’s establishment. Some of them probably enjoyed the concert, but all of them knew they had to be there whether they liked the tunes or not: it was the Place To Be. Everybody understood by then that not only was the music not much of a threat, it was in fact part of the conformist coloring of the period. The business world can accommodate anything, as long as the rules of property are not disturbed.
Stories about events in 1977
Finding myself suddenly with some free time in January 1977, I asked Eddie if there was something I could do to help raise support around Chicago.
“Forget Chicago, Frank,” Eddie said. “Come on the road with us. We have a station wagon and a few guys that are handy at passing out fliers. You’ll be right at home.”
Eddie Sadlowski’s decision to run for president of the union had not come easily. I’d seen that during the spring of 1976, when I went along with Eddie on a series of trips he made to talk to people about whether to declare. Every time he was invited to speak at some conference or other, he’d take some time before and after to meet up with rank and file steelworkers.
Eddie had been elected District Director the year before, and then had the election stolen from under him. When the affair was settled, Eddie was out of a job but with a heightened public presence. Steelworkers Fightback, the organization that had emerged to help him fight it out, just kept on going, funded mostly by lots of kielbasa and mostaccioli parties for a buck a head, and raffles. I went to a lot of those.
The International wanted to offer Eddie a deal. The deal was essentially to be the house radical: do whatever you want to, but stay out of union politics and we’ll give you your staff and stay out of your district. Eddie reject that, on principle. I myself thought it was the best he was going to get and that it would have been good to have a radical voice like Eddie Sadlowski’s representing the union’s largest district. But hindsight is 20-20. Eddie never considered it. I think he knew he had to go for the whole pie.
What we didn’t realize was that his victory took place against the background of the decline of the steel industry, the decline of the labor movement as a whole. The fact was that workers’ standard of living from 1973 on would be in a constant spiral. The steel industry was being “rationalized,” and to fight that you would have needed not just a movement in steel, but an awareness across the whole working class that the country had to be turned around. Instead, the opposite was happening. People in general, and steelworkers right along with them, seemed to be hunkering down for tough times ahead.
There were already signs of collapse, but I don’t think anyone realized how truly complete the steel industry’s collapse would be. If we had, I suppose Eddie might have hung it up. To win would mean to preside over the destruction of wide sections of the union and the industry, and I don’t think that is the role he wanted to play.
The decision to run was made at my summer place up in Michigan. I had grave feelings then that it was a mistake. I didn’t feel a hundred percent convinced that were at the beginning of a new labor militancy that would permit a guy like Sadlowski and the movement he represented to express itself.