Thousands of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) members and supporters rallied this past week demanding government action to save their jobs, their families and their communities. Veterans of the USWA and its retiree organization, the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), are thrilled at the response of the rank and file.

I participated, with fellow SOAR members, in three such rallies in East Chicago, Gary and Portage, Indiana. What fantastic unity, militancy and fighting spirit! Thousands are responding to the call to “Get on the bus,” to Washington, D.C., this week.

Lynn Williams, former president of the USWA, made one of the most important points at the Portage rally. He said that instead of shutting down steel mills, we should be building new ones.

Even before the latest closings, Williams said, there was not enough American steelmaking capacity to provide for the domestic steel market.

For example, there is very little capacity for structural steel. At the same time the Army Corps of Engineers says that half of the bridges in the country are badly in need of repair.

Structural steel has been neglected, in favor of auto and appliance steel, because structural doesn’t turn a high enough rate of profit. And all this boils down to Enron.

What has steel got to do with Enron, you ask? Let’s see. Remember how Enron manipulated the supply of electricity to cause a crisis in California so they could force outrageous prices and make a killing off the emergency they had helped to create?

This was not an original idea. Big business often uses this method to steal from us all. Enron is not unique. Big steel has the same relationships. Energy and steel are vital resources, too vital to be left in the hands of irresponsible companies who’s main concern is extra profits, not the common good.

A former president of U.S. Steel once said, “We’re not in the business of making steel, we’re in the business of making profits.” Well, it’s time for them quit pretending to make steel. It’s time to rethink public ownership.

Big business and the ultra-right began a massive attack on the public sector in 1980. Reagan and Bush (daddy) championed the cause of privatization and deregulation for big business. They hammered us with ideas that private business is more efficient and saves the taxpayers’ money.

Public workers were attacked and vilified at every turn. Baby Bush has intensified the attacks. But the Enron scandal now makes it easier for all to see just how such “champions” in Congress and the White House are bought and paid for by Big Business.

Enron contributed big bucks to Bush and Cheney and helped dictate a deregulation agenda for Bush’s energy policy task force. But that wasn’t enough control; they moved key personnel from the Enron suites into the White House.

Privatization and deregulation have helped enrich a few at the cost of devastating our economy and our basic industries. The only way to democratically control and save our vital natural resources and industries is through public ownership.

Public ownership means people are elected to run things with full public transparency. Enron would have never been able to commit theft on such a grand scale if they had had to face full public scrutiny and oversight. That’s the long and short of it.

A publicly owned steel industry, coupled with a program to rebuild America, can not only save steel jobs and communities, it can put thousands to work and provide jobs for our children in the long run.

The beginnings of such a program is already in Congress. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced infrastructure legislation that would use steel for rebuilding highways, bridges, schools, mass transit, low-cost housing and public works projects. Re. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.), wants to build a new high-speed rail system that would consume millions of tons of steel.

Public spending is good for the economy. Instead of bailing out corporations like U.S. Steel and helping them monopolize the industry, our tax dollars should be invested in the kind of rebuilding that will benefit workers and our communities, not the stock options and golden parachutes for executives.

Something changed with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Public workers were the heroes of the hour. It reminded us all that we turn to the public sector in times of emergency when the common good is at stake. The tragedy threw the spotlight on the neglect of the public sector.

For example, public health officials had to acknowledge that they were not prepared with people or resources to deal with serious biological or chemical outbreaks. Now, even the ultra-right and Bush have to at least pay lip service to public workers.

Though, as the firefighters union has pointed out, the Republican right in Congress praised them while at the same time voting against the firefighters’ right to organize.

Steelworkers and their fight must be fully supported, keeping in mind that in the long run, basic change is necessary to save steel jobs. We can start by demanding that steel mills be run in the public interest for the public good.

Scott Marshall is Chair of the Communist Party’s Labor Commission and can be reached at scott@rednet.org.

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