NEWS ANALYSIS

LTV Corp. is robbing steelworkers, their families and communities of jobs, benefits and a future. Questions are being asked that directly affect 7,500 LTV steelworkers and 60,000 retirees in Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.

Bishop Anthony Pilla told the Cleveland City Club that there are “significant moral questions” involved.

“What happens to the workers and families … to the businesses that will feel the ripple effect,” to the most vulnerable? “What about the impact on neighborhoods?”

The answers to these questions will affect the future of the entire U.S. economy. LTV began its shutdown at the end of November 2001. On Dec. 20 the federal bankruptcy court in Youngstown, Ohio gave LTV the go-ahead to put the company on the market.

LTV lost its bid to get rid of the union contract protecting retirees’ health care from immediate cut-off. The agreement allowed for the continuation of benefits and pensions at least until Feb. 28.

The United Steel Workers of America (USWA) responded by mobilizing 400 steelworkers to lobby Congress for emergency action. Hundreds of members of Congress heard stories of lives being destroyed by the corporate-controlled steel industry.

“LTV came out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy seven years ago with $1 billion in cash in the bank. Then management proceeded to blow $300-400 million trying to build a state-of-the-art minimill to run away from the union. They failed,” said USWA President Leo Gerard.

“The problem is they blew a few million dollars of our future … and ran the company into the ground.”

LTV’s bankruptcy and shut-down is just one piece of a bigger picture. According to the USWA, 29 steel companies have filed for bankruptcy since 1997.

A Jan. 3 USWA press release said that 22 million tons of U.S. steel-making capacity has been idled or shut down since President Bush took office.

“Thousands of retirees from steel companies have lost their health insurance and tens of thousands more are in imminent danger of losing theirs. The future of the remaining industry is hanging in the balance.”

The profit-greedy restructuring of the global economy is the main obstacle to addressing the steelworkers’ concerns. Steel company executives led by U.S. Steel Chairman, CEO and President Thomas J. Usher and Nucor Corporation Vice Chairman, President and CEO Daniel R. DiMicco, called for federal government action to deal with the effects of imported steel and to encourage consolidation and capacity reductions in the industry.

Consolidation and mergers has always meant job, wage and benefits loss in order to maximize profits at the expense of the workers. Both the union and the companies have said that the steel industry could not restructure without jettisoning retirees’ benefits. But a way has to be found to protect those who’ve spent their lives in the steel mills. Steel production driven by profit means that the needs of the country and steelworkers and their communities are tossed aside.

Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), one of the members of the Steel Caucus, promised to fight that corporate greed. He said, “It’s a disgrace that [LTV] gives one million dollar severance for the CEO the year they go into bankruptcy, while they lay 1,400 people off in my home state.”

There is a budding movement among some steelrank-and-file workers who see their future free of the steel corporations gambling with their lives in high stakes games here and around the world.

Rick Skender read a story in the World about the idea of using eminent domain to take over steel mills. This inspired the laid-off Cleveland LTV worker to launch a petition urging public officials to investigate using eminent domain to take over Cleveland Works.

“Eminent domain is just another door that could be opened. I want my job back and I don’t want to leave any doors closed. Let’s open them all up,” Skender said. “If it is taken over and owned by the city, workers will run the mill.”

Skender, like many others, comes from a long line of steelworkers.

“We are fighting for an industry that has been in this country forever. About 30,000 people will probably lose their jobs, he said.

“With LTV not in business, all these other companies are laying off as well. For a lot of companies the only business they had was LTV. It’s gonna hurt Cleveland bad,” Skender said.

“This fight is a struggle for all working-class communities,” said Bruce Bostick, a 29-year steelworker from Lorain, Ohio. “If steel and basic industry are eliminated we will not have a viable economy in the United States. It requires the intervention of the public.”

Bostick is helping Skender and other steelworkers organize a rank-and-file committee in Cleveland.

Rank-and-filers like Jim Lange, with 27 years at the LTV coke plant in Chicago, said any industrial policy for the country has to include rebuilding the infrastructure – water mains, schools, airports and transportation systems.

“The U.S. trade Commission held hearings in Indiana and the testimony was just unbelievable. The bankers’ association said two-thirds of mortgages are paid by people who work in the steel and related industries,” Lange said.

“The head of the teachers union said public schools may not be able to avoid closings. Already some public services have been affected.”

Lange said eminent domain is something that can be done to save jobs and whole communities.

“The steel industry in the United States is a vital part of our industrial economy. We create wealth when we take raw materials – coal, iron ore, limestone – and through our ingenuity and hard work turn it into material for cars, appliances, buildings and thousands of other useful things,” Jim Robinson, director of USWA District 7, wrote in an op-ed in Indiana’s Hammond Times.

“A lump of coal or an iron-bearing rock adds nothing to our daily life … Their creation adds to the wealth of our society.” he sad.

The struggle with LTV dramatizes the need to reorder the priorities of government on every level, putting the people’s needs before corporate greed.

Judith Le Blanc can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org

Comments

comments

MOST POPULAR