EAST CHICAGO, Ind. – Over 500 outraged steelworkers marched at Ispat-Inland Steel here Aug. 9 to demand an end to cuts in widows’ pensions. They carried signs blasting Lakshmi Mittal, controlling owner of the profitable steel company. Mittal had recently rented the palace of Versailles in France for a $55 million wedding for his daughter and he bought a $100 million home in London, yet his company slashed widows’ pensions, already small, by $62.50 a month.
One of the widows, Ruth Smith, was shocked when her pension check arrived in the mail Aug. 1. It was for $27 instead of the usual $89.50. She called the company benefits office. According to the Hammond Times, Smith told the company, “My husband worked 30 years and I get $27?” The clerk replied, “Yes ma’am, that’s right.”
At the rally, protesters were spurred on by the sight of the widows, seated in the place of honor at the front of the rally. Some were in wheelchairs but all were in a fighting mood. Then Jim Robinson, director of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) District 7, reported that the company’s profits last quarter were three times as large as the first quarter of the year. He expressed the anger everyone felt about the company’s greed. Robinson pledged that the union would not allow the company to hold the widows as hostages in the ongoing fight to renew the union contract. The contract expired July 31. Work continues under the old contract but the company claims they are free to cut the spouses’ pensions.
Tom Hargrove, president of the Ispat-Inland Steel Union Local 1010, said, “Their husbands built the steel industry, fought for democracy in our country’s wars, and then they retired with small pensions prior to August 1, 1989. When they passed away the widow was left with a Surviving Spouse Benefit. For most of them this benefit is $200 or less — some as low as $38. Taking $62.50 a month away from them is a major loss in the twilight of their lives. To me, this is morally wrong and shows no commitment to human decency.”