WARREN, Ohio -- Like organizers of the 1937 Little Steel Strike who founded their union local, the locked-out workers of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) locals 1375 and 6824 remain strong in their determination to stop WCI Steel Inc.'s greed.
Both locals are fighting for a decent contract that includes an improved pension plan and a successor clause to guarantee union security in the event the company is sold. The steelworkers and the community which supports them have settled in for a long make-or-break showdown with a company which has tossed its workers into the street, while enjoying record profits.
Picket lines are set up at six plant gates, each with a fire barrel to fend off the chill of the fall nights. Campers are being used for cooking at the gates and a community outreach committee is in formation. The women's committee is organizing a women and children's march to the main mill gate this Sunday (see box).
The kitchen in Local 1375's hall has soup simmering and coffee brewing for pickets who stand four-hour shifts. The air is filled with the blare of car horns as the drivers of passing cars respond to picket signs reading, "Honk! Scabs sleeping inside!"
A picket at the gate leading to the blast furnaces said, "The company is making record profits and they still want more. They don't want to pay the workers who do the work."
Another worker, with 25 years in the mill, said angrily, "This mill has been sold three times. Each and every time we worked with the new owners and we lost benefits, wages and jobs. Now it's time we get what's rightfully ours."
Negotiations broke off Aug. 31 as the union demanded a pension plan equal to that provided by other companies under USWA contracts. As one picket said, "We're the only workers in basic steel who don't have a decent pension. We work until we're 65 and can't afford to retire."
After moving 200 scabs, along with beds and food, into the mill, WCI locked out 1,700 workers only hours before the contract expired. The USWA asserts that the lockout makes WCI employees eligible for unemployment compensation. As one worker told this reporter, "Not one union member walked out. We were escorted out by security. They wouldn't even let me take my own tools."
The Department of Employment Services has scheduled an Oct. 10 hearing before deciding the issue. One Local 1375 member said, "The state government is run by Republicans. They are not friends of the working man."
Union sources report that the scabs and supervisors are attempting to produce steel behind the picket lines but in fact are producing nothing but scrap. Local1375 members are particularly proud of the work they turn out and that WCI Steel was granted the much-sought-after ISO 9002 certificate, one of the highest quality rating awards in the industry.
Local 1375 President Dennis Brubaker has called upon Steel Related Industries, which made the award last May, to withdraw it. "The standard was written by our members," he told the World. "The scabs probably can't even read them, let alone understand them."
As part of its campaign of intimidation and harassment, WCI Steel has hired Vance Security, the well-known goon agency to "protect" its property by video-taping picketline activity. Vance, owned by former President Gerald Ford' sex-son-in-law, is one of the largest recruiters of strike breakers in the country.
In the wake of a Labor Day solidarity march of 7,000, community support for the locked-out workers remains strong. As one union member said, "This is a union town!"
Many on the picket lines have families who have been through other labor struggles, some dating to the Little Steel Strike of 1937. When Gus Hall, chair of the Communist Party USA, spoke at the June meeting of Local 1375, the Warren Tribune Chronicle referred to him as the "father of the local." In that speech Hall said workers had "no other choice" except to struggle. "It's the only way."
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