Steelworkers are fighting for their lives

The Enron and WorldCom scandals expose the greed and even criminality of big business. But all the focus on crime in the corporate suites somewhat misses the bigger picture. It is no less a crime that big corporations are throwing hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets and robbing hundreds of thousands more of their pensions and healthcare.

Just as Enron robbed its employees of their 401(k) pension money, so too many of the big steel companies are now robbing steelworkers and retirees of their pensions and healthcare yet it’s all very “legal.” It’s legal, but it ain’t right!

If a steelworker just blows a paycheck, or mismanages money and then can’t pay the bills, he or she gets no sympathy and certainly no bail out. Yet the steel giants want to throw up their hands and walk away from what they owe the workers who made them rich.

If big steel gets away with it, all working people will suffer the consequences. Manufacturing is still the backbone of a modern economy. The “high tech” bubble was just that. There will be no economic upturn, no stability in the stock market, no end to layoffs without a halt to the hemorrhaging of good paying, union protected, manufacturing jobs.

There is plenty that can be done. National priorities that put building schools, hospitals, housing and rebuilding our infrastructure first will create steel and manufacturing jobs.

Bottom line – corporations cannot be trusted with workers’ pension and health care funds. They cannot be trusted to live up to contracts. Social Security should be strengthened into a national pension plan with defined benefits equal to the kinds of packages steelworkers negotiated for in good faith including full health care and prescription drug coverage. Trillions of dollars are being mismanaged by corporate-run pension and health funds. Social Security should take over those private funds and do it right.

Visit your Congressperson

It’s an election year!
Congress is in recess and, all things being equal, will not return to Washington until September 3. What better time to arrange a meeting to make known your concerns – or better still, to organize a delegation from your union, your church or you neighborhood to go with you? And there is plenty to be concerned about.

Topping the list is the threat of military action against Iraq and the danger that President Bush will take advantage of the fact that Congress is out of town to initiate such action.

Right behind that is the question of the denial of union rights to 170,000 government workers employed in the Department of Homeland Security. Equally reprehensible is another provision establishing the TIPS program making snitches out of millions of meter readers and delivery persons by encouraging them to report “suspicious activity.”

Equally important is stopping the confirmation of Priscilla Owen to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Then there’s the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which squeaked through the House 215-212 and now waits Senate action.

And there are other priorities: bankruptcy “reform,” rolling back the provisions of the Bush tax cuts that have not yet become effective, reauthorization of public assistance, military spending, and prescription drugs for seniors, not necessarily in that order.

Ours is an urgent call for prompt action and a warning that members of Congress will be under pressure to wind things up and hit the campaign trail, which means that legislation will be rushed to a vote without or time to mobilize public opinion.

On the other hand, the next four weeks offer a unique window for a campaign to mobilize around the issues – to make clear that these are the issues that this year’s election must address and that people are watching. November 5 is not that far away.