Monday, April 3, 2017

A TALE OF TWO TOWNS





We visited a model planned city, Roebling, N.J. Wikipedia reports:

* Roebling, site of the Roebling Steel Mill, was founded by Charles Roebling, son of John A. Roebling. John A. Roebling & Sons company built and provided the steel for the Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as numerous other bridges including one over Niagara Falls. The steel mill was also responsible for the production of the elevator cables for the Empire State Building in New York City, the Chicago Board of Trade Building in Chicago and the Washington Monument.

At its heyday, it employed 10,000 at the Roebling company town, where Charles had designed the houses and rented them to his employees. The fancier houses were designed for upper management. However, even the most unskilled workers lived in respectable quarters.

Admittedly, the community was somewhat paternalistic. It had its own police, schools, ball teams, a tavern and medical care was available. Roebling even allowed competing stores access and paid their employees in US dollars, giving them the option of exercising choice. However, the employee had to sign a contract agreeing that he could be discharged from Roebling for rowdiness.

The Roeblings admitted that their intention was not to build the ideal community. However, they had envisioned a long-lasting and sustainable community.

We were reminded of another planned community built by Stalin in 1949 to rival neighboring Krakov in Poland. Nowa Huta, however, was designed as the ideal community. It contained everything needed to nurture a community where all would live equally as brothers, in harmony, including a steel mill that became more productive than any other in Poland.

The walls of the apartments were purposely made thin so that each family would be able to hear the doings of the neighboring families - no barriers! Indoctrinational meetings designed to raise up the ideal new man were compulsory to produce their ideal of a "workers' paradise."

However, this experiment was far from ideal. This paradise came crashingly to an end when the workers could only be paid with vodka and sugar.

In contrast, even during the Depression, Roebling never forced anyone out of company housing when they couldn't pay the rent.

Although Roebling sold their mill and town in the mid-fifties, most of its present residents are descendants of the families of former employees. Each, to whom we talked, spoke well of what their families had communicated about the Roebling experience.

Why had it been such a positive experience? Not only had the workers been treated fairly, their various ethnicities and faiths were treated respectfully. Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles were each allowed to have their own enclaves, social groups, and churches.

Despite these differences in class, ethnicity, and religion, it is reported that everyone got along well, each respecting their respective differences.

How could this be? From what we were able to understand from our visit, it seemed that each community felt safe. The company guaranteed just standards. There were no reports of favoritism based upon historical designations between the "oppressed" and the "oppressors." The only distinctions were based on behavior and job performance, distinctions that seemingly were accepted.

From all indications, peace prevailed at Roebling. However, Nowa Huta presented another portrait. Wikipedia reports:

* During the 1980s, Nowa Huta became a city of many demonstrations and violent street protests of the Solidarity movement, fought by the police. At that time, almost 29,000 of the 38,000 workers of the then Lenin Steelworks belonged to the Solidarity trade union.

It was hardly a paradise, but why not? What went wrong? Perhaps communist did not start out with a correct estimation of humanity? Perhaps we are not as malleable as they had thought.

Whatever we manage, we must first understand. We cannot manage a business well unless we understand the people who we manage. We need room for individual initiative and the freedom to grow a garden or to improve our lodgings without being condemned as bourgeois.

We need the freedom to think what we want, to say what we want (within limits), and to worship as we please. In other words, human thriving requires human rights.

However, the authorities at Nowa Huta were convinced that they could micro-manage human affairs. They knew best what others should be thinking, believing, and saying. Meanwhile, they robbed the workers of their welfare, initiative, and dignity. Dis-empowering the people, they had disempowered the economy. Consequently, communism has been an unmitigated flop, maintained only by oppression and fear.

Roebling didn't last either. However, it gave many a start to a better life, leaving a legacy of many grateful people. Communism has also left its legacy of a scorched earth and the slaughter of those who resisted their "paradise."

2 comments:

  1. An f.y.i. you may find interesting - Emily Roebling, John's wife, acted as project manager and political diva for several years after her husband's death, to complete the Brooklyn Bridge. np

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    1. Thanks NP. This is what we also had learned at the Roebling Museum.

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