After more than 100 years, Master Lock’s iconic factory in Milwaukee is shutting its doors in March 2024. The closure will result in 400 lost union jobs, and also mark the end of a former industrial region of the city that once housed some 50 plants. The Real News, In These Times, and Workday Magazine speak with current and former Master Lock workers on what the closure of this longstanding plant means for them and their community.
Reporting and production by: Isabela Escalona
Music: The Holiday by So I’m An Islander | https://soimanislander.bandcamp.com
Music promoted by https://www.free-stock-music.com
Creative Commons / Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)
[Video of presidential visit plays]
President Obama: Hello, Milwaukee. That’s what we’ve got to be shooting for; To create opportunities for hardworking Americans to get in there and start making stuff again and sending it all over the world, products stamped with three proud words, “Made in America.” That’s what’s happening right here at Master Lock.
So y’all have heard enough about outsourcing. More and more companies like Master Lock are now insourcing. We’re going to create more success stories like Master Lock and we will remind the world just why it is the United States is the greatest nation on Earth. Thank you, everybody. God bless you. God bless America.
[Video of presidential visit ends]
Sara Morris: Hi, my name is Sara Morris.
Susan Thomas-Hall: I am Susan Thomas-Hall.
Sara Morris: I’m 70 years old.
Susan Thomas-Hall: I just turned 68 years old. I started at Master Lock in September of 1973. So in total, I worked there for 49 years.
Sara Morris: Well, on August 21, 2023, I’ll be there for 45 years. I’m currently there. I’m still there after all these years. I like my job because it’s challenging. You don’t see too many women in the jobs that I do because we work with very harsh chemicals but you treat them with respect. Our older people taught us how this should look. We ain’t went to school for nothing. We didn’t have a degree in nothing; It was taught right down the line.
Susan Thomas-Hall: And we were good at it.
Sara Morris: Yeah.
Susan Thomas-Hall: I had a ball doing all of that and it was a learning experience. I learned a lot there. I grew up there. I started when I was 18. Those old women taught me a lot about life.
Sara Morris: We wanted the job to stay here. We all are focused on our jobs, and what quality of life we can have, and work our hands to the bone. But it didn’t happen like that, so it’s being shipped all over.
Susan Thomas-Hall: But it got to the point where we weren’t involved in the decision-making process because you were taken out of the loop, more or less. That was part of the big downfall. Going on down the years, it started to change because the people they brought in were more concerned about what they could do for the bottom line than what we needed to get them to the bottom line.
[Footage of picketers outside Master Lock plays]
Rev. Greg Lewis: You have a responsibility to fight until the bitter end. You can’t let people do things to you. We have to stop letting people do things to us. Yeah. We got to make things happen for us.
Rev. Greg Lewis: I don’t care what they say. That this fight is over, it’s all over. No, it ain’t over for me. It ain’t over because we’ll be fighting and scratching and crawling to the bitter end. We’ll never say never had anything. We’ll never do that.
Mandela Barnes: … just to squeeze a couple more pennies to increase shareholder value.
Picketers: Yeah, that’s right.
Mandela Barnes: We’re here to say that we won’t accept it.
Picketers: That’s right.
Mandela Barnes: We’re not going to take this silently. We’re not going to move to the side and let them take these good-paying jobs out of this community.
[Footage of picketers outside Master Lock ends]
Susan Thomas-Hall: They’re making a big mistake. To put profit before people is damaging. When you have a community that has embraced you for all of these years, it’s like turning your back on your best friend.
Sara Morris: Shame on you. Shame on you to put us … After all these years of all this service that we gave to them, we deserve better than this.
Susan Thomas-Hall: I don’t know where it’s going but I know to this day, they haven’t given the employees a real reason why. I don’t know if they’re ashamed to say profits. Think about what this means to the people who put you where you are. I know how hard they work. I was one of them, and I allowed them to really work me harder than I should have been. But it was because of the love for the company. So to turn your back on us, why?
Sara Morris: Well, I want them to remember that we were hardworking men and women and we cared about the community, we care about people. I want them to remember that we were in that place and we did it. So it can be done.
Susan Thomas-Hall: I would really hope and pray that they look back on 32nd St. and Center St. and know that that’s where they came from.
Sara Morris: I’ll miss it.