The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Bethlehem Steel bankruptcy:
Not broke, just greedy!

Oct 22, 2001

On October 15, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the nation's third largest, announced it was filing for bankruptcy protection. Bethlehem says the problem is that it lost almost a billion and a half dollars in the first nine months of 2001.

The company's first demand was concessions from its active work force, which is down to 13,000 today. Bethlehem’s new executive plans to ask for concessions from active workers and for more health care reductions from retirees receiving pensions.

The first place the bosses come is always to the workers. Retirees were supposed to be guaranteed their pensions and benefits, but Bethlehem and other steel corporations, like LTV and Republic which also used this bankruptcy game this year, came after the workers, demanding reductions.

In 1997 the Bethlehem steelworkers at the Sparrows Point plant outside Baltimore agreed to the loss of 900 jobs as a concession to save the plant from closing – or at least that is what the bosses threatened. To show they were serious, they pointed to Bethlehem’s giant facility in Bethlehem Pennsylvania which it had closed in 1995.

The workers at Sparrows Point gave the concessions. And what did Bethlehem management do with the money they gained? They went out and bought and sold other companies and invested 300 million dollars in upgrading a Sparrows Point facility. In 1998 they bought up Lukens Inc. and in 1999 they could afford to start new ventures with both Columbus Coatings and with BethNova Tube.

So, despite bad years, despite competition, despite whatever else the company claimed, they bought and sold steel operations. They had enough money to pay back their loans with interest, to pay dividends to their shareholders, to pay their corporate execs big salaries.

Bethlehem has now hired a specialist, R.S. Miller, to “turn the company around.” Miller got his start in the 1980s turning around Chrysler – by demanding concessions. His first proposals at Bethlehem are like some of those he made at Chrysler; shift out jobs to lower paid contractors and change work rules, i.e. speed-up.

What Bethlehem – like all the big corporations – is trying to do is make workers pay for ever larger profits. Effectively, they want to take us back before the time when workers organized in their own defense.

Previous generations of steelworkers found the way to protect themselves – stopping wage cuts, improving their wages and benefits, putting an end to horrible working conditions and favoritism and discrimination. This generation should do no less.