The Spark

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

Steel mill retirees condemned to an unsure retirement

Jul 24, 2006

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a study of what happened to 167,000 retired Bethlehem and LTV steel workers and their spouses when they lost retiree health care. These benefits were eliminated when the companies declared bankruptcy and their pensions were turned over to the government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation.

Putting in decades on one of the hardest and most unhealthy jobs, and taking less pay for it, these workers were promised full health care for the rest of their lives. Those promises were nothing but a pack of lies.

Many of the steel retirees were under age 65 – meaning they weren’t yet eligible for Medicare. Half of them drained money out of their savings or sold off some of their assets to get health care. Half of the workers or their spouses had to go back to work after being retired. Half put off a doctor’s visit and 29% didn’t enter a hospital when needed.

Even workers with Medicare had significant health problems. About 10% of them had no supplement to Medicare. One in eight went without needed hospital care and a quarter went without doctor’s care.

Wilbur Ross, a New York investment banker, organized a Wall Street takeover of Bethlehem and LTV once their workers’ pensions and retiree health care were eliminated. Ross himself made a 300 million dollar profit by buying up these companies and selling them a couple of years later. He took this profit and bought up numerous coal mines – including Sago where 12 miners died this year – and eliminated retiree health benefits there. He did the same thing buying up the giant Burlington Industries and Cone Mills in textiles, again dumping health insurance. Now he is planning on buying up auto parts companies and doing the same thing.

It is not only one man who is eliminating retiree health plans. Ross was the front for many other financial interests. And many of the biggest corporations are doing the same thing, like United Airlines and USAir. The Big Three auto companies are targeting retiree health care.

If the working class allows this drive to continue, no one will have any kind of retirement.