Back in the roaring 1960s, Bob Dylan moved from the Mesabi Iron Range in Northern Minnesota to New York City. In those days the Mesabi Range was the home of thousands of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) iron ore miners. Then, like today, Wall Street and finance capital occupied the heart of the big city. It was a hard transition to make. In his song from those days, Ñ‘Talking New York,” he wrote:

‘Now, a very great man once said That some people rob you with a fountain pen.

It didn’t take too long to find out Just what he was talkin’ about.’

For steelworkers, a lot of things have changed and a lot of things are the same, only more so. The steel companies have shut down most mines on the Range, killing jobs, whole communities and a way of life. They still rob you with a fountain pen.

There is massive corporate theft going on everyday.

Steelworkers, like other workers, are being ripped off everyday. I’m not just talking about normal capitalist exploitation, making big profits off of someone else’s labor. I’m talking about “legal” rip-offs that are every bit as slimy as the corporate scandals in the news.

Enron, WorldCom and Tyco are in the news because some big investors lost money to phony business practices. Isn’t it a phony business practice to take government bail-out money and tax breaks meant to strengthen the steel industry and invest it in oil companies, like US Steel did? Isn’t it a phony business practice to spend capital gobbling up other industries instead of adequately funding your pension plan, like LTV did? Isn’t it a phony business practice to issue worthless stocks instead of wage increases, like Bethlehem Steel did?

And the granddaddy of them all, isn’t it a phony business practice to negotiate and sign contracts – that include pensions and health care for retirees in lieu of wages – that you have no intention of honoring? Most of the steel companies in bankruptcy did that.

Are the problems of the steel companies the result of natural disaster or Acts of God? Not hardly. More like corporate acts of greed, mismanagement, lack of planning and outright theft.

And it’s been going on a long time. Who can forget the first time LTV defaulted on its pension and healthcare obligations in the 1980s’. Remember steelworkers carrying signs reading, “LTV = Liars, Thieves and Vultures?” LTV got to turn around and do it all over again. There was no hue and cry from Wall Street for tougher corporate corruption laws.

A past chairman of US Steel once said something like, “We’re not in the business of making steel, we’re in the business of making money.” Therein lies the problem. The corporate greed, the mismanagement, the lack of planning and even the theft are built into the system.

If the business of the steel companies was making the steel we need to build schools, hospitals, affordable housing and rebuilding our badly crumbling infrastructure, things would be different. The problem is that the profit margin is “too low” for that kind of production. That’s why there is only one company (non-union Nucor) that makes that kind of structural steel.

Globalization is indeed a factor in the problems of the steel companies. But whose globalization is it, anyway? US Steel is busy buying up steel companies in Eastern Europe. The current corporate law reform debate has said little about banking and tax laws that allow giant corporations to move billions of dollars around the globe in search of cheap labor. What about the legal loopholes that allow them not to pay taxes on offshore profits?

Now US Steel argues that steel production needs to be consolidated in this country. They argue that the only way to solve the steel crisis is to consolidate under one roof, US Steel’s, of course. Well, yes and no. Steel remains a vital sector of a modern economy. Especially for an economy based on meeting people’s basic needs for housing, health, and education. But can the very corporations that ran the steel industry into the ground be entrusted with reviving and rebuilding the steel industry? Not with an attitude that says we’re in the business of making money, not steel.

The steel companies, including US Steel, have taken the money and run. US Steel should think about changing its name to Eastern European Steel. Instead, the vital national resource of our steel-making capacity should be taken over and run publicly for the public good.

I know, I know, not realistic at this time. Yet many important gains for the working class started with a “far-out” idea or demand. Industrial unionism was a far-out idea for 20 years before it became the CIO and the USWA, etc. Ending segregation was far-out before the civil rights movement. Social Security and unemployment compensation were far-out pie-in-the-sky ideas long before they became law.

Workers have no choice but to fight on the immediate issues, but always with our eyes on a bigger prize.

Scott Marshall is a vice chair of the Communist Party USA and chair of its Labor Commission. He can be reached at scott@rednet.org

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