Rust Belt Resistance
How a Small Community Took on BP ... and Won!
By Carl Finamore Counterpunch June 11,2012
It was only a short time ago on April 24, the two-year
anniversary of the 2010 catastrophic explosion on the
British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon drilling rig
in the Gulf of Mexico, that the government made their
first arrest of a BP engineer.
Justice Department charges noted that the greasy, toxic
discharge was far more disastrous than reported by the
No surprise for the good citizens of Lima, Ohio. The
small community of 40,000 learned firsthand in the
mid-1990s how the world's fourth largest company in the
world specializes in lies and deception as much as it
does in oil and gas.
So, be forewarned, if you didn't much like BP to begin
with, the book Rust Belt Resistance: How a Small
Community Took on Big Oil and Won will only add more
fuel to the fire.
Author Perry Bush, professor at nearby Bluffton
University, tells a story published by Kent State
University Press of how top BP officials in London
headquarters exhorted workers at their Lima refinery to
save their jobs by working "harder and smarter."
All the while, these same executives were actually
planning to close the plant with the ready-made excuse
that workers failed to turn the unproductive and
unprofitable aging plant around.
But, to the surprise, and embarrassment, of these
corporate big wigs, workers made numerous operating
innovations that resulted in an astounding turnaround.
Both production and profits were dramatically increased
in the century-old refinery.
Even the local refinery manager took BP officials at
their word and worked earnestly to encourage workplace
ingenuity. But all was for naught. BP executives pushed
aside the well-intentioned plant manager, dodged all
the political pleadings of the persistent mayor and
even brushed off several serious buyout offers.
Corporate governance was undeterred. The refinery was
to be closed, period.
Overproduction on the world market resulted in a
temporary drop in prices during the mid-1990s so the BP
boardroom privately decided to reduce refining capacity
in order to further invest in more profitable U.S.
A prime example of cutting domestic production amid
duplicitous allegations that more oil production in
this country is needed, even in protected wetlands and
In another self-serving "profit versus public" moment,
the company was unwilling to sell the Lima refinery to
competitors, thus leaving hundreds of families in the
Of course, this is considered normal business in some
quarters as described by Bush. The late free-market
apostle and Nobel Prize-winning ultra-conservative
economist Milton Friedman is quoted as bluntly stating
that "the one and only.social responsibility of
business" is to "increase profits."
Corporations Dominate the American Experience
The history professor and author does a very good job
tracking similar business decisions that conflicted
with communities dating back to the 19th century rail
and steel tycoons.
These sections should greatly interest the reader.
One such noteworthy reference is the Supreme Court
Santa Clara decision of 1886 which Bush describes as
recognizing that corporations "were real persons,
deserving of every protection as natural beings under
the Fourteenth Amendment. Corporate lawyers quickly
used the Santa Clara ruling to induce courts to strike
down hundreds of laws regulating corporations and in
other ways restricting their autonomy as real persons."
As an aside, Bush mentions a 1938 observation by
liberal Supreme Court justice Hugo Black that 50
percent of cases invoking the Fourteenth Amendment,
originally intended to define citizenship for freed
slaves, actually expanded rights of corporations while
only less than half of one percent involved issues of
These documented historical references are woven
throughout the book and very much helps readers better
understand current events.
For example, the extremely controversial Jan. 21, 2010
U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election
Commission viewing "corporations as people" and
allowing unlimited corporate contributions to Super
PACs can be traced back to the Santa Clara decision.
Resistance of the Few
Ultimately, the Lima refinery was saved and still
But this success did not come from a broad-based labor
or community campaign which I first assumed when eyeing
the title of the book. In fact, much like experiences
during the original "Rust Belt" layoffs of the 1970s,
the mid-1990's threat to Lima was not met by a
mobilized and socially conscious movement of thousands.
In fact, relatively muted responses to unmitigated and
unloosed corporate greed were the same in both periods
- largely, an utter failure by the labor movement and
the political establishment to challenge corporate
decisions that savaged communities and families.
Along with efforts of the indefatigable Lima mayor, it
was ultimately a notable international investor that
bailed out the Lima refinery after making BP a very
But there seems to be no end to BP's duplicity in this
story. There is another twist that exposes the betrayal
that runs deep in the corporate world.
This occurred when BP seriously undercut the new owners
of the Lima refinery by keeping secret for a few more
days BP's merger with Amoco.
"It was imperative that the Amoco deal remain super-
secret until after it had closed its sale of the Lima
refinery," Bush reports. The Lima refinery investors
assumed that BP would be a major customer. With the
Amoco deal, BP had all the refined oil it needed,
placing the new Lima refinery owners in dire straits.
"Oh well!" we might have heard Milton Friedman sigh.
But the failure of unions and the community to
massively challenge the corporations in the "Rust Belt"
period is the larger story. And it had consequences.
Lima itself, in the end, was not saved. Today, the
former booming, proud industrial little giant in
America's heartland stands a different city.
The author points out that the U.S. Census estimated
the poverty rate in 2003 was at nearly 23 percent.
Another report only a few years earlier estimated
another 20 per cent living below that bare minimum.
No More Limas
The book effectively tells a story of greed and
corruption in one small town that actually had also
swept like a hurricane through hundreds of other
communities in the previous two decades. And, it will
again unless we learn from our past as documented very
well by Professor Bush.
As a country and as a people, we have to ultimately
decide upon issues raised by the experience in
America's "Rust Belt."
First, and most obviously, we have to definitively
reject any notion that cold, calculating corporations
have warm blood running through their veins.
Second, and more controversially, we have to seriously
consider organizing our natural resources to serve the
public interest just as we do with our publically owned
national parks. Removing slick speculators and
privateers from ownership and control of our treasured
oil and gas reserves would mean the common interests of
Lima refinery workers and the community would finally
be prioritized and valued.
Haven't we seen enough damage done to our communities
by oil companies and, I would add, banks? Why is
nationalization of these mammoth institutions of
narrow, personal self interest not even worthy of
discussion in Washington?
Thankfully, these issues are now being raised by Occupy
Movements all over this country and all over this
world. Nationalizing major industries that have been
looted to enrich a handful of selfish and gluttonous
owners, for example, is currently a major demand of the
freedom and justice movement in Egypt.
If broad discussion of radical solutions and more
resolute resistance to corporate greed had been present
in Lima, perhaps the city's fortunes would have turned
Carl Finamore was laid off from the Pittsburg,
California U.S. Steel tin temper mill in 1979 and
worked for Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California the
next four years as an Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers
Intl. Union (OCAW) steward/organizer and as a Refinery
Operator producing jet fuel and gasoline. He is
currently a delegate to the San Francisco Labor
Council, AFL-CIO and can be reached at
[log in to unmask] His writings appear on
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