George Becker rose from the floor of the steel mill to the presidency of the Steelworkers Union (now United Steel Workers), in the process facing some of the union’s most difficult conditions since its founding in the 1930s. He is being remembered today for helping guide the organization through consolidations and mergers, keeping it one of the nation’s strongest industrial unions and a vital voice for working people.
Becker, who died February 3 from cancer, was international president of USW from 1997 to 2001, piloting it through the challenges of job losses and catastrophic changes in trade and labor laws. Prior to becoming president, Becker was the union organizing vice president, and led the union in one of its best-known contemporary campaigns, at Ravenswood Aluminum in 1990. The company, run by indicted financier Marc Rich, locked 1,700 USW workers out of its West Virginia plant and brought in strikebreakers. Becker and the USW brought the fight to Europe and South America, bringing in new USW allies. Eventually, the union workers regained their jobs and union contract. The campaign was detailed in Ravenswood, The Steelworkers’ Victory and the Revival of American Labor, by Tom Juravich and Kate Bronfenbrenner .
As president, Becker merged his union with the United Rubber Workers and the Aluminum, Brick and Glass Workers Union, adding 140,000 new members. He was also one of labor’s best-known and fiercest critics of NAFTA. Becker oversaw the union’s Rapid Response program, using shop-floor workers as statehouse lobbyists.
Becker became an expert on international trade and served on President Clinton’s Export Council and on the U.S. Trade and Environmental Policy Advisory Commission. Beginning in 2001, he sat on U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, where he vigorously opposed the terms of U.S. trade with China. He was also one of the earliest supporters of the Institute for America's Future , TomPaine.com's parent.
To read more, see USW’s tribute to its late president, George Becker.
| Monday, February 5, 2007 2:40 PM