These website materials are drawn from a larger project for text and film, titled:
A Book and Film Project by Dr. Robert van Roden Allen

Did you, someone you know or love, someone who works with you, ever lose the security of a job and income, ever even contemplate what it might be like to lose both ones livelihood and way of life? If so, Lock Haven and the Dream Deferred is both a history and a glimpse of the future you may want, you may need, to understand. Lock Haven and the Dream Deferred is an oral history project by and about workers trying to live and maintain hope in the latter years of twentieth century America, trying to hold on to the vestiges of the American dream. Although it is a story about particular people, it is about all of us. Although its setting is a specific town and area in the U.S., it touches all of us in the U.S., the work we do, and what we think we can count on as part of our American heritage. In a way that puts face-forward the simple, ungarnished truth, warts and all, it is the attempt by people at the day-to-day level to recount their experience with American employers and American unions. At a time when many say unions are dead or almost out of the picture on the American work scene, paperworkers and townspeople from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania ---the keystone state and place which first tolled American liberty--- have an answer to the question: What are the consequences of the decline of unions for the social fabric of America? Lock Haven and the Dream Deferred will, for most readers, answer this question and open a clear window onto the landscape of working America, revealing its sometimes harsh realities and contours.

Has the American dream, as one Lock Haven paperworker put it, become a nightmare?
Can we return to the dream and keep it alive?

In 1987, a few weeks after the onset of a major, national strike by the paperworkers' union against International Paper Company, and in my capacity then as Education Director for Hospital and Health Care Workers' Union --- District 1199P, I became involved both personally and on behalf of my union in support of the Lock Haven paperworkers. As a trade unionist and supporter of their strike, but also as an educator, writer, organizer, and eventually friend to these strikers and their families, I came to see the need to have the story told of their strike and its effects upon their lives, families, and community.

My interest in the particulars of the Lock Haven story was only intensified, however, by my seeing it repeated again and again throughout the eighties and into the nineties. For the true locale of Lock Haven and the story of its dream deferred is Lock Haven---USA.

Although circumstance and union solidarity drew me into the web of friendship with and interest in the history and life of paperworkers in Lock Haven, at some point I made the decision to begin an analysis and description of the strike, the strikers, their lives and viewpoints, and how these were affected by going through the strike. In deciding to document the paperworkers' strike, I envisioned a dual project (book and film) which would get at both the idiosyncratic and special story of this particular strike and its place in the history of trade union struggles. Similarly, in working on a project whose primary research and background components are a detailed opinion survey and extensive, videotaped, oral histories, I determined to unearth the individual stories of unionists and supporters, their views and experiences, as well as the tendencies of viewpoint and experience that are shared by the group. Furthermore, this project will point us toward a better understanding of trade union struggles --- an understanding that will be important to trade unionists, historians, and provide invaluable insight for the general American working public.

Lock Haven and the Dream Deferred  portrays the events of the 1987 strike of paperworkers in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania against the International Paper Company, and focuses on their experience of these events and the transformation of consciousness they underwent as a result of the experience.

The events leading to this strike against International Paper are cut from the cloth of the labor history of the eighties. The project will reveal the Lock Haven situation in the context of the corporate merger mania, attenuated union-management relations, and the consequent, tragic, economic and cultural dislocation experienced by many American working people in recent years. Although the primary focus of the work will be upon the events and experiences of participants from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, it should be noted that this labor dispute involved paperworkers from around the country (from Jay, Maine; DePere, Wisconsin; Mobile, Alabama; as well as from Lock Haven), that participants in the dispute traveled nation-wide to publicize their situation and seek support, and that their experiences impacted on the nation's labor relations and formative history of the period.

One guiding thread throughout the work will be a traditional narration and documentation of the events of this labor dispute, through the eyes and voices of the participants themselves --- strikers and townspeople who are still living the events and drama of this strike. The viewpoints to be considered and reflected upon will include those of paperworkers and townspeople so as to understand the impact these events had on labor relations and on the community and its local history. This chronology will be interwoven with the second thread --- an analysis of the perspective strikers took on what they were experiencing and the changes in consciousness they experienced.

Borrowing from a theme of Langston Hughes, the project speaks from the setting of the Lock Haven strike and asks "What Happens to A Dream Deferred?" For in Lock Haven, as many strikers put it, "one day we were the backbone of the town, and the next day we were treated like common criminals." The tragedy of the strike included one suicide, a sky-rocketing divorce rate, families defaulting on mortgages, all types of "dislocation", emotional, economic, and geographic. The triumph of the strike included a phenomenal stamina on the part of many, primarily due to union solidarity and self-support on the local level, a willingness to stand up for principle, both for survival and economic justice beyond mere self-interest. The project will bring to public attention an interrogation of what it is like for American workers to pursue the American dream in recent years, as well as to show what happens when the dream gets deferred.

For comments and questions, please contact Bob Allen:        

all materials herein: Copyright 2007 Dr. Bob Allen

an Oral History Project by Dr. Bob Allen, Technical Assistance Ron Gruici
Copyright 2007