Canada: Stelco Steel: Crisis in U.S. Steel:

Steel, Not Steal! Keep Stelco Producing!

Let’s Make It Happen!

U.S. Steel’s insistence on severing its equity ownership of Stelco and turning it into a simple claim of debt on itself and putting the former Stelco into bankruptcy protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) has inadvertently created an opening for steelworkers, salaried employees and their allies to bring into being a pro-social direction for Stelco.

Ownership and control of Stelco now rests in limbo within the CCAA. The collective fixed assets, the instruments of production, are there for the actual producers to put to work and to meet the claims of the human factor and society without the burden of control and claims from owners of social wealth and their narrow private interests. For this to happen, the active and retired actual producers and their allies would have to organize the fight of their lives to force the federal and Ontario governments to use their political power to make the alternative happen.

The Real Problem at the Former Stelco

The real problem facing the former Stelco is the capital-centred thinking that rejects workers’ rights and a new pro-social direction. This mindless perseveration has been harsh on workers throughout the U.S. Steel empire including at the former Stelco.

From the beginning it locked out Canadian workers in both Hamilton and Lake Erie Works attacking their claims on the value they produce, demanding concessions that have been shown in practice throughout the economy not to be solutions for any problem. It depressed production and transferred the filling of orders to plants in the United States. It cratered the blast furnace in Hamilton and reduced the number of steelworkers to 2,200 in direct violation of the agreement it made with the federal government under the Investment Canada Act to retain production and employment at 2007 levels. There are now some 600 workers at the Hamilton Works.

To the feigned surprise of U.S. Steel, less production and fewer active workers, which both were its own doing, generated yet another crisis in the relation of active to retired workers with a lack of value being produced to make the pension plans whole by 2015, which was the goal set in an agreement with the Ontario government. This goal was to be met on the basis of the resources of the global company, not Canada alone.

U.S. Steel has now declared that the lowered production and its value together with the accumulated pension savings in the existing plans are not enough to support 20,000 retirees receiving pension and post-retirement benefits and will never be enough, causing yet another crisis.

U.S. Steel put the former Stelco into bankruptcy protection under CCAA to extinguish the claims of retirees and while doing so turned U.S. Steel’s equity ownership of the former Stelco arising from its purchase in 2007 for around $2 billion, into a simple claim of debt on itself or at least on its Canadian child. Such a radical and reckless move has subsequently blown up in its face as incoherent, desperate and universally ridiculed. U.S. Steel’s imagined self-serving debt to itself is nonsense.

U.S. Steel blew its investment in Stelco through its own incompetence, mismanagement and perseveration of the old. Canada owes them nothing but contempt! U.S. Steel owes us! It owes us for losses incurred when it violated the Investment Canada Act and the pension agreement with the Ontario government and unions, and the losses in wages and pensions from layoffs, shutdowns and lock-outs, and the theft of pension benefits from their elimination of indexing.

The current anti-social direction is a failure and needs to be rejected. Wrecking steel production and attacking the claims of active and retired steelworkers and salaried employees lead to one crisis after another and resolve nothing. Rejection of the current anti-social direction is the first step towards the new.

A Pro-Social Alternative for the Former Stelco

A pro-social alternative for the former Stelco exists. The problem is to grasp the reality that an alternative is possible and collectively organize the fight to bring it into being.

To see justice done, the Ontario government should immediately remove the former Stelco from the bankruptcy court and place it in the hands of a public trustee under the government’s authority. The government should reject with contempt U.S. Steel’s claim as creditor. No debtor-in-possession funds from the Brookfield Capital vultures should be used and all lenders charges should cease. The bankruptcy monitor and all others given standing in the CCAA proceeding should be relieved of their duties without rights to further drain the former Stelco of revenue.

A government order should be issued relieving U.S. Steel of all rights to sell steel in Canada until it has fully met its obligations to the employees for their retirement benefits and pensions making the existing pension plans whole, and having paid in full all municipal taxes and other claims, and paid restitution for the damage it has inflicted on the Canadian economy in violation of the agreements it undertook upon the 2007 purchase of Stelco.

U.S. Steel must hand over the order book and immediately cease filling any orders from its U.S. plants. The public trustee should continue all of the company’s steel production and the filling of orders from Hamilton and Lake Erie Works and vigorously pursue new orders. Aside from meeting the claims of active workers for wages and benefits, the social value steelworkers produce and realize should go towards renewing production in Hamilton and Lake Erie Works, fully meeting all claims for post-retirement benefits and pensions, paying municipal taxes and local suppliers and contractors and dealing with environmental concerns.

Yes, to a Pro-Social Alternative for the Former Stelco!
Let’s Make it Happen

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