CLEVELAND – United as never before, the people here are holding rallies, marches and vigils to block LTV Steel’s plans to close its mills here along with other plants in East Chicago, Ind., Hennepin, Ill. and Warren, Ohio.

At stake are jobs of 7,500 LTV employees, as well as some 45,000 others directly dependent on the company’s operations. Closing the mills would be a devastating blow to communities already reeling from 13 months of recession.

Even though the company had been in bankruptcy court since last December, its request to Federal Judge William Bodoh Nov. 20 to cease operations as of Dec. 4 shocked the unions, unsecured creditors and public officials who thought LTV was seriously negotiating a restructuring plan with them.

That very day Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), had been assured by LTV CEO William Bricker that the company did not intend to close. Speaking that night via telephone to an emergency meeting of public officials, labor and community leaders convened in the office of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Gerard said that if LTV attempted to stop operations, his members would occupy the plants.

The next day Kucinich filed motions in Bodoh’s court in Youngstown to reject LTV’s request and for the court to appoint a trustee to replace Bricker and company President John Turner.

The unsecured creditors, led by William Calfee, a top executive of the iron ore producing Cleveland-Cliffs, Inc., and the union announced an agreement Nov. 27 to save $350 million in labor costs over four years in order to get LTV a federal loan guarantee worth $250 million.

Bricker assured Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White that he would support this agreement and that there was no truth to rumors that the company was beginning to cease operations even before the bankruptcy court met.

But at that very moment orders to stop production were being given and the next morning an angry White held a press conference stating that Bricker had lied throughout this entire period and had created a situation where “civil unrest, disobedience or violence” might occur.

White said that if this happens the city would hold Bricker “personally accountable in both criminal and civil proceedings” and that if the workers did decide to remain in the plants to protect their jobs and the production facilities, the city would take no action to remove them.

He further said that if the LTV management felt they could not run the plants, he would respect that, but then they had to step aside “and we will find some other way to operate these mills.”

White announced that the city was asking the bankruptcy court to order LTV to continue all production and had added its voice to those of Kucinich and the city council, requesting that a trustee be appointed to replace the LTV management.

The next afternoon 500 steelworkers rallied in front the company offices. The crowd cheered as USWA District Director Dave McCall rose with a bullhorn. “I have two announcements,” he said. “First, we were just informed that as of 4 p.m. Bricker has resigned. Second, LTV has agreed in court to continue all operations for the time being.”

In an unusual move, Catholic Bishop Anthony Pilla and the leaders of the Episcopal and Lutheran churches filed motions Nov. 30 asking the court to stop the proposed shutdown on moral grounds.

The next day, some 350 steelworkers held a three-mile march to keep the heat on as the Dec. 4 court date approached. Led by Kucinich, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), Mayor-elect Jane Campbell, members of the city council and the mayor of Warren, the march began at St. Michael Hospital, whose closing was stopped by a similar mass movement last year. At the rally in downtown Cleveland, workers were told that under no circumstances would a shutdown be permitted.

“We will do everything possible to save these jobs – with or without LTV,” said USWA staff representative Mark Shaw.