Wheeling-Pitt's big bucks try to bust union

By Denise Winebrenner, in People's Weekly World,
15 February, 1997

PITTSBURGH - Not since the days of John L. Lewis, the legendary leader of coal miners and industrial workers to organize their unions, has a company reached into their bag of dirty tricks to launch an all-out ideological assault on steelworkers and their families. Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation (WP) forced 4,500 steelworkers in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania on strike October 1. Despite sitting on $406 million in cash and reaping a profit of $16 per ton of steel produced by steelworkers (the rest of the industry averages $8 per ton), WP put a "take-it-or-leave- it" concessionary package on the table. In 1985, WP used the bankruptcy court to drive down steelworker pensions, wages and eliminate jobs in the rust bowl Ohio and Monogahela valleys. Steelworkers are fighting for their just due - to restore their concessions.

Steelworkers estimate that WP has spent $64 million since October 1 in the battle of media to break the strike and their union. In an ad published February 5 in the region's largest newspaper, the News Register, signed by 4500 steelworker families at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, USWA members wrote, "Day 128 - $64,000,000 - WHX (the parent corporation of WP) shareholders' money that Ron LaBow (WP owner) has wasted in a fight that he can NEVER win with 4,500 Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steelworkers."

That $64 million has gone to an almost daily barrage of newspaper adds and talk radio broadcasts throughout the region since October 1. WP escalated the campaign when steelworkers held a mass picket of 600 workers at the gates of the coke ovens responding to a rumor of scabs and packed two auditoriums in Steubenville, Ohio and Wheeling, W.Va. with thousands of workers and their families for a solidarity rally and informational meetings.

When the USWA announced that the International union released $1 million from union's strike and defense fund to carry families through the strike and convened a conference of steelworkers from USX, LTV and all the steel companies in Cleveland Feb. 5 to build solidarity for WP steelworkers, the company responded with a personal attack on union president, George Becker. In nasty full page ads published Sunday, Feb. 9 by newspapers in all three states, WP resorted to the filthy tactic of "if you tell a lie loud enough and long enough with large enough type, it will become the truth."

The company said that Becker told some reporter from a small community newspaper in a hallway, "We'll break them. Absolutely we'll we break them." There isn't any tape, no notes, no one else heard it, just some guy's word. The union president has denied making any such statement. But the WP ads ran anyway, threatening to close the mills and destroy the towns.

The USWA hit back. In a letter to the membership, chief union negotiator, Jim Bowen charged that WP owner Ron LaBow was unavailable during the first 100 days of the strike, "hiding out in New York City behind a telephone." The union called on the company to "sit in a room and not come out until we have negotiated an end to our dispute."

WP answered, through its vice president, Daniel Keaton, not LaBow, that it "absolutely will not discuss" a pension plan similar to the ones at the other steel companies. Adding credence to the union's position that WP is hold up in New York, the Associated Press announced Feb. 7, that WP had a tentative agreement with Bethlehem Steel to buy their shipyards in Sparrows Point, Md.

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