Austin McCoy
Austin McCoy is an Assistant Professor of History at West Virginia University. His research and teaching interests include African American history, the U.S. left, labor and political economy, and social movements and activism.
View all posts by Austin McCoy »

This is the second entry for a symposium on Steven High’s Deindustrializing Montreal: Entangled Histories of Race, Residence, and Class (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2022).  The book tracks what High calls the “structural violence” and “social ruination” involved in the term deindustrialization. It traces the fate of Point Saint-Charles, a historically white working-class neighborhood  and Little Burgundy, a multiracial neighborhood that is home to the city’s English-speaking Black community. Yesterday, Lizabeth Cohen wrote an appreciation and posed questions. Today Austin McCoy offers reflections aimed at questions of activism and democracy. We follow up with Ted Rutland, and a response by author Steven High. The symposium was organized by Ian Rocksborough-Smith, assistant professor of history at University of the Fraser Valley.

Deindustrializing Montreal by Steven High (2022)

In his landmark book, Deindustrializing Montreal, Entangled Histories of Race, Residence and Class, historian Steven High poses the central question for scholars of labor and neighborhood and economic change have asked about the rash of plant closings in the 1970s and 1980s—why was there not more mass protests against factory shutdowns in hard hit neighborhoods such as Point Saint-Charles?

High addresses this question by contextualizing workers’, unions’, residents’, and the state’s responses to economic restructuring in a broader context of neighborhood change, economic transition, and social and cultural practices of residents living in two Montreal neighborhoods—Point Saint-Charles and Little Burgundy. In his sweeping narrative, High complicates understandings of deindustrialization by enlarging the approach beyond an urban, or metropolitan, history framework and adopting an interdisciplinary method bringing multiple subfields of history into conversation including geography, culture, labor, policing, youth studies, and racial capitalism. And while it may appear that High is narrowing his focus by concentrating his study on two neighborhoods, Deindustrializing Montreal addresses issues of national and international importance including Canadians’ attempts to manage economic and residential transition as well as the multinational character of Black political organizing in the labor and Black Power movements.

View of Little Burgundy from the Northern Electric factory in Point Saint-Charles. circa 1970s. Notice the new Ville-Marie highway that cut through the Northern part of the neighbourhood. Courtesy Ville de Montréal Archives.

High grounds his analysis of economic restructuring within a longer narrative focusing less on the decline of a particular city and more on Point Saint-Charles’s and Little Burgundy’s transition into a post-industrial space. This raises questions about how scholars have approached deindustrialization and the question about muted collective resistance to plant closures. While High acknowledges that the urban crisis frame helps explain how political officials could write off neighborhoods like the South Bronx or Little Burgundy and “render visible the actions of the modernizing state and white middle-class gentrifiers,” he argues that this approach also tends to deemphasize capitalists who also help engineer what geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls “organized abandonment” of racialized neighborhoods. Consequently, in addition to the suburbanization of unionized labor forces, which also occurred in U.S. metropolitan areas, High contends one is less likely to see the emergence of widespread protests against deindustrialization in cities that are able to manage transitions due to possessing a more diverse economy. Ultimately, where laborers worked and lived might help explain some workers’ responses.

While deindustrialization did not spur massive opposition in communities such as Point Saint-Charles, High locates notable citizen and labor union resistance to plant closure in that neighborhood in the late 1980s. And while the neighborhood was known for its activism, opponents of plant closure appeared to adopt a limited outlook in their fight against job loss. “There were isolated voices who argued that activists should see workplace and neighbourhood struggles as one fight against capitalism,” High writes. “But, by and large, the popular and union struggles remained separate” (High, 250). Thus, advocates for social housing and for saving jobs organized on parallel tracks despite the fact that deindustrialization created the conditions for planners and policymakers to enact a post-industrial vision of development in Point Saint-Charles that encouraged accepting plant closings and economic transition and enabling gentrification (High, 258). Yet, despite these conditions, oral interviews of activists illustrated the emergence of a myth of Point Saint-Charles symbolizing an “activist neighborhood” where one could find legacies of “effective organizing” grounded in political approaches such as Alinskyian understandings of community organizing and advocacy work of the Christian Left that would later mask intellectual and strategic shortcomings.

The separation of struggles for social housing and against plant closure produced a contradiction within the image of Point Saint-Charles as an activist neighborhood. High states, “While most neighborhood activists in Point Saint-Charles were focused on housing issues during the 1970s and 1980s, the area’s mills and factories continued to close. As far as I can tell, there were no angry pickets or sit-ins when Northern Electric shuttered its massive Shearer Street factory in 1973…This inaction is all the more striking given the neighbourhood’s activist reputation” (High, 264). One reason for this inaction, according to High, was the influence of New Left’s anti-statist politics. As High asserts, activists viewed the state as their primary obstacle to defending the neighborhood while private capital pulled the rug from beneath the community.

