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Leo Gerard Sworn In As New USWA President

PITTSBURGH -- Leo W. Gerard, the son of a Canadian hard rock miner, was sworn in today as the new International President of the 700,000-member United Steelworkers of America (USWA), succeeding George Becker, who had served as the union's president since 1994. Gerard, 53, became the USWA's seventh president at a swearing-in ceremony at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh. He had served as the union's International Secretary-Treasurer during Becker's presidency. Prior to becoming an International officer, Gerard had served as Director of the Canadian National Office, having risen from the ranks of local leadership as a smelter worker in Sudbury, near the company mining town of Lively, where he had grown up helping his father organize miners. "I think the biggest challenge is to articulate a different vision of globalization than the one being foisted on workers today by the multinational corporations that dominate world trading policies," Gerard said. "We're not going to roll technology back. In fact, we're moving it forward at a headlong pace. Productivity in the steel industry has risen 174 percent in the past two decades. Yet these achievements are being punished by trade policies that pit workers around the globe against each other in a pitiless race to the bottom on wages and working conditions. "That has to change," Gerard said, "and it can. There's nothing that says you can't pay a Mexican worker what you pay an American or Canadian worker." Gerard is committed to perpetuating the legacy of activism he is inheriting from outgoing president George Becker, especially in pursuing a Steel Revitalization Act designed to stem the collapse of the North American steel industry, which has recently experienced 16 bankruptcies, 15,000 steelworker layoffs, and a collapse in pricing. "Our first responsibility is to our members," he said, "who are the victims of a global shell game of illegal dumping for dollars and other predatory practices of our trading partners. The most productive workers in the world shouldn't be paying with their jobs for bankrupt trading and fiscal policies. Anybody who thinks we're going to stand by and let that happen had better think again." The new USWA president said he values the "extraordinary legacy of activism" of outgoing president George Becker, a man whom he referred to as "a leader without equal" in the current Labor Movement. Gerard said he is prepared to escalate the activism that Becker became noted for in prior Steelworker campaigns to win passage of legislation to prevent the demise of the steel industry. "If that means we have to build tent cities in Washington and camp out on the doorsteps of the constituency offices of senators and congressmen, then that's what we'll do. They need to understand that these are real lives they're playing with, not esoteric numbers." Gerard also cited the potential for expanding the considerable diversity of the Steelworkers current membership through organizing. "A Steelworker today," he said, "is as likely to be a lab scientist, a health care worker, or a grave digger as an industrial worker." He said the union will soon be launching new initiatives in these sectors of the labor market. "We live in a changing world," he said, "and we have every intention of being as dynamic a force in the emerging markets of 21st century as we were in the industrial workplaces of the last one."