"After 34 years with LTV Steel, I was forced to retire because of a disability. Two years later, LTV filed bankruptcy. I lost a third of my pension, and my family lost their health care. Every day of my life, I sit at the kitchen table across from the woman who devoted 36 years of her life to my family, and I can't afford to pay for her health care. What's wrong with America, and what will you do to change it?"
It was the most compelling moment of the Democratic debate at Soldier Field. The speaker was retired steelworker Steve Skvara. He stood on crutches, voice breaking, as he spoke.
There are millions of Steve Skvaras out there, and what they do not know, in their anger and frustration, is that their government did this to them. They are the victims of an ideology that gripped both parties and is destroying the middle-class country they grew up in.
Before World War II, the United State sheltered, nurtured and aided U.S. industry -- until, by 1928, we produced 40 percent of the world's manufactures. The companies we created, U.S. Steel and Jones and Laughlin, GM, Chrysler and Ford, Boeing, McDonnell and Lockheed, IBM and GE, were marvels of the modern age.
We were the most self-sufficient nation in history, and American industrial workers the best-paid on earth. The companies they worked for had begun to guarantee lifetime job security, generous pensions for retirees and health insurance for all workers.
Came then the free-trade fanatics with their Faustian bargain. If we just throw open our borders to imports from Europe, Japan, Asia and China, we can buy all our goods cheaper, and we will all be richer. For free trade is a free lunch.
What was wrong with this theory?
Every ton of steel produced by LTV, every Chevy built by GM carried in its price tag the cost of the Social Security, Medicare, and federal and state taxes the company and its employees paid, plus the cost of the company's compliance with civil rights, health and safety, and environmental laws the U.S. government had enacted and, most important for Steve Skvara, the "legacy costs" of the pensions and health insurance the companies had agreed to provide.
Every time any company, foreign or domestic, bought a ton of U.S.-made steel, every time anyone bought a U.S.-built Ford or Chevy, maybe 50 percent of that sticker price went for Social Security, Medicare, defense, cops, teachers, parks -- and into the pot from which Steve Skvara's pension and health insurance premiums were being drawn.