Back to...

GET VISIBLE! Advertise Here. Find Out More

Share Our Stories! - Click Here

US Steel Must Not Be Sold
To A Japanese Rival

By Yoichi Shimatsu
Exclusive To Rense

In Brief: This essay focuses on the strategic threat of an impending sale of U.S. Steel to its Japanese rival Nippon Steel, which is the direct postwar descendant of the infamous Yawata steelworks, which supplied the armor plate to the Imperial Navy for the attack on Pearl Harbor. The objective of this corporate takeover is for Japan to supply key parts for America’s derelict nuclear power plants to forestall decommissioning. .

The second part of this article focused on the author’s personal insights as a millwright at U.S. Steel Southworks in Chicago and Republic Steel in Gary, Indiana, during the Arab Oil Boycott of the 1970s - a novel type of economic warfare, which prompted rapid construction of the Alaska Pipeline to prevent an economic collapse and relieve an energy-starved American people. That experience left no doubt that America’s steel industry is in dire need of a management overhaul and new directions for its business future and for this nation’s economic viability.

Management Sell-out to Foreign Interests

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will soon release recommendations on its Anti-Trust investigation of the proposed corporate takeover of U.S. Steel by its rival Japan-based Nippon Steel for a purchase price $80 million. This review is the final step before approval of a foreign takeover of the core of America’s steel-making capability. At its annual shareholders meeting, the sold-out management along with Wall Street investment funds encouraged a majority vote in favor of the foreign bid. By contrast, the United Steelworkers union adamantly opposed to the proposed takeover, due to the repressive anti-labor policies of major Japanese corporations. In rare unanimity, both President Joe Biden and Donald Trump have voiced opposition to the foreign takeover, but it remains uncertain whether an executive order to block the sale to a foreign entity would be upheld by the courts.

The clever move by Nippon Steel goes way beyond mere commerce into what looks to be the de-fanging of America’s core economic infrastructure with a crippling impact on the U.S. Navy, which (face it) is the sole reliable force holding back a losing war in the South China Sea. Basically, in an treacherous act of appeasement Nippon Steel is probably hoping to deliver the American giant’s head on a platter to the China-Russia-North Korean (add Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar-Burma to the list). Sorry to give away the plot … now to cut through the BS.

Nippon Steel’s management has not disclosed details of its plans to reorganize its soon-to-be subsidiary, other than brief mention of introducing thin sheet steel for sale to manufacturers of electric vehicles (EVs). The lack of disclosure about the planned foreign takeover of America’s premier steel producer leaves a host of questions unanswered, especially Nippon Steel’s contractor relationship with the Department of Energy (DOE) to install forged steel parts into America’s aged nuclear plants. Nippon Steel’s immediate predecessor is the state-owned Yawata Steel, which provided the plate and tubes for the Imperial Japanese Navy, including the aircraft carriers, battleships and submarines for the heinous attack on Pearl Harbor, which precipitated the American entry into World War II. Such illicit corporate relationships should have raised a firestorm of opposition. It is despicable that the mainstream press has carefully avoided mention of these most disturbing facts related to the coming sell-out.

The public memory has grown dim among Americans, who by now have a benign and indeed positive image of Japan as a land of zany fads, sushi bars, cute boy and girl groups, toys and videogames, and old temples, a harmless culture and a society not in the least threatening toward foreigners. Relegated to dusty history books or simply forgotten by the public memory is the historical lesson that Japan in the 1920s went from being a loyal ally of Britain and the USA under a three-nation naval treaty to launching the carrier-based air attacks against Pearl Harbor and the Royal Navy base at Singapore, precipitating the long bloody Pacific War, which forced the American entry into World War II, . The lasting lesson from that Day of Infamy is that today’s fast friend, under changing international pressures, can indeed become tomorrow’s worst enemy - as transpired on Imperial Japan’s abandonment of the prewar naval alliance with Britain and the USA to prepare for a wave of conquest across Asia and the Pacific. Failure to examine history dooms us to repeat it.

In this larger perspective, U.S. Steel is a prime strategic asset for national defense and global warfare given the fact that steel is the basic material for construction of naval vessels, submarines, transport ships, armored vehicles, artillery and every other modern weapon. A foreign business entity, even from a seemingly close ally like Japan which is bound by a mutual defense treaty with the USA, could well become a turncoat in league with powerful foes, which in the Pacific region include Russia, North Korea, China and their mini-state allies.

