Ohio steel lockout

Scott Marshall Scott at rednet.org
Thu Sep 7 16:54:00 MDT 1995


**Locked out! -- 7,000 protest in Warren, Ohio steel showdown**

(This article reprinted from the September 9 issue of the
**People's Weekly World**. For subscription information see
below. All rights reserved - may be used with PWW credits.)

By Rick Nagin

WARREN, Ohio -- This city exploded with anger Labor Day as 1,700
locked out  steelworkers, their families and supporters marched
on the scab and goon-ridden  WCI plant and held a spirited rally
in front of the Trumbull County Courthouse.

The size of the crowd, which police estimated at over 7,000,
amazed officials of the United Steelworkers Local 1375 who
organized the action on three days'  notice after contract
negotiations broke down Aug. 31. The company sent second  shift
workers home and refused to let those reporting for the third
shift enter  the plant.

At the same time the company bussed in hundreds of scabs and
hired goons,  together with makeshift sleeping and eating
facilities -- actions that recalled  the 1937 Little Steel Strike
at the plant, which at the time was owned by  Republic Steel. In
fact, the lockout marked the first time since then that  anyone
has attempted to run an integrated steel mill in the United
States with  scabs.

Led by the Chalker High School Marching Band, the marchers
stepped off from a  downtown parking lot wearing union caps,
T-shirts and badges reading "Stop  Scabs" and carrying homemade
signs, some with a new interpretation of Warren  Consolidated
Industries' initials, such as "Workers Canned Involuntarily," and
"Workers Considered Insignificant."

Many marchers were members of other unions, including workers at
the big Packard Electric and GM Lordstown plants, as well as
contingents of steel workers on  strike at Concord and Calex
Steel companies. Clergy, public officials and  community groups
took part. The Rev. Rick Judy led a group with a sign reading
"Peace Action Council of Youngstown Supports Local 1375."

"There's a lot of history here," said Darrel Parker, an African
American with 28 years experience running a crane. "This is a
community. It's not just about a  union or a job, it's our
lives."

Many marchers carried American flags. Ronnie Hill, a millwright
with 16 years at the plant, carried a Finnish flag. It was
tribute, he said, to the many Finns  who pioneered in early union
battles in Warren and to Gus Hall, the Finnish  American chairman
of the Communist Party USA, who led the 1937 strike. Hall  spoke
to the June 20 meeting of the local about that historic event
which broke  the last anti-union bastion in the formation of the
United Steelworkers of  America.

Like other marchers, Hill said that Hall's speech had helped
prepare the union  for the fight with WCI. "He set the tone for
this fight," said Mark Kujala, an  electrician with 20 years at
the plant.

"He's a labor hero to the people down here. He's a living legend.
He outlasted  all the scabs and other phonies," Kujala said. "The
struggle goes on without  end. You can never lay down. As long as
there is capital there will be a  struggle. You can take that to
the bank."

As the marchers approached the plant on Pine Street they began
changing "Union  Yes, Scabs No!" Voicing the universal disgust
for anyone who would steal another person's livelihood, Jim Case,
a caster worker with 26 years in the plant, said, "Selling drugs
is more honorable than being a scab."

Hanging on the building housing the company's industrial
relations office was a  large banner reading "ISO 9000 -- Thanks
to our Employees," referring to a  highly-coveted industry award
WCI received in May for high quality product.

"Thanks to our union employees, that is", said Dennis Brubaker,
the local's  president. "All they are making in there now is
scrap". He described reports the union had gotten from inside the
mill of ladles and furnaces damaged by the  untrained scabs and
supervisors. "They're even putting hard hats and steel-toed
boots on office secretaries and sending them in there."

"They can't run the plant," Brubaker said. "The scabs are being
hurt. The  ambulance has been in and out of there almost every
day. One scab was gassed in  the blast furnace and another fell
down a flight of stairs. Even if you know  what you are doing, it
is very dangerous in there"

In front of the main gate stood a line of hired goons, feet
astride, wearing  jackboots, dark blue uniforms, sunglasses and
caps, trying to look as menacing  as possible. Some carried video
cameras. On the sidewalk and behind a flatbed  truck parked as a
barrier, a long line of pickets led the marchers in chanting
"Scabs gotta go! Scabs gotta go!"

"We've had nothing but trouble from the goons," said Brubaker.
"They march right up to the picket line with their cameras. They
give us the finger and shout at  us. It's a tactic to provoke us
so the company can get an injunction limiting  pickets"

But, he said, the union members have been trained and are well
informed about  company tactics. "This union has a history behind
it. There are fourth  generation steelworkers in this march. The
membership is ready and very  intelligent."

Brubaker said, "The spirit is high. We had two meetings at
Packard Music Hall.  Eleven hundred of our 1,700 members
attended." He said the last three union  meetings have been so
large they had to set up outside speakers.

"We are getting the support of every union and the entire
community. The scabs  gotta go. This is a union town," Brubaker
said.

"I really never expected Ira to do this," he said, referring to
Ira Rennert,  head of the Renco Group which owns WCI and
maintains headquarters in New York's  Rockefeller Center. "We
made every sacrifice for this company. In '86 we lost  400 jobs
and gave up $3 in concessions. We gave up pension gains in '87.
We  signed a four-year contract which had only one 25-cent raise.

"We worked with Ira to get tax abatements and state development
loans. We did  follow through and built a new caster and relined
the blast furnace, but he also made record profits -- $114
million since 1988."

WCI was the second most profitable company in the steel industry
in the second  quarter of this year. This one plant made more
profits than all of LTV. "It's  not like the company is in
trouble," Brubaker said. "We are still two years  behind the
industry in wages and our pensions haven't improved since 1980.
He  makes record profits and then refuses to pattern bargain. We
put him on Wall  Street and now he's putting us out on the
street."

Negotiations over local issues went well, Brubaker said, but when
the union made its proposals for "top table" issues Aug. 24, the
response of the company was  negative.

"Pensions are a fundamental issue. Half of our members are over
50. We must have good, secure pensions for them -- $1300 to $2000
-- which is standard in the  industry," Brubaker said.

"The other issue is successorship. Ira wants to eliminate the
guarantee that if  he sells the company the new owner must
continue the union contract. We are  accustomed to sign changes
out front. There have been three different owners in  15 years.
This is our only guarantee that we will have a union and won't
have to start organizing all over again."

Brubaker said the union is seeking to have the dispute declared a
lockout so  that members will be eligible for unemployment
benefits, but, he said, "we're  prepared for however long it
takes."

Returning from the plant, the marchers rallied in front of the
county  courthouse. Local and central labor body officials,
including state AFL-CIO  President Bill Burga, pledged all-out
support, as did city, county and state  officials.

"Big changes are now under way in the AFL-CIO" Burga said. "A
rebirth, a  renaissance of the labor movement is taking place
throughout the United States."

"No steel company has ever seen anything like this," USWA General
Counsel Bernie Kleiman, told the cheering crowd. "A rally like
this organized in less than 72  hours and this is just the start.
There is no way the company can stand up to  this kind of unity."

Barbara Post, chair of the Local's Women's Committee, invited all
employees'  wives and women steelworkers to attend the first
meeting of a Women's Support  Group for Locals 1375 and 6824, the
plant clerical union, also locked out.

Brubaker said that a food bank has been set up and donations,
resolutions and  messages of support can be sent to USWA Local
1375, 746 Elm Road, Warren, Ohio  44483.
##30##


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