Reshaping Steel Work
Is there still hope for U.S. Steel workers?
Book looks at how to keep steelmaking alive in Canada
While it would be an overstatement to say a new book due for release this week is a Valentine’s Day present for 900 locked-out U.S. Steel workers in Hamilton, it does offer some hope for the Canadian steel industry.
Manufacturing Meltdown: Reshaping Steel Work is a 224-page book that looks at the decline of Stelco in Hamilton from the 1980s to the takeover by U.S. Steel, along with the various U.S. management strategies used by the company and the union’s response to them.
The book is the compilation of nearly 30 years of research by former United Steelworkers Union Local 1005 president and Mountain resident Warren Smith, David Livingstone, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, and researcher Dorothy Smith.
Livingstone noted the global steel crisis began with massive downsizing at European plants in the mid-’70s and arrived in Canada about a decade later.
With most of Canada’s steelmaking industry now in foreign hands, the book suggests four alternatives for the U.S. Steel operation and future steelmaking in Canada: further foreign takeover of domestic steel plants; the repurchase of the former Hilton Works by Canadian investors; turning the Hamilton plant into a government-owned Crown corporation; and allowing the union to own and operate the plant through a steelworkers’ cooperative venture.
Livingstone pointed to Mondragon International in Spain as an example of a worker-owned steelmaking co-operative.
The last two alternatives, he said, will require community and political support.
Livingstone noted the book suggests the workforce at Stelco-U.S. Steel in Hamilton is an experienced and highly skilled group that has not been effectively used by the company.
“U.S. Steel and Stelco were probably the most hierarchical companies in North America that paid little attention to workers’ knowledge,” he said, adding U.S. Steel is not doing any research and development in Hamilton either.
“Zilch, nothing and no prospect of it either.” Smith, who was Local 1005 president from 1997 to 2003, said he agreed to help with the book to publicize the workers’ point of view.
“There just isn’t enough of the union’s story told ever and when you have an opportunity to be part of telling that story, you should do everything you can,” said Smith, who strongly advocates the idea of turning U.S. Steel in Hamilton into a workers’ co-op.
“In this capitalist system that we all strive under, does the worker always have to be a tool, a pawn and a victim?” Smith said he believes there is a future for steelmaking in Canada and that U.S. Steel is closing the Hamilton plant to protect jobs south of the border.
Work on the book began in 1982 thanks to a research grant from Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
“It was the first year after the massive layoffs (at Stelco in Hamilton),” said Livingstone, who noted they wanted to look at how the layoffs and the decline of the steel industry in Hamilton affected Stelco Hilton Works employees and their families.
“The study was strongly supported by 1005,” said Livingstone.
The union provided membership lists and other information to the researchers while the company did not wish to participate.
Livingstone said about 300 steelworkers and their spouses were interviewed in 1983-84 and re-interviewed 10 years later to see how they were coping with changes to the Canadian steel industry and the massive layoffs.