It remains to be seen whether the Tokyo elite can resist pressure from its powerful neighbors to abandon or betray the US-Japan security treaty. Japanese ownership of U.S. Steel is no guarantee for the bilateral defense alliance, and if anything a huge share of the American steel market puts Japan in a position to delay and thereby sabotage America’s weapons procurement capability, a situation arguably worse than any Trojan Horse ploy.

Given this writer’s dual identity as a resident and journalist in Japan and the United States, I remain cautious about illusions of lasting goodwill. Latent anti-western resentment is a recurrent theme in the Japanese view of westerners, given the history of sudden and violent shifts from friendly pro-American sentiment to ruthless hatred (as shown in the Tom Cruise movie “The Last Samurai” and the David Bowie film “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”). This schizophrenic polarity also applies to American racial attitudes that can switch from a benign tolerance and indeed affection for a cute Pokemon nation to the opposite of hostile distrust - fear and loathing - as happened during the mass internment in desert camps under armed guard following Pearl Harbor.

Yawata as Nemesis of the American Navy

Nippon Steel (which notably was not named “Japan Steel” but instead the more provocative term that preferred under militarism) is the direct offspring of Japan’s militarist regime. Following Japan’s defeat ending World War II, Yawata Steel, a militarist state-owned monopoly was disbanded by the Allied occupation authority for its production of steel for warships, including the aircraft carriers that launched the assault on the USS Arizona and Scofield Barracks in Hawaii.. American anger was so inflamed due to that craven attack that the Roosevelt wartime administration initially planned to detonate the first atomic bomb over the headquarters and blast furnaces of Yawata Steel in northern Kyushu. Only later for political reasons - to influence Wartime Emperor Hirohito to recognize the potential toll in civilian lives - was the nuclear retribution switched to the populous cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Thus, eight decades ago the White House was ready to blast Yawata-Nippon Steel with a nuclear fireball whereas today’s Americans are eager to turn over U.S. Steel as the happy bride for Nippon Steel. The clownish ignorance of modern history and international relationships is a disgrace to America’s international image, and the entire board of U.S. Steel should be urged to step down for its foreign collaboration.

Why was Yawata, the parent company of Nippon Steel, the target of American wrath? The answer goes back to the abrogation of the British-Japanese (and American) tripartite naval treaty of the 1920s. Created to prevent a trilateral arms race in te Pacific, that treaty of supposed equals fell apart after the British and Americans limited Japanese naval tonnage well below the “Caucasian” quota, which caused the insulted Japanese to withdraw from that arms-limit pact. As a consequence, the Imperial military went on a shipbuilding binge, with state-owned Yawata Steel supplying an endless supply of steel parts and plate for ever-bigger aircraft carriers and battleships, in addition to submarines and patrol vessels. This rather obscure episode (at least for westerners) explains the present-day Japanese rightist clamor against a restrictive U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which bans Japanese military engagement in offensive operations.

The US-imposed restriction on Japan’s warmaking power (which makes zero sense in the ongoing confrontations with North Korea, Russia and China) are essentially being ignored by the present generation of Japanese military officers, may of whom were sympathetic with the ritual suicide by sword (as an act of protest) of the nationalist author Yukio Mishima during his militia’s siege of the Tokyo Defense Headquarters. American expatriates tend to view that incident as a joke, which it certainly was not but instead a premonition of the crisis to come - indeed happening now with the naval standoff against the Chinese PLA and North Korea’s missile brigade. We are closer to all-out war and nuclear exchange than anyone in the USA can imagine. It New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are nuked, well, that is the price of ignorance, sloth and self-satisfaction in present-day Americans, who are woefully ignorant of the military engagements in the South China Sea as the naval noose tightens around an upstart Taiwan, whose infantile population surely counts on American military intervention to save their remote island. In short, stop believing in fairy tales, especially one’s own dream of wish fulfillment.

This underdog attitude promoted by the yoke of an unworkable “bilateral” defense treaty explains why the newer Japanese “destroyers” have a startling resemblance to aircraft carriers in rather cheeky violation of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty proviso against offensive warmaking capabilities for the Maritime Self Defense Force. This unspoken split between the White House and the Prime Minister’s office is treated by Tokyo political circles as merely a semantic interpretation due to the differences between English and the Japanese language. As suggested in the following section, this sort of polite cover for fundamental differences could well prove a serious problem for America’s nuclear sector.

