Steelworkers: Fighting to win

LAS VEGAS – A “corporate crime wave” is crushing steelworkers and their communities, charged Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), in his fiery opening address to the 31st USWA Constitutional Convention here, August 5. And, Gerard vowed, “We’re going to fix it!”

Gerard flayed the greed of “Enron capitalists” who undermine democracy to “protect the outrageous growth in their wealth.” In the last 20 years, he charged, “the wealthiest 1 percent in our countries have gotten 90 percent of all the new wealth that’s been created.”

Twenty years ago, he said, corporate executives were making roughly 40 times the earnings of their wage-earning employees. Today, their average compensation is 400 to 500 times greater than their hourly employees’ wages.

He recalled the 1937 Memorial Day massacre of 10 striking Republic Steel workers gunned down by Chicago police. “The lives of those strikers and thousands more like them – are the legacy that inspires us to seize those moments when victory is anything but certain; to understand that, unless we fight, defeat is the only thing that’s guaranteed!” The crowd stood and cheered.

Representatives from 40 unions from 17 countries joined North American steelworkers at the convention. In 2000, the convention voted to award delegates’ status to the Steelworker Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), and veterans who built the union took delegate seats and filled the guest section.

Former USWA president Lynn Williams also drew a standing ovation when he exhorted the crowd, “Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.”

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney denounced as a “national disgrace” the refusal of the Republican-majority House to “rescind the $1.6 trillion tax break they gave to the same CEOs who are now stealing us blind.” Sweeney urged USWA support of the federation’s “No More Business as Usual” campaign in the run up to the 2002 elections.

A panel of six USWA lockout/strike leaders reported to the convention. Corporations have forced the union into long lockouts by Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I, now Oregon Mills), Kaiser Aluminum and AK Steel. Not one steelworker has lost a home nor a primary vehicle, despite being on the line for as many as four years (CF&I). Delegates responded with continued solidarity until every union member is back in their plants, working with a contract.

While steelworkers convened in Las Vegas, over 500 steelworkers, active and retired, picketed George W. Bush when he visited Pittsburgh Aug. 5. Carrying signs demanding health care, jobs and prescription drug coverage, workers chanted, “What do we want? Health Care … Now !”

“We’re here to tell this guy [Bush] that we need a health care plan like the one he has,” Bobby DeMeo, 71, retired from LTV Pittsburgh Works, told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Carol McMahon, wife of an LTV Steel company retiree, told the Pittsburgh media. “Since I lost my health care coverage last April, we’ve already paid $2,900 for prescriptions, doctor visits and health coverage.” LTV dumped health care coverage for tens of thousands of active and retired steelworkers when it declared bankruptcy.

Meeting just before the USWA convention, SOAR president Lynn Williams told retiree delegates from 11 of 12 of the union districts in the U.S. and Canada to get ready to get on the bus, load up the cars and vans, for demonstrations this fall for health care, in time for the mid-term elections.

For more information, the convention will be streamed in video at the USWA website (www.uswa.org). The author can be reached at dwinebr696@aol.com