PITTSBURGH – Steelworkers, active, unemployed and retired, from throughout the decimated industrial valleys marched onto the blustery street in front of the Westin William Penn Hotel to join the Sierra Club, civil rights leaders, students, clergy, Kucinich and Dean supporters and peace activists to demand jobs and a Bush-free future. The president had swooped into town to pick up $1 million for his re-election campaign.
Students chanted, “Give that $1 million to Pittsburgh. We’re broke!”
Since mid-summer a budget crisis has racked the Steel City. Pittsburgh is running out of money to operate. Layoffs of police and city workers, and the shutdown of senior and recreation centers have only accelerated as the red ink continues to flow at City Hall.
Western Pennsylvania residents carried hundreds of signs demanding peace and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Others were raised their voices for democratic rights and repeal of the Patriot Act.
Recent administration action to loosen clean water and air regulations brought out the Sierra Club in force, including their mascot. The Sierra Club Fish, who had the warmest dress of the day, confronted local Republicans and millionaires as they left the $2,000-a-plate fund-raising luncheon. Probably for the first time in his life, billionaire Henry Hillman, owner of Pittsburgh National Bank, came face to face with the “Fish” demanding only the right to swim in the famous Three Rivers.
Steelworkers had trade on their mind. Press reports surfaced Dec. 1, that Bush intended to rescind the tariffs on steel which steelworkers believe has allowed the struggling industry time to reorganize. There are 36 steel companies in bankruptcy, and hundreds of thousands of retirees at LTV and Bethlehem Steel have been robbed of their health care and pensions – their life savings.
Mark Glyptis is president of the Independent Steelworkers Union (ISU) in Weirton, W.Va. His membership is willing to accept layoffs of 950 to keep the 3,500-person steel mill operating, he told the World. “I just met with President Bush at the Pentagon last week and I think he will modify the steel tariffs, but I do not think he will end them. But he was noncommittal.” Growing angry, Glyptis added, “We have held up our end of the bargain and it is painful. We expect him [Bush] to hold up his end. If he rescinds the tariffs, I guarantee that we will end this moral decay and he will not carry West Virginia or Pennsylvania next year.”
ISU members standing around Glyptis smiled that confident smile and as one backed up their president, “We have 3,500 families in three states (Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) who will have nothing else to do but put this cowboy on the unemployment line with us. We are ready.”
All three states are battlegrounds for the 2004 election. Bush won Ohio and West Virginia in 2000.
The Pittsburgh “welcome” for Bush ended with only one incident, when a young man knocked over one of the wooden police barriers. Police chased the young man through the crowd and slammed him to the cold concrete, then tossed him into a waiting paddy wagon.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.