The claustrophobic geopolitics of the Pacific Basin may well prove - in spades - the folly of selling America’s premier steel company to a Japanese rival. Given the increasing cooperation among the China-Russia-North Korea alliance, how will the Japanese ownership actually use or abuse its American steelmaking asset in this dangerous geopolitical equation? By profiteering from American rearmament or reassuring the Chinese and Russians that the USA is in no position to build more warships? Simply put: Stand up to the hostile alliance or sell out to save their own skins? Any sensible American leader should comprehend that handing over a core national asset of importance for one’s own national defense to a questionable ally is sheer folly. And Washington DC and New York are the paradise of fools, who assume that Nippon-U.S. Steel will forever be loyal to the USA.

Other Factors behind the Takeover

Other than impending naval warfare in World War III, there are factors behind the Japanese corporate bid to purchase its rival American counterpart. Nippon Steel vaguely claims that its primary interest behind the proposed buyout is production of thin sheet steel for electric vehicles (EVs), presumably in the interest of Japan-headquartered auto manufacturers Toyota, Nissan and Mazda. This further Japanese thrust into the American transport sector does make some sense, given the soon to be enacted federal policy to require greater mileage for vehicles produced over coming decades. Thin sheet metal, which can be repaired, is a sensible alternative to plastic which has zero durability on impact. This changeover requires Japanese designed equipment at steel mills for continuously rolled out thin steel. Production, Japanese-style, will be highly mechanized and computer controlled as in production at an aluminum plant or a wire mill. (Introduction of self-operating machines guarantees mass layoffs of American steelworkers.) Not that high-speed operations cannot go wrong, as I recall from one of my work-days spent wielding a gas torch to cut apart a snagged spool of spun steel wire at U.S. Steel Southworks.

An even more lucrative opportunity for sale of novel steel products has gone unmentioned by Nippon Steel’s publicity department. Its most intensive product development over recent decades has been the design and production of molded cast-steel components for aging French nuclear plants. As in complex pottery, these shaped and/or curved parts with interlocking connectors will eliminate standard metal fittings with gaskets, which rapidly fracture or melt under the extreme temperature and subatomic particle bombardment inside nuclear facilities. Many of these designs have undergone stress tests in French nuclear reactors, and presumably these secrecy-shrouded tubes have been improved over the past decade with elimination of potential flaws.

In this regard, Nippon Steel’s intense focus on taking over U.S. Steel makes sense if one of the major objectives is to win DOE approval and utility company contracts for replacement of fittings inside aged American nuclear plants with state-of-art molded piping and ducts. For such an as-yet undisclosed project, a Japanese corporate takeover of U.S Steel would override any objections from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) against direct foreign involvement in America’s nuclear sector. This shift toward high-strength molded components was largely prompted by the French nuclear company Areva and Nippon Steel, partly in response to the series of breakdowns and devastation at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima-2 plant.

Second thought suggests that there’s huge loopholes in secretive Japan-US bilateral research and cooperation, when in reality Japanese industry is also deeply embedded in China and somewhat in Russia (and even, secretly, in North Korea). Backdoor transfer of key technologies in some remote possibility - it is happening all the time. In Tokyo, I once freelanced for a Japanese tech company whose CEO was upset that the North Koreans had cloned some of his firm’s miniature control systems. I sympathized with the prospect of rival sales of similar machines at a cheaper price across Asia. But everywhere from Silicon Valley to Mumbai, that’s the game, right? Nowadays, you have to make your earnings quick - before illicit competitors (copyright thieves, yawn) undercut and swamp the market.

A Steelworker’s Observations

The following personal recollections recall some of my on-the-job experiences at two of America’s greatest steel mills as a millwright (equipment repairman) at U.S. Steel Southworks in Chicago and Republic Steel in Gary, Indiana. That sequence of work experience began with my college history classes at Purdue University in Indiana where I developed an admiration for the Scottish-born immigrant industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who established the massive steel mills that provided the rails for America’s westward expansion. His fabulous rags-to-riches rise as a telegraph operator (who tapped out messages for several business tycoons) and his consequent shareholding in key industrial projects culminated in his purchase and expansion of a string of steel mills. A devout Protestant, Carnegie also applied his wits and wealth to create charities including the Carnegie libraries (the font of wisdom for isolated small towns across America), the esteemed Carnegie-Mellon University - a major center for technology research 0 and the Carnegie Institute aimed at involving Americans in peaceful resolution of international conflicts. In his elderly decades, his interests turned toward world travel and international cooperation, resulting in the sale of the Carnegie-owned steel mills to the banker and speculator J.P. Morgan.

