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Susan Green

Steel Workers Face Hard Battle
to Win Pensions, Other Demands

(20 September 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 39, 26 September 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SEPT. 20 – The general optimism for a settlement in steel which prevailed upon the release of the recommendations of the president’s fact-finding board has changed to gloom as the United States Steel Corporation blasts the findings of the board and calls them “revolutionary.”

The crux of the matter is that Big Steel refuses to finance an insurance and pension plan for the workers and insists that the workers also contribute to the fund. Benjamin Fairless, president of United States Steel, loudly takes issue with the board “on the grounds of costs as well as of principle.” He is squealing because all the steel companies together would have to lay out some $200,000,000 a year – according to his figures – for this purpose, companies which together will have made nearly a billion dollars of profits in 1949.

Unyielding in his “principle” that the companies will not part with any of their profits’ in the interest of the workers and will pass on to the consumer any increases paid to workers, Fairless contends that such an outlay by the industry would add at least $3.00 to the price of a ton of steel and “would have the same inflationary effect on prices that the board itself warned against when it rejected the union’s request for a fourth-round wage increase.”

Says Workers Like to Pay

In other words, the board’s decision in slashing the union’s package demand for a 30-cent-an-hour increase to a mere 10-cent increase, and the union’s immediate acceptance of this obviously unfavorable recommendation, have emboldened rather than placated the bosses of the steel industry.

As of this writing, Cyrus S. Ching, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, is trying to pave the way for collective bargaining between the companies and the union so that the one million steel workers of the country will not start their strike on September 25. On the morning of September 20 the situation is that Philip Murray has again affirmed the unions position that further bargaining must be based on an acceptance of the non-contributory principle recommended by the board, while Big Steel’s statement to Ching has not yet been made public.

In the nonsensical verbiage liberally distributed by the steel companies is this gem from Charles R. Hook, Chairman of Armco Steel Company: “As a result of my experience and contacts of many years with a very large number of American workmen, I am convinced that they do not want to be fully relieved by others of the duty of providing for themselves and their families.”

And along the same lines spoke Clarence B. Randall, president of Inland Steel, undoubtedly in his best Fourth of July manner: “In a free America no man should be fully relieved by others of the duty of providing for his future and that of his family.”

Sauce for the Goose

Philip Murray met this hypocritical palaver head on.

“The steel industry,” he said, “is coldly preparing to force a strike upon the nation on what it contends is a matter of principle: whether pensions and social insurance should be jointly paid for. Official records filed by these same steel companies with the SEC show that the matter becomes one of principle only where the steel worker is concerned, because officials of the steel industry will receive very substantial pensions entirely paid by industry.

“A study of the steel companies’ own official statements, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is truly an expose of the inconsistent position of the steel industry. It resolves itself to this: For an official of a company to receive a pension paid for solely by the company is a good thing. For the workers to receive the same benefits is a ‘loss of his freedom.’”

Murray pointed out that the United States Steel Corporation will pay to Irving S. Olds, chairman of its board, to E.M. Voorhees, chairman of its finance committee, and to Benjamin F. Fairless, its president, $50,000 each at the age of 65, with no contribution from these three freedom-loving gentlemen who are quite content with the arrangement.

Among other steel company officials who have ample pensions awaiting them, without contributing one cent themselves, are Arthur B. Homer, president of Bethlehem, down for $11,460 a year, and thirteen other Bethlehem officials, down for lesser amounts. Hiland G. Batcheller, president of Allegheny-Ludlum Steel, who declared that non-contributory social insurance and pensions for steel workers are “definitely socialistic,” will be retired at 65 on a $40,000 a year compensation with no contributions from him. For the steel workers, however, to receive a $1200 retirement pension as recommended by the board, a sum not even sufficient for substandard living, is “definitely socialistic.”

Worrying Over Security

The union further shows that there is nothing at all “revolutionary” in the non-contributory insurance and pension system, since government studies reveal that there are 3,000,000 workers covered by social insurance, most of them financed entirely by employers, and that there are 3,290,608 employees under pension plans, a majority of them on a non-contributory basis. Incidentally, these figures also proclaim how infinitesimal is the number of workers getting such benefits from their employers.

In the steel industry itself there are companies financing pension plans for their workers, though very inadequate ones. Of the big steel companies, Jones & Laughlin – fourth largest and the only one that has indicated a willingness to bargain with the union on the basis of the non-contributory principle – already has a non-contributory pension plan, according to the press, yielding the workers the pittance of $48 a month on retirement. Presumably this company, if it actually accepts the non-contributory principle as the basis for further bargaining with the union, will fight against raising the amount to the $100 recommended by the board. There may also be involved in the attitude of Jones & Laughlin an effort to break the practice of industry-wide contracts, a practice more beneficial to the union than to the companies.

With the miners striking to the slogan “No pensions – no work” and with the steel workers on the eve of a strike on the issue of health insurance and pensions, the worry of the working people over their insecurity stands out in bold relief.

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