YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Steelworkers’ anger rattled the window panes and a few security guards as 500 active, laid-off and retired workers jammed the sidewalk and steps in front of the federal courthouse here, Sept. 12, for the opening of an unprecedented bankruptcy case.

With handmade signs and union banners held high, United Steelworkers of America (USWA) members from Canton, Massillon, Lorain, Ohio, and Beaver Falls, Penn., rolled in on buses, scores of motorcycles, cars and vans. These are the towns hit hard by the bankruptcy of Republic Technologies International (RTI), formerly known as Republic Steel.

“Show me the money; show me my money,” workers and retirees roared, pumping fists in the air. A solidarity chorus of car and truck horns answered them.

On June 14, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a federal agency that provides insurance on workers’ pensions when companies fail, took over the pension funds of RTI, when the company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

However, the PBGC, headed by a George W. Bush appointee, announced that it would not honor the pensions of workers with less than 30 years of service. An unprecedented act, charged the USWA.

USWA International President Leo Gerard added his own heat to the rally. “Yesterday [Sept. 11] we mourned the victims of vicious terrorism against our country,” the labor leader told the crowd.

But, he said, “there is another kind of terrorism: Economic terrorism. Terrorism that steals pensions and destroys lives. This is a political fight, not just a legal fight. We are prepared and have the track record to win. … This is not just your fight; this is a fight for the soul of America!”

Gerard underlined the message of unity and organization. “You have to fight smart to win. You have to be united to win. When your local or district leaders call to march, write letters, vote in November, whatever, be prepared. Call your family, your buddies, your neighbors, your elected officials. With solidarity, we can change the world!”

Leaders from United Auto Workers and Service Employees International Union pledged their support.

The bankruptcies and lack of governmental action on behalf of the workers have produced a tidal wave of anger as steelworkers have had their pensions and health care destroyed with one stroke of a pen or click of the mouse. The PBGC does not back up health care. RTI eliminated retiree health care and put some 300 families on the street from the Canton mill with nothing.

The steelworkers, many of them third or fourth generation, are seeing their lifetime of work and diversion of wages for their future retirement being stolen right before their eyes.

“If they suceed with us,” rally leader Patty Reich, member of USWA Local 1200 from Canton, told the World, “then they will keep right on going with the auto workers, teamsters and all workers.” Reich has 25 years in the mill. “The politicians are [either] with us or against us. It is that simple.”

This December, Leota Herman would have celebrated her 25th anniversary in the mill. Now, she is on the street with no pension and no health care. “I have $1,000 in bills from [medical] tests and no money to pay it with. Now what? Is that what it is? You just get sick or die for greed?”

“We had $2 billion in the pension fund,” added Twila Kellogg, also with 25 years on the job. “Those b——— took it all. Where did the CEO get the $19 million, tax free, that he walked away with ? That’s our money. We put in our own money, several years ago, to bail this company out under an ESOP [Employee Stock Ownership Plan]. We are due $25,000 to $30,000 right now. We’ve got nothing. Instead of a government to enforce the law, we got Bush and the rest of the Republicans.”

USWA organizer Bruce Bostick, member of USWA 1104, Lorain, chaired the rally and called on steelworkers to build unity, coalitions with other unions, communities, civil rights organizations and religious leaders to “get rid of corporate greed in November and win this fight.”

Bostick and the steelworkers orgainized a rally at the gates of the RTI mill in Lorrain before their buses pulled out for the rally here. Over 250 members of 1104, representatives from the local NAACP, elected officials and religious leaders took their message of unity to end corporate thievery directly to the corporation.

In Warren, Ohio, following the Youngstown rally, members of USWA 1375 filled the union hall in support of Canton, Massillon, Lorain and Beaver Falls steelworkers.

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Conn Hallinan
Conn Hallinan

Conn Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus. A retired journalism professor, he previously was an editor of People's World when it was a West Coast publication.