In Scots’ tradition, Carnegie had run his steel mills with a penny-pinching wage policy, treating his workers somewhat like monks in a monastery, their assigned role being to aid the growth and wellbeing of the larger American society and beyond that a better world. Industrial “monasticism”, however, was seen by John Pierpont Morgan as the ticket to endless personal wealth via labor exploitation. One of the lesser known deals of banker J.P.M. was his extension of massive loans to Imperial Japan for construction of a modern navy, replete with battleships built at British shipyards on the River Clyde. These powerful gunboats proved decisive toward sinking the Tsar’s naval fleet at the Battle of Tsushima in 1895, which forced a Russian retreat from Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula, a strategic goal of the Anglo-American alliance with Japan. The tax burden of loan repayment to Morgan, however, prompted radical rightwing-nationalist populism across Japan with its keen edge of anti-western agitation, resulting in the social and political foundations for Japanese anti-western chauvinism and belligerence.

Meanwhile, at first subtly and soon thereafter ruthlessly under successive owners, U.S. Steel became a sweatshop for migrant workers newly arrived from Europe and blacks from the still devastated Southern states. Due to the irregular arrival of orders for large quantities of metal, U.S. Steel had an impersonal policy of ordering sudden layoffs followed by sweatshop brutality during rush orders. The front gate at U.S. Steel Southworks (Chicago) during its peak years during and following World War II was informally called “Butcher’s Row” due to the ambulances parked in its lot in order to rush injured workers to hospitals and the dead to funeral parlors.

Financial cynicism and callous cruelty became a way of life within the company hierarchy from top down to the foremen in the mills, resulting in hostility against unionization and brutal exploitation of rank and file workers. Racism also had its useful role as management inserted Southern blacks in droves. Blacks were underpaid and over-staffed, working as teams at steel-heating ovens versus the independent role for whites in “smarter” skilled jobs. Whenever competent and willing white new hires were in short supply, Hispanics (most Mexican) and Asians (Filipinos) were hired as lower ranked millwrights or oven tenders. As the sole Japanese American (possibly in the entire history of U.S. Steel), I had an alienated outsider’s perspective over that industrial hell - with its gentle snowfall through broken rooftop windows and the dragon’s roar of the main furnace - more fascinating than Dante’s “Inferno”, a sojourn into the depths of Hell. Certainly it was a dreaded job that you loved to hate and a craft you hated to love. That industrial experience was all the more interesting due to its having transpired during the panicked national rush to supply key materials for the then-new Alaska Pipeline under construction during the global energy crisis of the Nixon era, prompted by the Arab Oil Boycott of the 1970s.

In all fairness toward an iconic industry, the pro-and-con arguments rest on the fact that steel as the sturdiest of construction materials has been crucial for the American experiment - from the railroads during Westward Expansion to the advanced weapons that won two World Wars - and that steel remains the backbone for tall buildings, bridges, tunnels and highway construction, communications towers, naval vessels and even future off-planet settlements on the Moon and beyond. The modern world without steel would rapidly return any survivors to an “eco-paradise”, the dream of green fantasists, aka the Stone Age.

This essay demands a retelling of my personal experiences as a blacksmith, welder and then millwright during the national crisis of the early 1970s that was highlighted by the urgent need to complete the Alaska Pipeline. Those years at the nadir (the rock bottom) of this nation’s industrial power - of deepening economic recession and declining world influence - saw a remarkable effort by a tiny corps of mostly young rookie steelworkers to supply pipe to Alaska and steel plate for construction of new oil tankers, both key to reviving American prosperity and global power. That was a moment when the USA (United Steelworkers of America) - down but not out - made a stunning comeback from near extinction of their heartland industry. I hired on at a moment when the Southworks steel mill’s population of 20,000 workers had been reduced to just 600 men, the desperate equivalent of the Spartan brigade at the battle of Thermopylae Pass. At point to note is that the Steelworkers union survived that grim era for the steel sector by promoting membership expansion into the mineral mining sector (copper, vanadium, uranium, etc.), a lot of that in the wilds of New Mexico. That energy crisis also revealed the chronic mismanagement of the historic U.S. Steel company due to unrealistic investors’ financial demands and meddling from Wall Street firms, greedy elitists with none of the astute business vision of Carnegie and Morgan.