While New Left anti-statist thought might explain activists’ inability to build a politics that addressed both state and corporate power in PointSaint-Charles in the 1980s, we might be missing an opportunity to draw a sharper contrast between this New Left anti-statist and an anti-capitalist, or anti-corporate approach that arose in the U.S during the 1970s. Many U.S.-based New Leftists turned towards a fight against deindustrialization and corporate power in the Midwest during this period. High reminds readers that U.S.-based analysts of deindustrialization often pointed to absentee owners as major culprits of capital divestment. However, New Left activists and intellectuals such as Tom Hayden began calling for “economic democracy” during the 1970s. Economic democracy in this period referred to a rehabilitation of a constellation of democratic values, policies, and economic experiments such as community, worker, and municipal ownership of industrial property and public control over banks and utilities.

Housing activists protest at city hall demanding the government pick up the tab to decontaminate former industrial and railway lands so cooperative housing could be built. Late 1980s. Courtesy McGill University Archives.

In addition to calls to further democratize the economy during this period, U.S.-based New Left descendant groups such as the Ohio Public Interest Campaign also blamed deindustrialization on the growing power of multinational corporations. One of the main problems for OPIC, however, was their inability to articulate broader goals to match their larger progressive vision that included adopting a public financial sector (community ownership of banks, insurance companies, and development corporations), policies encouraging full employment, and labor law reform. Instead, they focused on building a campaign to enact a state-based anti-plant closure law. Their analysis of the political situation in the 1970s explains the moderation of their goals. OPIC recognized that a major source of political power—organized labor—entered a period of retreat amid a business offensive, a conservative resurgence, and the emergence of neoliberal governance.

High’s critique of Point Saint-Charles as an activist community culminates with a discussion of movement memory in relation to the construction of a community mural depicting mass protest as the neighborhood moved from the industrial era of the 20st century to the post-industrial one in the 21st century. However, when set against High’s analysis of defeats and the emergence of gentrification, and a few of the critics of the neighborhood’s myth, he argues that maybe there is little to celebrate. “The transition to our post-industrial present is depicted as a liberatory moment and one to celebrate…I’m not sure if most long-time residents would agree with this enthusiastic assessment” (High, 284).

High raises an important question with his discussion of the mural—Who within the community gets to frame and tell stories of organizing, activism, and protests? High’s analysis of the mural prompt further questions—who exactly produced the mural? Why was it commissioned? Was there any community feedback in its planning, or how did residents respond? What are the motivations behind maintaining this myth? As Tom Hayden contends in The Long Sixties:  From 1960 to Barack Obama, debates and battles “over memory, monuments, and museums,” or the legacy of social movements represent a key phase, even after the activists and organizations are long gone. And, in High’s analysis, these debates are not just between those who occupy powerful position and activists and residents, sometimes battles over how people should understand social movements and their outcomes are fought among activists and within communities, themselves.

High’s critique of the community frame of organizing against capital flight echoes labor historians’ critiques of responses to plant closure. Jefferson Cowie’s analysis of community in Capital Moves: RCA’s Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor argues that it was necessary for U.S. workers to find ways to circumvent economic nationalism in favor of a global outlook and internationalist strategy. However, as Cowie, High, and other scholars of deindustrialization have illustrated, U.S. workers’ inability to organize across regional and national boundaries, while multinational corporations command operations across scale, highlights the longstanding problem for unionists and communities—the privileging of the private sector’s private property rights over those of workers and residents.

Consequently, this problem, as High underscores in Deindustrializing Montreal, raises questions about the prospects of democratizing property ownership and control, and economic relations, generally. Many on the left in and outside of academia have devised, advocated for, and in rare cases have implemented alternative visions for “just cities” and economic forms. (The Cleveland-based Evergreen cooperative is one such example.) Yet, usually these alternative visions, tactics, and strategies, such as participatory budgeting and worker-ownership of businesses, remain intensely local and are difficult to scale up without a national base of political power.

Steven High’s insightful critiques of the community frame in Deindustrializing Montreal reveals the tensions between the search for a usable past and the imperative to develop a more complex understanding of deindustrialization, race, class, politics, and place. As historians such as Robin Kelley proclaim—even if movements do not achieve their stated ends, they still produce “freedom dreams”—innovative ideas, analyses, tactics, and strategies for future struggles. Yet, High’s text reminds us that complex and multidisciplinary approaches can offer the necessary clarity for scholars, activists, and those interested in histories of deindustrialization. Communities and movements can give themselves the best chance at responding to racial capitalism by combining transformative activism with a clear-eyed analysis. Ultimately, Deindustrializing Montreal, in all of its interdisciplinarity and its marshalling of an astounding array of sources, offers historians and general readers with a dynamic blueprint for understanding long histories of neighborhood, economic, and racial change.

