I just signed a solidarity card to working people at Carrier. President-elect Donald Trump went on a Twitter rant attacking union members for setting the record straight on the number of jobs that are actually being saved at the company. Trump claimed that 1,100 jobs were being saved, but it’s only 800 — and 550 jobs are still being shipped to Mexico. The man is a fraud and the sooner we take action against him and his administration, the better. Now, Chuck Jones, the president of the United Steelworkers local that represents Carrier workers, is getting threatening calls for speaking out and telling the truth. Can you sign the card, too, to let them know you have their backs?
P.S.: My brother, formerly a pastor in Pittsburgh (now in San Francisco at St. Paulus Lutheran Church), along with other pastors and union members, stood up against the corporate powers of Pittsburgh. Back in the early to mid-80s, this unlikely collaboration of pastors and union people challenged the “suits” at U.S. Steel Corp., J&L Steel, Melon Bank, and Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Conference. These corporations and banks closed down 9 out of 10 blast furnaces, invested steel worker pension funds into other “cheaper” production (like the Sumitomo Corporation of Japan), and put 100,000 people out of work. That action was the seed that has brought us to this. Now Trump is lying through his teeth while trying to sugar-coat the same circumstances while wooing the support of the working man and then… lying to him.
You can check the story out in the documentary, available now on Vimeo and originally aired on PBS’s Frontline. It’s called The Fighting Ministers and is an hour long. Here’s a bit of the story:
The years 1982-86 were an economic watershed in American history. To increase corporate profits to the wealthiest, the country was systematically being transformed from a productive based economy to service and technology. Agribusiness replaced the family farm, small community banks were being eaten by the majors.
At the center of this transformation was Pittsburgh, PA, for years known as the “Steel City”. For generations, Pittsburgh had supplied the steel for America’s war machinery and then, in peacetime, had built the infrastructure of America as well as supplying the automobile industry its steel. But the times were a’changing. To maximize profits, steel was being imported and blast furnaces shut down (9 out of 10 were closed down and destroyed), land was reclaimed, and the big steel companies diversified.
U.S. Steel, America’s largest, bought Marathon Oil and also branched into the grocery business. It also emerged that deals with the Japanese had been orchestrated as early as the 1960s. The pension and welfare plans of the Pittsburgh steelworkers had been invested into the Sumitoma Corporation of Japan. The Japanese and the Koreans and the Taiwanese were taking over production while a quarter of a milliion steel and steel-associated workers in western Pennsylvania were being put out of work with no chance of seeing their pensions. Towns lost their tax base and were shut down, businesses boarded up, health and education services evaporated, libraries closed. The situation in the Monangahela River Valley was dire and the union men were beaten.
The pastors used all sorts of tactics to embarrass. If changes were to happen in Pittsburgh, they were not going to be implemented at the expense of the working man. The pastors demanded that the corporations retrain, and restart communities, undergird unions, and allow men and women who had only known steel to begin life and work. Rather than welcomed as the voice of conscience, the pastors became synonymous with the term “radical” and “terrorist”. They were ostracized from the rest of the religious community because of their “tactics”. Pastors should stay in their churches and be nice, pray, and mete out comfort and food. The press and TV, owned by the corporations, lambasted this small group of pastors called The Denominational Ministry Strategy (the DMS) who had joined with a few union leaders to demand a fair shake from the corporations. Even their own Bishop, who was incidentally represented by the same law firm as Melon Bank, the most powerful bank in Pittsburgh, came out on the side of the powerbrokers. The DMS played on the side of reaction to make their point and they also did their research, uncovering many, many illegal land deals and corrupt activities … collusion involving the Mafia, big business, and the Church. The little guy loved these pastors … the powerful loathed them. It was hot in Pittsburgh.
At one point in 1985, my brother Daniel was directed first by his church counsel and then by the Bishop to leave his pastorate. His church was made up of middle-management people, afraid of losing their jobs if they ‘rocked the boat’. Dan’s actions and association with the unemployed in opposition to the actions of U.S. Steel would put their own middle-management jobs on the line.
Still, Daniel stood by what he termed, “the call of the Gospel”, and refused to resign. After a protracted battle with the church counsel, he announced that he would lock himself inside his church. He did, and the bishop got a court order to remove him as pastor of that church which Daniel promptly refused to recognise.
So the church sharpened up its axes and the sheriff’s department chopped into the church and arrested “the criminal”… Daniel. He was placed in prison (200 miles away) for four months to await trial. Meanwhile, another pastor in the steel community of Clairton had also been arrested out of his church and was already spending six months in prison. Upon his release, Reverend Roth was defrocked for standing on behalf of his ravaged community … and, as it followed, so was Daniel.
As a documentarian, I was torn between my role as an observer and a participant. While trying to maintain an objectivity, I witnessed the forcible evacuation of the unemployed from their homes. I discovered suicide victims. I attended a funeral of a baby buried in a shoe-box. I filmed the rage of an unemployed steel worker against his wife. I watched as 20-year veterans of the steel industry wept as their “mothers”, the blast furnaces, were blown-up. In those circumstances, how does one remain passive?
As an “activist” (the cardinal sin of a documentarian), I supported putting dead fish into Melon Bank safety-deposit boxes on a Friday night only to have stink to high heaven (“your policies stink”). I applauded turning over bins of honey on the floor of Melon Bank (the great American “stick-up”). I understood setting fire to a guard shack outside one U.S. Steel plant and I took over the podium of a meeting of the Aleghenny Conference … a group of the most powerful and influential community and business leaders in Pittsburgh. I also met with the same corporate heads to give a face to voiceless communities.
On Easter Sunday, 1985, I marched with a group of about 75 unemployed steelworkers carrying cardboard boxes filled with rusted steel we intended to lay at the altar of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, the richest and most powerful church in Pittsburgh and “spiritual home” to the CEOs of Pittsburgh’s biggest corporations. We were met at the church by 35 riot-clad police, including the Chief of Police. Under threat of arrest, we were told to disperse. We refused. Along with the leaders, I was arrested for disturbing the peace, trespass, failure to disperse, and thrown into jail. Out on bail, I fought the misdemeanor charges and sued the city of Pittsburgh for $50,000,000 for violation of my civil rights as guaranteed under the Constitution of the U.S.
Our action had taken place on a “public sidewalk” and had disrupted nothing. Though I overturned two of the charges in a court of appeals, I was forced to take the 3rd count to the U.S. Supreme Court. I ran out of money. Had I won the 3rd count (criminal charges), my chances for restitution in my “civil” suit against the city, on behalf of the steelworkers, would have been good. As I didn’t have the power or the money to continue, I had to pull out. Lawyers representing Pittsburgh’s corporations threatened to ruin my career if I didn’t drop the civil charges against the city. They probably did. My wife divorced me and, in total, I’d spent approximately $350,000.
Meanwhile, my brother’s case (criminal trespass) was dismissed by the judge on the grounds of insufficient evidence. He was released from jail, but subsequently, and despite our father’s stand on his behalf, he was defrocked by a vote of the Lutheran Church Synod for “behaviour unbecoming a pastor”. His wife divorced him. A 33-year-old Yale University graduate, a pastor beloved at one time by his congregation and being groomed for bishophood, had lost everything.
As with The Insider, this story was also covered by 60 Minutes.