Part 2 - From Brute to Man: The Evolution of Metal Craft

The magical aspects of steel-working is realized most closely by the craft of blacksmithing, a skill that I learned during a revival at a craft project in Indiana’s Tippecanoe Battlefield, site of the historic battle between the Pawnee Indian warriors led by The Prophet (spiritual mentor of Tecumseh) against the punitive U.S. Army group led by William Henry Harrison (immortalized in his presidential campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”. Driven by my fantasist’s vision of making steel sculptures, I attended a weekly welding class in Lafayette, Indiana, run by a veteran welder from the nearby Alcoa aluminum plant. I agreed to be his apprentice and helper in moving equipment for a blacksmithery inside an abandoned barn. On a long weekend, we set up shop and proceeded to fire up the coal-fired forge. (Since that re-pioneering effort that region has been a center of blacksmithing and also farm-based garden restaurants .... although nobody anymore remembers us.)

The traditional blacksmith’s routine begins with hand-cranking air to feed oxygen into the flaming coal inside the forge. A mesmerizing process aided by smoky fumes, I could visualize in my imagination time-travel down through the ages from the Wild West, Spanish sword-makers of Toledo, then feudal armorers of the Crusades, Alexander’s Macedonian spear bearers, and deeper into origins among the Hittites, the earliest iron smiths who pulled humankind out of the Bronze Age. Emerging out of trance state, no doubt facilitated by a rapid loss of oxygen in that corner, I heated some rusty rods to bend and hammer into candle holders, as a starter project to sell to the anticipated horde of tourists. Meanwhile, my mentor was focused on hammering a hot slug into the shape of a knife blade. The blank was finished by application of rippled lines of wet clay to demarcate the knife edge for tempering. The final process required a final heating on the forge to incite a wave band of heat moving toward the edge, quickly followed by a steamy plunge into the water barrel and emergence of a carbon-steel hunting knife, sharpened on a grinding wheel. That process replicated the evolution of primitive village farmers and hunters into powerful wheeled civilizations ever-advancing the arc of progress across Planet Earth and soon the Moon, asteroids and other realms. Without metal we are hardly more than narrow-focused foraging apes at constant risk of starvation and early death.

My idyllic weekend pastime, however, was ended by the Arab Oil Boycott, which prompted the sudden rise of the basic cost of gasoline from its low of 16 cents per gallon (during corner gas-station wars) to above $2 and soon thereafter way higher every subsequent week. The spike in living costs destroyed my dreams of becoming a metal sculptor and prompted me to apply to the very few job openings in the economic depression, hiring on as a welder at a local heater factory. A rather bizarre, indeed twisted series of events led me to becoming the shop steward for a few welders and a lot of female assembly line workers (mostly Kentucky women) during a hard-won strike led by our puny branch of the Sheetmetal Workers Union.

The strike stumbled on with several gun threats against invasive truck drivers and a car run-over of the picket line by the boss’s son, a glorious struggle for downtrodden workers which left me proud but penniless. The strikers’ impossible victory, which I ended up financing with my remaining savings as the newly elected shop steward, resulted in victory for our paltry demands, followed by my search for a better paying job in Gary, Indiana (the hometown of the Jackson Five music family and sister Janet). My relocation to that grim center of national smog pollution began with driving a slippery forklift in snowstorms to find and retrieve parts from an outdoors dump. Delivering the goods indoors came as a relief, especially while watching a red-hot steel slug being rammed by a giant spike and turned inside-out into 20-foot long steel pipe. Eventually, I was shifted indoors as a mechanic in the toasty heat. After about 10 months, rumors had arrived that the Alaska Pipeline was nearing a sufficient supply of pipe to reach the port of Valdez. It was the signal to move on, so I put in a new-hire application at U.S. Steel in South Chicago.

By chance U.S. Steel could use another millwright in a few months - maybe - I was told - but urgently needed an experienced welder. Tippecanoe saved me from the unemployment line. At first arrival during a midday lunch break, a group of grimy steelworkers looked at me, an Asian, with disparaging racial disdain while a young millwright dropped a heavy gear cover on the dirt floor. They eagerly awaited my impending failure, since an even cut through cast iron was a near-impossibility.

