Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

By Charles Costigan, head of the CPML Trade Union Commission

Taking another look at Steel elections

First Published: The Call, Vol. 8, No. 29, July 23, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Chicago-Gary, Ind., region, besides being a center of steel production, is also an important barometer of the latest current running through the United Steelworkers union (USWA).

This region is represented by District 31, the largest district in the union and one with a long history of militant struggle. So when elections take place there, as they did recently, a lot of eyes are focused on their results.

District 31 has long been a center of contention between different forces vying for power in the USWA. It was here that Ed Sadlowski’s Rank and File slate ran his election campaign for USWA president against the machine of l. W. Abel and Lloyd McBride, the current president.

Sadlowski lost the election. But the USWA liberals maintained strength through James Balanoff, District Director, and by winning the majority of local presidencies in District 31.

The recent District 31 local elections showed that rank-and-file discontent and resistance is continuing to grow while contention among different wings of the union bureaucracy is sharpening.

But The Call did not accurately analyse these elections in its article which appeared in the May 14 issue. The article incorrectly focused on the setbacks, suffered in the voting by the liberal District 31 local leadership, without showing whether the election challenges came from progressive or reactionary forces. In particular, the significance of the racist and pro-company campaigns of the McBride forces was downplayed.

The District 31 elections followed, a year of increased activism on the part of steelworkers. Numerous struggles were carried out around layoffs, firings, health arid safety conditions, discrimination and union democracy.

McBride attempted to use the recent elections Ito smash this growing rank-and-file movement and overthrow the liberal reformists who comprise the main leadership in District, 31.

The McBride candidates defended the ENA no-strike agreement with its 3 wage ceiling, blamed foreign workers for the crisis in steel, and attacked the right-to-ratify movement as “disruption and anarchy”in the union.

McBride made his biggest push in Balanoff’s home local 1010. There Wally Hartman, a McBride supporter, launched an openly racist and anti-communist campaign against incumbent and long-time Sadlowski supporter, William Andrews. Andrews won in a close vote.

McBride candidates maintained office through Jack Parton at U.S. Steel’s Gary Works, 1014, and won a number of positions at Local 6787, (Bethlehem Steel’s Burns Harbor) and Local 1066 (U.S. Steel Sheet and Tin).

The gains the McBride forces made in some locals and the close votes in others were due in part to the confusion and splits caused by the openly reactionary and racist nature of their campaign. But they were also due to the failure of the liberal bureaucrats to fully mobilize steelworkers in the face of increased company attacks.

The Wally Hartman vs. Bill Andrews race at Local 1010 (lnland Steel) was an example of this. Bill Andrews is the only Black president of a basic steel local. The workforce at Inland is only 25% Black.

Even after Sadlowski’s defeat, Andrews kept Sadlowski’s organization, the Rank and File, functioning. On the one hand, he allowed more democracy in union committees and grievance structures. Local 1010 was the first to hold a vote on the local contract and has given support to many important strikes. Andrews actively supports the right to ratify.

On the other hand, there has also been growing dissatisfaction among Inland steelworkers with Andrews during the three years he has been president. He has failed to mount any real resistance against the massive firings carried out by Inland Steel and has not mobilized the rank and file to fight for better conditions in a notoriously unsafe mill.

Hartman combined playing off this discontent among the workers with racist and splitting campaign tactics to cut into Andrew’s previous 2 to I victory margin in the last election.

The local elections showed that there is not a consolidated Sadlowski-Balanoff bloc within District 31. In fact there are a number of differences among the liberal reformists.

This was most evident in the Local 65 election struggle, a three-way race between McBride-backed Don Stazak, Sadlowski-backed John Chico and Alice Peurala, who was quietly supported by Balanoff.

Peurala won by opposing Stazak’s anti-communist, jingoist campaign as well as incumbent Chico’s dictatorial union meetings, his patronage system and his dissolving of any union committees that mobilized workers to fight U.S. Steel. Making union democracy the main issue in her campaign, Peurala appealed to the rank and file by being outspoken against discrimination, the impending shut-down of the South Works foundry and for health and safety.

In sum, while McBride made some gains, overall the situation for steelworkers advanced in the recent elections. Many of the liberal reformist leaders, trying to maintain a hold on the rank and file, are putting as much distance between themselves and McBride as possible, openly organizing activity around issues like the right to ratify, affirmative action, health and safety and against the Carter wage limit. This development can be useful to the rank and file.

In addition, rank-and-file workers are demanding that the leadership turn resolutions into action. Also rank-and-file committees have been initiated in a number of mills.