Wintering Out: Occupy Pittsburgh Grinch-off

Here’s a cheery carol that protestors sang yesterday outside the U.S. Steel Building in Pittsburgh.

“Arrest ye merry bankermen
all profiting today
you crashed the whole economy
yet nothing did you pay
You threw us under unfair rule
when you did go astray
In-dict-ments our comfort and joy
comfort and joy…”

The crowd of a few fewer than 50 people gathered to protest the fact that U.S. Steel had skipped out on a $10 million dollar real estate transfer tax payment (“an 89-11 transaction.”) This tax loophole is supposed to help the less fortunate, instead it took $5 million from the City of Pittsburgh; $2.5 million from the city’s schools, eight of which are closing this year and 300 teachers being laid off; and $2.5 from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

If you’re looking for case studies of how public profit gets diverted into private corporate wealth, it doesn’t get much clearer than this.

The U.S. Steel Building is the tallest building in Pittsburgh. A few years ago, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center leased the top few floors and branded the building with their sign. The building’s very visible transfer — from steel to the service industry — is a symbol for the city’s transition. With the collapse of its industrial economy several decades ago, this former rust belt city survived by looking to the future, to medicine, technology and education. Unions are still strong here, and so is the Occupy movement, which is hunkering down and winterizing its day-glo tents in the shadow of the U.S. Steel building for the harsh weather ahead.