Disregarding the skepticism and cunning set-up, I fired up the gas torch and adjusted the flame to clear blue, then dropped to one knee, and began heating the upper corner before further increasing the oxygen flow for the amputation. Fiery red sparks rolling across the floor got the desired reaction from the tough skeptics, who pulled their booted feet back from the bouncing red-hot cinders. Halfway down the line of molten metal, the worst possible glitch arose when a hot spark rolled into my leather glove and started burning a hole into the meaty bulge below my thumb. Without flinching or showing any sign of distraction or discomfort despite the intense burning pain, the metal severance was completed and the rear corner dropped to the floor with a loud thud and hiss. Wordlessly, the humbled senior millwrights walked out of the smoke-filled shed in total silence, skepticism squashed. Affirmative action complaints do not amount to equality when respect arises from toughness.

Outside in the factory yard a couple of young immigrant hires from Croatia tossed a wobbly football at me and so I responded with a jab of humor when catching the pass: “This job is hell but way better than quarterbacking for Mike Ditka!” The brilliant coach of the Chicago Bears was a notorious hot-head when it came to blown passes and bad calls. The mill’s tough workforce like the rest of the Windy City was a mishmash of ethnic groups that hate each other and sometimes laugh together. I tossed a long pass that was caught midair by one of the boys without his slipping on the icy ground. Then promising to return on the next morning, I headed back to the gate to tend to my searing wound. Thankfully, the outdoors air was ice cold.

Enter the Dragon

The hardest part of the job was the ‘round the clock swing shift: One week of 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the mill; the next week in the mid-afternoon at 3 p.m. to midnight; and the third week from midnight to 6 a.m.. Iron ore from the Mesabi Range in Minnesota was delivered to the U.S. Steel plant’s dock on Lake Michigan. In winter, the icy wind off the frozen lake, called “The Hawk” in the Lou Rawls song, would make tough men cry with tears frozen on their cheeks. During the long walk from gate to mill, the smarter ones would stop to warm up in front of a glowing 12-foot tall ingot fresh out of the blast furnace. Later, the huge block was destined to be divided into smaller one-ton blanks for compression under a series of rollers into 92-inch wide plates (of a 2-inch thick sheet).

The main heating oven, at the start of the rolling process, was run by a team of four senior operators, whose experience-based sensitivity amazed a rookie like me. Aside from the themometers and other controls, those experts in dark goggles could see, smell and thereby taste the stages of heat emitted by the glowing metal chunk, much like chefs over a soup kettle. After hours of preliminary heating, at the precise moment that the fumes “tasted ‘sweet’”, they’d start up the heavy rollers, beginning the flattening out of the crusty billet into ever-thinner slabs, a hot process that boomed like a bomb under roller pressure. In a feng-shui moment, I renamed that master oven as “The Dragon”. The flattening process continued down the line through several series of rollers, eventually resulting in a wide smooth sheet of metal plate, ready to be trimmed along the edges with rolling wheel-blades to 90 inches width and then finally cooled by a spray of water, the steam hissing like a riled cobra. This process went beyond mere technology to being a high art, indeed the fundamental basis for the greatest of human achievements - the construction of cities, towers, tunnels, bridges, ships, docks, highways, trucks, cannons and roller skates.

As a rookie of shorter stature, my early assigned task was to crawl into the 2-foot space under the ovens during down time to apply a grease gun to the ends of rollers. Gravity tarred my protective glasses and face and clothing, of course, but, I figured the pay, especially overtime, was the best available when considering that millions of Midwesterners were out of a job. Otherwise, the night shift was hell, especially during coffee breaks marking the arrival of a pair of “Pollocks” (immigrant Polish) foremen who insisted on calling me “The Jap”. Rumor had it that they had served as concentration camp guards in Eastern Europe during the Nazi era. Mayor Daley’s Irish machine had a warm place in their hallowed hearts for ruthless thugs and welcomed these their fellow Catholics to the shores of Lake Michigan.

By contrast, during rare plant shutdowns for more extensive repairs, genuine leadership came from a millwright-turned lead foreman surnamed Clark (a Scots American like Carnegie) who organized and rallied the work teams to complete a week’s work in a single shift - done through efficient allocation of manpower for each major task. He was a rare asset from an otherwise incompetent management. The many machinery breakdowns and unneccessary delays made it clear that Andrew Carnegie’s Scottish efficiency (and Morgan’s financial acumen) was being undone by the useless losers in the corporate (mis)management.

