Closing Sysco: Industrial Decline in Atlantic Canada’s Steel City
Published: March 2020© 2020
304 Pages, 6.10 x 9.20 x 1.00 in, 27 b&w illustrations
Closing Sysco presents a history of deindustrialization and working-class resistance in the Cape Breton steel industry between 1945 and 2001. The Sydney Steel Works is at the heart of this story, having existed in tandem with Cape Breton’s larger coal operations since the early twentieth century. The book explores the multifaceted nature of deindustrialization; the internal politics of the steelworkers’ union; the successful efforts to nationalize the mill in 1967; the years in transition under public ownership; and the confrontations over health, safety, and environmental degradation in the 1990s and 2000s. Closing Sysco moves beyond the moment of closure to trace the cultural, historical, and political ramifications of deindustrialization that continue to play out in post-industrial Cape Breton Island. A significant intervention into the international literature on deindustrialization, this study pushes scholarship beyond the bounds of political economy and cultural change to begin tackling issues of bodily health, environment, and historical memory in post-industrial places.
The experiences of the men and women who were displaced by the decline and closure of Sydney Steel are central to this book. Featuring interviews with former steelworkers, office employees, managers, politicians, and community activists, these one-on-one conversations reveal both the human cost of industrial closure and the lingering after-effects of deindustrialization.
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
1. Diversify or Die: Planned Obsolescence in the Dosco Years
2. Radical Reds and Responsible Unionism: Building a “Working-Class Town”
3. It Brought Us Joy, It Brought Us Tears: Black Friday and the Parade of Concern
4. Decades in Transition: Modernization and Mechanization on the Shop Floor
5. Labour Environmentalism: Fighting for Compensation at the Sydney Coke Ovens
6. Bury It, Burn It, Truck It Away: Remediating a Toxic Legacy?
7. From Dependence to Enterprise: Economic Restructuring at the End of the Steel City
8. Making History from Sydney Steel, 2012–2016
"Closing Sysco provides something more for those interested in our present environmental moment. Its analysis of deindustrialization raises important questions about what we mean when we talk about a "just transition" away from our current dependence on fossil fuels.3 It invites us to listen carefully to the voices of fossil fuel workers and communities in that discussion, to ensure that the shape of this industrial transition is less devastating and more just and equitable than what unfolded on Cape Breton in the second half of the twentieth century."Ken Cruikshank, McMaster University, Network in Canadian History and Environment
"The book's major strength is unpacking the impact of cultures of resistance and representation on local experiences of industrial decline. Ultimately, Closing Sysco represents a significant contribution to the growing literature on deindustrialisation."Matt Beebee, University of Exeter, Scottish Labour History
"Closing Sysco is an excellent study in the important new literature of ‘deindustrialization.’ Combining a sensitive use of oral history with labour and working-class history, political economy, and environmental history, Closing Sysco contributes to our regional understanding of capitalist development and underdevelopment in Atlantic Canada. This work also brings our understanding of Cape Breton industrial development and class struggle up to the present building on the important earlier works of scholars such as David Frank, Ron Crawley, Craig Heron, and Don MacGillivray."Greg Kealey, Department of History, University of New Brunswick
"By sharing the experiences of those in Cape Breton, Lachlan MacKinnon deftly explores the impact of deindustrialization on workers’ bodies and the changes prompted by deindustrialization, including community-based resistance tactics and political economy. With significant dedication to the lived experience of those who worked for Sydney Steel, Closing Sysco sheds light on the working class history of families impacted by Canada’s steel industry."Michel S. Beaulieu, Department of History, Lakehead University
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Lachlan MacKinnon writes for us on the blog and discusses what we can expect from his new book, Closing Sysco, a story of deindustrialization and working-class resistance in the Cape Breton steel industry.