PITTSBURGH – There is cold rolled anger in the heartland; there is blast furnance fury on the East Coast. In the last two weeks, workers, their families, clergy, school board members and elected officials have jammed high school auditoriums and union halls cheering United Steelworkers of America (USWA) President Leo Gerard’s call for militant action.

“If we have to march and shut down traffic, if we have to take over state houses and sit there, this is our Congress, our taxes. We ain’t leaving until you (elected representatives) do what’s right,” Gerard told 2,000 iron miners in Minnesota.

Members of the USWA and the Independent Steelworkers Union from 12 states are preparing to go to Washington Feb. 28 to demand action, not campaign promises, for fair trade and health care. For workers unable to get to the White House, hotlines have been set up in local union halls across the country to call the White House directly.

The buses, vans, cars and planes landing in Washington, D.C., will bring the faces of steelworkers, smiles of their children, worries of their spouses and steely resolve of the “Greatest Generation,” the retirees, demanding that President Bush enact a 40 percent tariff on imported steel, the funds from which would be used to pay for health care of 600,000 steelworker families.

As of Feb. 21, 140 federal lawmakers – a third of the House of Representatives – have signed on supporting the 40 percent tariff on steel imports for four years in order to get breathing room for the U.S. domestic industry.

At the USWA hall in Baltimore, 1,300 steelworkers stomped their feet answering the call for federal action, now, to save the steel industry and ensure health care. (See story page 7)

The AFL-CIO and the USWA organized thousands in hometown rallies across Pennsylvania, where at least 66 buses will bring the heartland message to Washington.

The Pennsylvania Legislature, dominated by Republicans, heard workers’ demands and sent a resolution to Bush supporting the 40 percent tariff and health care coverage.

The Alabama Legislature sent a similar resolution to Bush shortly after Pennsylvania. Indiana is expected to act as steelworkers are packing their lunches for the long bus ride.

From the heart and soul of steelmaking – Indiana and Illinois – hometown rallies galvanized entire communities to fill at least 46 buses to Washington. (See story page 7)

Workers are quick to point out that steel, the cornerstone of the U.S. economy, is the mainstay of their communities and their schools. On Feb. 4, Bethlehem Steel missed a $510,500 biannual tax payment to Lackawanna, New York.

That represents 28 percent of the city’s revenue. Follansbee, W.Va. is looking at a loss of 20 percent in revenue if Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel collapses.

Cleveland faces a similar situation, and workers and operating management from LTV Steel are jamming the Federal Courthouse in Youngstown, Ohio Feb. 28. They are pressuring the bankruptcy court to select a new owner for LTV’s Cleveland complex who will make steel and not deals.

While the demand for domestic steel grew by 39 percent, in just the last six months, 47,000 people are home, instead of at work in the mill. The impact of this goes beyond lost revenue and steelworker unemployment. The USWA estimates that one steelworker job supports 12 additional family wage jobs in cities and towns, not counting city workers or school teachers.

In addition to political action, steelworkers in Ohio and Indiana are taking matters into their own hands. Rank-and-file workers initiated a petition campaign calling for public ownership of the respective mills.

The USWA is not asking for relief or welfare, nor are they asking to save a “dinosaur.” Bush has until March 6 to take action. The case is compelling.

The Federal Trade Commission voted 6-0 to enact tariffs on steel. The Commission found 136 violations of “dumped” steel, meaning foreign steel companies sold steel in the U.S. below production cost. The government in Brazil, for example, subsidized those companies to the tune of $14 billion in the last few years.

In 2001, the U.S. companies could only meet 80 percent of domestic demand because corporations bulldozed the facilities. The additional 20 percent came from foreign steel corporations.

Gerard said that unlike foreign companies, U.S. steelworkers have played by the rules. Speaking to the National Journal Group, Feb. 20, he said, “In the last 15 years, our union working in concert with these [domestic] companies has improved productivity by 130 percent.

“All we are asking for [is] this government to enforce the U.S. laws and to give us a level playing field. On a level playing field we can compete with anybody in the world.”

Wally Kaufman, Judith Le Blanc, Jim Lange, Pat McKinney, Rick Nagin, Tina Wheeler and Morgan Wheeler contributed to this article.


Conn Hallinan
Conn Hallinan

The late Conn Hallinan was a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus. A retired journalism professor, he previously was an editor of People's World when it was a West Coast publication.