Death of a Millwright - Beginning of the End

One of the persistent irritations came from a broken clasp on the hook of an overhead crane. This readily replaceable part, which cost all of 70 cents at a hardware store, prompted three written complaints from different shift foremen over a period of 18 months. On a midnight shift, the Pollock and a young Mexican millwright had to tighten up pipes under the plant floor. They attached the wobbly hook lowered by the crane operator to lift a huge steel plate that covered the planned workplace. Soon after liftoff, the plate began to swing and bounce wildly - and then that ton of metal flew off the hook and hit the young Mexican just below the waistline, cutting his body in half.

At the time, I was the acting shop steward (the senior union man was on vacation due to the birth of a child) and on the morning shift I arrived to a pall of silence. As the temporary union rep, I urged my Polish nemesis to file a complaint against the company’s repeated refusal to fix a minor piece of equipment, a case that we’d clearly win at a review board, absolving him for the broken hook. Shaking his head like a condemned man heading to the gallows, the Pollock rushed toward the exit with tears streaming down his face, muttering “I can’t do it! I can’t do it!”. A young black millwright uttered a harsh verdict: “He was a scab who betrayed us all along and now pays for his treachery in the end.”

Somehow that moment of truth - and the solemn wake at the deceased’s family home with his young wife and two kids - started to ring the death knell for U.S. Steel. About a month later a hurried order for a train load of steel plate to an oil field - overnight - resulted in train delivery of shoddy under-heated steel, despite the workers’ protests to foremen that night and then by phone to the management office. Meeting a customer’s unrealistic demands was more important than supplying a credible product, even if only one day later than promised. On the following week, the entire trainload was returned after rejection by the irate customer.

That idiotic front-office blunder resulted in a temporary plant shutdown and near-total layoff, which prompted me to relocate to New York City rather than apply for and leech off of unemployment checks. That turned out to be the right move according to phone conversations with my former colleagues who were soon to seek jobs in other industries. Southworks died soon thereafter, its landmass leveled for a housing estate, later mentioned in passing by Barack Obama, who at the time of the crisis was a nowhere man in Chicago’s tough Southside, where I once had to organize a rent strike by my neighbors to force the Jewish landlord to turn the heat back on in the middle of winter. U.S. Steel continues to hobble along a barren path, and now it will take intervention by the federal government along with a determined and willing investment group to revive that legacy of Andrew Carnegie along with the efforts of thousands of long-forgotten and neglected steelworkers who enabled the enormous industrial progress that made the USA the greatest nation in human history.

U.S. Steel now at the brink of irreversible foreign takeover and extinction as a legacy industry, a crisis that should impel Americans toward a revival of a once great industrial enterprise that has the experience and tools to extend the nation’s winning achievements on land and sea and beyond - across deep space. It takes toughness and risk to resume the journey toward the next horizon for a reassertion of this nation’s industrial greatness as pioneered by Andrew Carnegie. To save this society from impending catastrophe from a loss of vital skills, we must pick up the broken pieces and return to and those of hard work, personal ingenuity, teamwork and honesty in a society worthy of being deemed great by all comers. Despite its slew of problems, U.S. Steel is an icon of American industrialism that contributed to prosperity for millions and economic growth for more than a century. This heritage industry needs revival at its Pittsburg headquarters and among its many surviving mills as a key player again in America’s next phase of industrial revival.

In Conclusion: I have often wondered why allies like the USA and Japan, which share an ethos of good manners and a fair degree of honesty and openness (as opposed to paranoiac closed societies) have fought only one war against each other and otherwise, for most of the time, remained mutually admiring allies. The answer is that mutual tolerance is sustainable when these two vastly different nations are thousands of miles apart from each other, thanks to the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Otherwise, we’d be like a penned-in Britain, France, Germany and Russia - mistrustful and repeatedly at war with each other, and constantly hurling insults against one another, Despite all the appearances of civility, nations remain barbaric tribes distrustful of other societies. This sociological observation, never mind all the economic and historical arguments presented above in this windy essay, suffices in terms of opposition to the Japan Steel takeover of U.S. Steel as a clumsy and much-too obvious intrusion and indeed a hijacking tantamount to robbery at gunpoint. Unlike a cowboy western, the robber offers the bag of cash to the Wells Fargo guards before he takes off with the stagecoach with the pretty ladies inside. Take it from me - being something of a hybrid or half-breed is no picnic but a difficult and often worrisome balancing act between two hostile environments and vastly different value systems (other than monetary greed), a situation that I do not recommend to anyone except a circus tightrope walker.