The American steel industry is still highly unionized. And the United Steelworkers (USW) union is coming to the end of its current contract at the beginning of next month. As a result, the steel businesses are doing everything they can to break the unions. Hey, why not? That’s the American way, right? The rise of unions, wages, and the middle class was just an aberration that went totally against the true nature of America, which is the extreme inequality and strife of a banana republic. And we are almost there. As I note often, most people who aren’t in unions have given up hoping they will one day be in one, and instead focus on being angry at the few people who are still in unions.
Allegheny Technologies Inc (ATI) is trying to bust the union in a big way. According to USW, “More than 2,200 members of the United Steelworkers have been locked out of their jobs by Allegheny Technologies since August 15, 2015. Workers have offered to continue working while negotiations proceed, but ATI’s management team has rebuffed the offer and demanded that the union submit to deep concessions before allowing workers back to their jobs.” Charming. But that’s the way it is in modern America. There is no sense of community, and now CEOs are applauded for destroying thousands of jobs.
I’ll make a guess that this is the first that you’ve heard about this. It certainly is the first that I’ve heard about this and these people have been kept from working for two weeks. But I know something that you have heard about: the big stock market plunge earlier this week. Oh. My. God. You would have thought that Armageddon had arrived and Jesus was riding a horse through Galilee wielding a sword — lopping off the heads of nonbelievers everywhere.
My understanding is that a big part of the stock crash was automatic, computer trades. These are really a pox on the world. They don’t do anything. The purpose of the stock market is to get capital to where it is needed. It is a special kind of bank. But these micro-trades are just a way that people use the system to siphon off money from other traders. In other words: it is just a way of making less capital available to do its work in the regular economy. As Dean Baker wrote this last week, The Stock Market Is Not the Economy. So really: who cares?
Of course, sadly, we all care! That’s because what is happening in the stock market is crammed down our throats. The S&P 500 went down 12% (and then almost immediately gained it all back, but let’s table that for now). Did that mean that the US was going to produce 12% less steel? Certainly not. It meant that a bunch of rich people whose wealth doesn’t represent much that is real were going to be slightly less rich (for a day or two). Meanwhile, ATI is advertising for scabs to replace the workers they refuse to use:
Previous experience in a metal manufacturing or processing facility is required. All positions require working for unknown duration and are temporary. THIS IS A LABOR DISPUTE SITUATION — EMPLOYEES WILL BE TRANSPORTED ACROSS A PICKET LINE.
But this isn’t news because people like you and me are being badly hurt. But if a rich person gets a hangnail, well, stop the presses!