CHICAGO: ‘Make steel not war’

President Bush got a surprise on his visit to the Windy City, Jan 6. His motorcade was met by nearly 1,000 peace, faith and community activists, with a vocal union contingent anchored by members of the United Steelworkers and Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR). The Steelworkers held banners reading “Make Steel not War” and “Want to support the troops? Keep their jobs HERE. Bring them home NOW.”

Standing across the street from the Hilton Towers Hotel where Bush was to address the Economic Club of Chicago, Steve Kramer, president of USWA Local 977, told the World workers in his local make steel pipe and are angry that Bush has “ignored us” by refusing to limit imports from China. “The best way to support our troops is to make sure that they have jobs when they come home,” Kramer said.

James Thindwa of Jobs with Justice said, “We’re here to expose the hypocrisy of this administration. They talk about democracy and going to war while they reject the right of workers to organize.”

ANN ARBOR, Mich.: Students force Coke off campus

After years of hard work, students at the University of Michigan (UM) struck a blow for workers’ rights when they convinced the school to bar Coca-Cola products from the campus because of violence against union organizers at Coke bottling plants in the South American nation of Columbia.

The ban hits Coke in the pocketbook. Coke sales at UM totaled $1.4 million in 2005, according to Julie Peterson, UM spokeswoman.

In a Dec. 29 letter to Coca-Cola, UM said that the ban will remain in place until Coke agrees to an investigation of its labor practices at its Columbia plants.

UM is the 10th university to bar Coke in solidarity with Columbian workers. New York University decided to ban Coke and Coke products like Sprite, Desani water and Minute Maid juices on Dec. 8. Bard College, Union Theological Seminary, Rutgers, Carleton, Macalester, Santa Clara University, Salem College and the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, have taken similar action.

BROWNSVILLE, Pa.: Hospital closes rather than obey law

Rather than adhere to state regulations protecting patient safety, Tara Hospital closed its doors Jan. 8. Formerly Brownsville General, with a history going back to 1910, Tara served the rural community of Pennsylvania’s poorest county, Fayette, in the coal-rich southwest corner of the state.

Hospital management, crying poverty, refused to correct 62 violations cited by the state health department and stonewalled contract negotiations with its nurses, who are members of the Pennsylvania State Education Association–Health Care union.

“I am shocked,” said Sandy DeFrank, a licensed practical nurse and union member. “I never thought this would happen. They kept promising us ‘you’ll have your jobs,’ but it has been lies from the start.”

A year ago, an investment group of doctors bought the hospital and converted it into a for-profit hospital. They promised increased staffing and improved service. Since then, the hospital has laid off 60 people.

The union vows to fight for the hospital’s reopening.

NEW YORK: IBM attacks pensions

IBM joined the mass corporate mugging of workers’ and managers’ pension plans when the corporation announced Jan. 5 that it was freezing the defined pension benefit for 120,000 workers and converting those plans into 401(k)s. To add insult to injury, the defined pension plan for IBM workers is fully funded with $48 billion in assets.

“To me, this is a dangerous move,” said Lee Conrad, a former IBM worker who is national coordinator for the Alliance at IBM, a union organizing committee. “Employees are going to be losing out on all kinds of benefits.”

Brian Foley, a pension expert, said, “This is clearly another large and significant nail in the coffin for the defined benefit pension plans across America.”

Last month, Verizon pulled the same trick on 50,000 managers. That move resulted in a $3 billion boost to the phone company’s profits.

With the bankruptcy of many steel, coal and airline companies, 7.5 million workers have lost their pensions. In 1985, workers at 112,000 companies were covered by defined pension plans. Today, only 29,000 companies have such plans.

RALEIGH, N.C.: Klan members indicted for conspiracy

Federal prosecutor Eric Goulian indicted seven associates of the leader of the “Nation’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” based in Benson, N.C., with conspiracy to blow up the county court house, murder the sheriff and further the plot by selling illegal guns.

“Were they capable of carrying out this plan?” asked Johnson County Sheriff, Steve Bizzell, the Klan’s target. “Pretty much so.”

According to Bizzell, a white Republican, the Klan was angered when they were barred from marching in a popular local festival, Benson Mule Days. The terrorist group’s leader, Charles Robert Barefoot Jr., who is currently serving time for the 2003 murder of Lawrence Arthur Pettit, also a Klansman, had invited an Indiana Klan leader to watch the terrorists march.

Bizzell said Barefoot was embarrassed in front of a national leader and decided to retaliate against the sheriff’s department. After Barefoot was convicted, the rest of the group decided to continue with the murder-bombing plot, prosecutors suggest.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards ( Lance Coh contributed to this week’s clips.