67 responses to “Questions of Activism and Democracy in Steven High’s Deindustrializing Montreal”

  1. This is my first time pay a quick visit at here and i am really happy to read everthing at one place

  2. I really like reading through a post that can make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing me to comment!

  3. I like the efforts you have put in this, regards for all the great content.

  4. This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent post. Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  5. There is definately a lot to find out about this subject. I like all the points you made

  6. Very well presented. Every quote was awesome and thanks for sharing the content. Keep sharing and keep motivating others.

  7. Türkiye’nin en büyük ve en çok sevilen e-ticaret sitesine hoş geldiniz! Türkiye’de online alışverişin en güçlü ismiyiz. Kurduğumuz hayaller ve ulaştığımız hedeflerle bugünlere ulaştık. Online alışverişi geliştirdik, hizmet anlayışımızla fark yarattık. Usta Nalbur Endüstriyel pazaryeri modeliyle binlerce ürün ve mağazayı milyonlarca müşteriyle buluşturmayı hedefleyerek hayata geçirdi. Hırdavat

  8. This was beautiful Admin. Thank you for your reflections.

  9. FREE FIFA POINTS 23 CODES

  10. essae scale says:

    I truly appreciate your technique of writing a blog. I added it to my bookmark site list and will

  11. I truly appreciate your technique of writing a blog. I added it to my bookmark site list and will

  12. I very delighted to find this internet site on bing, just what I was searching for as well saved to fav

  13. I’m often to blogging and i really appreciate your content. The article has actually peaks my interest. I’m going to bookmark your web site and maintain checking for brand spanking new information.

  14. Jase Ponce says:

    I just like the helpful information you provide in your articles

  15. Great information shared.. really enjoyed reading this post thank you author for sharing this post .. appreciated

  16. Orijinal ve lisanslı Windows 10 Pro Retail anahtarını hemen satın alın! En son özelliklerle donatılmış bu lisans, yasal bir şekilde kullanabileceğiniz güvenilir bir seçenektir. İstediğiniz bir bilgisayara kolayca yükleyebilir ve en güncel güvenlik güncellemelerinden faydalanabilirsiniz. Performansınızı artırmak ve sorunsuz bir Windows deneyimi yaşamak için bu lisansı tercih edin. Güvenilir satıcılarla iletişime geçin ve Windows 10 Pro Retail lisansınızı edinin.

  17. Sylvia Burns says:

    There is definately a lot to find out about this subject. I like all the points you made

  18. Dane Woods says:

    I was impressed with the variety of payment options available on istore.airriseinc.com, which made it easy for me to complete my purchase. https://istore.airriseinc.com/

  19. Myla Shannon says:

    I truly appreciate your technique of writing a blog. I added it to my bookmark site list and will

  20. Jakayla Ali says:

    I do not even understand how I ended up here, but I assumed this publish used to be great

  21. Jayda Mora says:

    naturally like your web site however you need to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very bothersome to tell the truth on the other hand I will surely come again again.

  22. Dale Rivera says:

    Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Many thanks for providing these details.

  23. yar gullebax says:

    سعر تركيبات البولي إيثيلين الملحومة

  24. Zion Houston says:

    Hi there to all, for the reason that I am genuinely keen of reading this website’s post to be updated on a regular basis. It carries pleasant stuff.

  25. I just like the helpful information you provide in your articles

  26. أكبر شركة لانتاج أنابيب البولي ايثيلين و يو بي سي ومستلزماتها للمنتجات الصناعية في عيراق

  27. I very delighted to find this internet site on bing, just what I was searching for as well saved to fav

  28. yesmovies says:

    I like the efforts you have put in this, regards for all the great content.

  29. There is definately a lot to find out about this subject. I like all the points you made

  30. Your post has provided me with valuable guidance and practical tips. I’m grateful for the effort you’ve put into creating such a resourceful piece. Thank you for sharing your expertise!

  31. The admin’s dedication to creating a platform for learning and growth is evident. Thank you for your hard work and commitment.

  32. Lola Goodman says:

    Great article, really informative and well-written!

  33. rezan newzad says:

    HTML Meta Tag thanks أكبر شركة لانتاج أنابيب البولي ايثيلين و يو بي سي ومستلزماتها للمنتجات الصناعية في عيراق

  34. Good post! We will be linking to this particularly great post on our site. Keep up the great writing

  35. Braxton Case says:

    This was beautiful Admin. Thank you for your reflections.

  36. bemo viina says:

    المديرية العامة للتقويم والامتحانات – جمهورية العراق شكرًا لك..

  37. Fiona Conway says:

    Very well presented. Every quote was awesome and thanks for sharing the content. Keep sharing and keep motivating others.

  38. الأمانة العامة لمجلس الوزراء تدعو الى إعمام ضوابط تغيير العنوان الوظيفي. شكرًا لك..

