AK Steelworkers celebrate victory

MANSFIELD, Ohio – The ongoing campaign to end what steelworkers called the 'state of siege' by Armco/AK Steel corporation, ended with a victory rally here at the county fairgrounds, Dec. 14. Steelworkers won a long-fought victory, Dec. 10, when AK Steel announced it will call back union workers after a three-year lockout.

Members of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local 169 pledged to last 'One day longer' than AK Steel. They made good on that pledge at their rally and Christmas celebration here.

'AK Steel said you would never be back in the mill. They never once thought you would still be here, united and strong, for however long it took, and you proved them wrong,' USWA District 1 Director Dave McCall said. 'Solidarity of members, unions and community brought us this far, and solidarity must continue for the struggles ahead.'

As he looked out over the hundreds of presents piled in the cavernous Fairgrounds Youth Building, USWA President Leo Gerard told the rally, 'We honor today the wives and mothers who held our families together, the women of steel are the real heroines here today. We honor the children, whose future you fought for.'

Christmas celebrations have been an annual event throughout the three years of the lockout. Thousands of dollars were donated for the families in addition to hundreds of presents for the children. Michelle Lagato, USWA staff coordinator for the Christmas celebrations, and her women’s committee received a standing ovation.

The lockout, started by Armco Steel Corp. Aug. 26, 1999, and continued by AK Steel after acquiring ownership of the plant, imposed nearly intolerable hardship on the 650 members of USWA Local 169, their families, and on the city of Mansfield.

Numerous charges were filed with the city’s police department that scab workers driving Armco/AK Steel trucks had endangered union members and their families in a number of incidents.

Mansfield’s City Council struck back by passing a city ordinance introduced by trade union City Council members, requiring full disclosure of all personnel employed by any security company within the city limits. Securecorp Security, a company based in Poland, and hired by Armco/AK Steel, was guilty of 'importing hired mercenaries' to break the union, according to local steelworkers.

There were many rallies and marches over the course of the three years with broad labor and community support. The Mansfield community rallied around the embattled steelworkers. Charletta Tovares, civil rights leader, called for 'labor and civil rights unity' at a big dinner held by the Mansfield NAACP.

Though the steelworkers forced AK Steel to an agreement to end the lockout, celebration and joy were mixed with worry and concern throughout the ranks of steelworkers and their families.

Many of the workers voiced concern that while AK Steel caved in and they had an agreement, the company has not changed its spots. Shortly after an agreement was reached, the company sent notices to 29 union members that they were permanently terminated.

This attempt by AK Steel to continue to employ scab workers while at the same time recalling union members on a selective basis follows the pattern being used by Cargill in the lockout of salt miners in Cleveland. Both the USWA in Mansfield and the Teamsters in Cleveland have pledged that the fight will continue until all union members are back to work.

Local 169 President Randy Reeder praised his members and their families for holding together. 'We’ve won a victory, the union is back in the plant,' he said, 'but the struggle goes on.

'We’re walking back in there with our heads held high,' he said. 'They thought they had everything on their side, but we had our determination, our unity, our union, and they couldn’t bust us, but the struggle goes on.'

Rich Emmil, one of the traveling pickets called the Road Warriors, told the World that he had been to 124 local unions and federations during the struggle, spreading the word and raising thousands of dollars for the fight. Emmil said he was a poor union man before the lockout, 'but this fight made us all step up and be counted!'

Ray Delarwelle, from Local 169’s negotiating committee, said, 'More than anything, I have to say our union has been fantastic. I really can’t tell you how proud I am to be a union steelworker.'

Gary Massey, a rank and filer from Local 169, said 'Imagine this company suing us for lost profits. We ought to sue them, we had people beaten up, arrested, harassed, families broken, deaths, but the courts side with them. This country has its values upside down.'

Bonnie Rooks, 78, a locked-out steelworker and Road Warrior, received special honors. 'We were in the steelworkers’ protest in D.C., the Charleston Five protest in South Carolina,' she said. 'I remember John L. Lewis and the CIO. We grew up fighting for working people,' she said.

Accepting an award from Leo Gerard, Bonnie said her goal in life is to 'kick some ass for the working class.'

Bravo, Bonnie, and to the steelworkers in Mansfield, Ohio.

The author can be reached at wallyk@ncweb.com