Kerry walks Ohio picket line

Presidential candidate John Kerry visited the picket line in front of the RMI Titanium plant in Niles, Ohio, Oct. 3 before he proceeded to a town hall meeting in nearby Warren. For a half hour he marched with the locked-out steelworkers, talking with them about the hardships they are going through.

They described their difficulties in keeping their lives together, how some families are being torn apart. Locked out by the company for three years, most of the 361 workers have not found other jobs. Many said they have survived only because their spouses have work.

Donald Bertroff, who worked at RMI for nine years, said, “You just stay home most of the time, trying to make ends meet, with my wife working.” Tony Lawrence, a 31-year veteran at the plant, said the workers are trying to fight, to “hang on.”

Kerry told them, “I respect you enormously, your courage to ... fight it out.”

Led by their local union president, Ray Raschilla Jr., RMI workers testified at the town hall meeting about the devastating impact the lockout had had on their lives.

“The lockout has destroyed families, with people being forced to choose between their health insurance and paying the mortgage,” said Raschilla.

Kerry said, “While people like Ray can’t get health insurance or unemployed benefits extended, these people in Washington are fighting with everything they’ve got to give the wealthiest people in America a tax break.”

He hammered hard at the loss of jobs in Ohio and the increased tax burden placed on working families by those tax cuts for the wealthy. Kerry listed four priorities for his administration if he’s elected: (1) No privatizing of Social Security or Medicare — the latter can be fixed with a plan to lower the cost of prescription drugs and allowing importation of Canadian drugs; (2) Investing in education, especially early childhood education; (3) Provide affordable college education; and (4) Enforce labor laws to allow unions to organize.

Following the format of all town hall meetings, Kerry answered questions from the audience, responding to a comment that “the most dramatic, clear, unequivocal statement of the 9/11 Commission underscored the degree to which America has been misled” on the war in Iraq.

The author can be reached at wallyk@ncweb.com.