  39. Thank you so much for posting this blog! It’s always great to see what people have to say about different topics, and it’s even better when it’s something that you personally find interesting. It’s amazing how much knowledge and insight can be gained from reading other people’s thoughts and opinions. I’m so glad that you decided to share your thoughts with the world, and I’m sure that

  40. Alexis Park says:

    Great information shared.. really enjoyed reading this post thank you author for sharing this post .. appreciated

  41. Semaj Rhodes says:

    This website is a testament to the power of knowledge and the pursuit of intellectual growth. The administrator’s dedication to curating valuable and thought-provoking content is truly commendable. With each visit, I am captivated by the depth of insights, meticulous research, and engaging presentation of ideas. The administrator’s ability to distill complex concepts into accessible narratives is remarkable, making learning an enjoyable and enriching experience. This website has become my trusted companion on my quest for knowledge, inspiring me to delve deeper into various subjects and challenge my own perspectives. I am immensely grateful for the administrator’s unwavering commitment to providing a platform that stimulates curiosity, encourages critical thinking, and fosters a love for lifelong learning.

  42. Proczysto.pl says:

    Your post is incredibly helpful! It answered all the questions I had and provided additional insights. I’m grateful for the effort you’ve put into sharing this valuable information.

  43. Jessie Price says:

    I’m often to blogging and i really appreciate your content. The article has actually peaks my interest. I’m going to bookmark your web site and maintain checking for brand spanking new information.

  44. I really like reading through a post that can make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing me to comment!

  45. Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Many thanks for providing these details.

  46. Kayden Mata says:

    I appreciate you sharing this blog post. Thanks Again. Cool.

  47. I’m really impressed with your website and this post in particular. It’s evident that you have a deep understanding of the subject and have presented it in an easily digestible manner. Great job!

  48. This website has become a beacon of intellectual enlightenment in a sea of information overload. The administrator’s dedication to delivering exceptional content is evident in every aspect of this platform. Each post is meticulously researched, offering readers a valuable source of knowledge that is both reliable and engaging. The administrator’s ability to present complex ideas in a clear and accessible manner is truly commendable, making the content accessible to readers of all backgrounds. This website has become my go-to resource for reliable information and a source of inspiration for my own intellectual pursuits. I am immensely grateful for the administrator’s unwavering commitment to providing a platform that nourishes the mind, stimulates curiosity, and encourages the pursuit of knowledge.

  49. Great article, really informative and well-written!

  50. LASILVR.CO says:

    This was beautiful Admin. Thank you for your reflections.

  51. يتجلى تفاني المصنع في الجودة في الأداء المتفوق لأنابيب HDPE ، والمعروفة بقوتها ومتانتها الاستثنائية.

  52. Very well presented. Every quote was awesome and thanks for sharing the content. Keep sharing and keep motivating others.

  53. There is definately a lot to find out about this subject. I like all the points you made

  54. Abby Conner says:

    Me gustaría expresar mi agradecimiento por su excepcional servicio al cliente. El respeto y la profesionalidad que han mostrado hablan volúmenes de su compromiso con sus clientes.

  55. Lola Goodman says:

    Very well presented. Every quote was awesome and thanks for sharing the content. Keep sharing and keep motivating others.

  56. Jay Goodman says:

    I appreciate the variety of topics covered on this site. There’s always something interesting to read.

  57. Kasen Frye says:

    I’m often to blogging and i really appreciate your content. The article has actually peaks my interest. I’m going to bookmark your web site and maintain checking for brand spanking new information.

  58. يمكن للعملاء الاعتماد على الخبرة الفنية لمصنع إيليت بايب Elite Pipeودعم العملاء المخصص لمساعدتهم في اختيار التركيبات الأنسب لاحتياجاتهم الخاصة.

  59. Fatima Ware says:

    I appreciate you sharing this blog post. Thanks Again. Cool.

  60. Emma Price says:

    Godysms Bulk SMS for Website: Strategies for optimizing SMS landing page conversions

  61. SMS Marketing for Travel and Tourism Agencies: Send Travel Deals, Destination Highlights, and Booking Confirmations on Godysms

  62. naturally like your web site however you need to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very bothersome to tell the truth on the other hand I will surely come again again.

  63. Kelly Peck says:

    I like the efforts you have put in this, regards for all the great content.

  64. Great information shared.. really enjoyed reading this post thank you author for sharing this post .. appreciated

  65. This post has shed light on a topic I previously knew little about. Thank you for expanding my knowledge.

  66. Customers can rely on Elitepipe Plastic Factory’s technical expertise and dedicated customer support to assist them in selecting the most suitable fittings for their specific needs. Elitepipe Plastic Factory

  67. I appreciate you sharing this blog post. Thanks Again. Cool.