MANSFIELD, Ohio – Scores of solidarity signs were planted along the approach to Hamilton Park, only blocks from the “scab” Armco Kawasaki (AK) steel mill complex here May 4. USWA Local 169 put out the call and hundreds of union members, their families and supporters came to the small industrial city.

Union families converged on Mansfield from as far away as Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana and Pennsylvania, bringing their solidarity and support.

The Ohio AFL-CIO is busy in Columbus building support for the 620 steelworker families who have been locked out in Mansfield since September 1, 1999. State Federation President Bill Burga told the rally that the AFL-CIO is lobbying to overturn efforts by the state’s Republican government to “balance the budget using the money for the unemployment extension from the Federal government.” Burga also announced that the state AFL-CIO is establishing a legal defense fund to assist local unions financially when corporations like AK open up a full-scale war.

Linda Chavez-Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the National AFL-CIO, brought full confidence in victory and the support of the federation’s 13 million members. Richard Woodrop, CEO of AK, said Thompson, “could not even manage a lemonade stand.” She mentioned a Forbes Magazine study of 278 CEO’s in which Woodrop was rated fifth from the bottom.

Workers cheered Chavez-Thompson as she demanded AK go to the bargaining table and negotiate decent overtime policy, respect for seniority and jobs for life-long steelworkers.

Reps. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), addressed workers, along with seven members of the Ohio state legislature and Democratic candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Tim Hagan and Charleta Tavares.

Politics is key, said Pennsylvania USWA Director John DeFazio, calling for workers to become deeply involved in the process, from top to bottom.

USWA International Vice President Andrew Palm spoke on behalf of all steelworkers in the U.S. and Canada, zeroing in AK’s defeats and isolation. Currently, Palm said, AK is facing $100 million in EPA fines, the Richland County Tax Relief Board has taken steps to cancel the corporation’s local tax abatements and company shareholders are suing AK.

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts fired up workers declaring Local 169’s fight for a contract and defeat of scabbing a “people’s fight.” Roberts said, “We demand a living wage, labor law reform to end scabbing and health care for all.”

Ohio USWA Director Dave McCall said it is a human struggle to survive. Before reading a letter of solidarity from union International President Leo Gerard, McCall congratulated members of Local 169 whose efforts raised the money for member Mark Vickers who suffers with brain tumors.

Members of Local 169 lost most of the health care when AK locked them out. McCall announced that the local established a scholarship fund for steelworker children in the name of lock-out activist and heroine Marleen Crank, whose life was taken by cancer during the lockout.

“The biggest impact has been the loss of health insurence,” Carolyn Muth said as she worked at one of the tables around the rally. “Kids can’t play sports, families still have to deal with growing children and shots and diseases.”

She said they have recieved much support from Women of Steel in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana, and that women from Ravenswood helped them to get organized. “It has been almost unbelievabe the way people from other states took the time to pitch in and help us,” Muth said. “We will be there for them.”

Truckloads of food rolled into Mansfield on May 4 as well as checks. From the stage, Local 169 Vice President Randy Reeder announced over $25,000 in gate collections from around the region and from many, many local unions. Inspired by the ourpouring from workers, politicians pledged money, including a Mansfield city council member, and individuals from the town donated cash and checks.

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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.