Steel job layoffs highlight need for new trade, infrastructure policies

Over the past year, U.S. Steel has announced hundreds of layoffs in its workforce across the country. In late March, a further 770 jobs were cut. As People’s World contributor Bruce Bostick reports, many of those losing their jobs are in Lorain, Ohio, an area that has been hit hard before.

The massive layoffs of steelworkers in Lorain was horrible news. It will drive that entire community toward poverty and will harm surrounding communities. City and county tax bases will be undermined at the time services are most needed. It is a horrible blow to those hard-working families and it is also a blow to all the neighboring communities.

We’ve suffered layoffs before but it is never a time for joy, or conciliation, if others were also hit, here or elsewhere. The issue for steel areas is that these cutbacks are no “act of God.” They take place only due to corporate bottom lines, not because our nation does not need steel.

The American Society of Civil Engineers – the people who oversee, build and maintain our nation’s infrastructure – have graded our nation’s basic infrastructure underpinning at only a D+. They gave our nation’s water system an even lower grade. This used to be a nonpartisan issue – no longer! It has been made partisan by pro-corporate politicians, mainly Republicans, who’ve refused to fund infrastructure repair, pushing instead for privatizing government services.

In the U.S. Senate, S. 268, the Rebuild America Act, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, is a moderate bill that would tax Wall Street transactions in order to fund rebuilding of our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It would put an estimated 13 million workers back to work, including every one of the laid-off Lorain steelworkers. That bill would retool America’s old infrastructure, providing jobs and dignity for workers from the old industries. Further, it is an emergency that our nation needs to address. In today’s political climate, this bill cannot even get a hearing in Congress.

The Kasich administration was elected on the promise of “Jobs for Ohio.” However, as soon as elected, the GOP majority killed the proposal for a high-speed rail system from Cleveland to Cincinnati. It would’ve produced an estimated 3,000 jobs producing the system, as well as thousands more to service the rails, sell tickets and other related services, and would’ve helped surrounding communities. Some in Columbus have recently called for revisiting this much-needed idea.  

Instead, for the past quarter century, we’ve had the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), upgrading China’s trade status, and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Communities and entire regions of our nation have been economically decimated. According to the AFL-CIO, NAFTA cost us 683,000 jobs, the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement took another 75,000, and more than 3 million U.S. jobs were lost with a China deal with no action on currency manipulation.

TPP is expected to dwarf all these in terms of the damage it will do. Billionaires got much richer during this period. The rest of us have seen our nation’s jewel, our manufacturing base, with millions of jobs, go to low-wage areas.

During this same period, retiree security has been wiped out, with real pensions being replaced by saving plans (401(k)s). A decade ago, Lorain steelworkers saw their pensions cut, stolen by corporate bankruptcy games. The pension attacks have been accompanied by legal changes to bankruptcy laws giving more power to financial institutions and disenfranchising others. Attacks have intensified on Social Security, as well, calling for cutting benefits and increasing retirement age.

While all this took place, the rigged system paid out obscene “golden parachutes” to retiring CEOs. The “safety net” that used to be there for working families has been horribly damaged.

When we look at our neighbors, now out of work, our communities in poverty, our youth growing up without hope and we hear the continuing calls that we “can’t afford” jobs, pensions, Social Security, and health care, is it not time to ask how we can afford to continue on this same path?

Bruce Bostick, an elected member of the national executive board of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, worked in Lorain for more than three decades where he chaired the grievance committee of United Steelworkers Local 1104.

This article originally appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It appears here with permission of the author.

Photo: Alliance for American Manufacturing/Save Our Steel Jobs


Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and leader in Ohio Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.