BY KEVIN DWIRE
MARIETTA, Ohio - Chants of "What do we want? Contract! When do we want it? Now!" echoed down the streets here October 10 as 750 union members and others marched and rallied in support of members of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) on strike against Magnetic Specialties, Incorporated.
The steelworkers striking for their first contract following a successful organizing drive at MSI. A banner hung across the front of the rally stage summed up the history of the fight: "1,288 Days Since Organizing Drive Began; 588 Day Unfair Labor Practice Strike; How Much Longer, Murphy?"
Gary Murphy, the owner of MSI, has dragged out the negotiations and is running production in the plant with scab workers protected by private security guards. MSI workers went on strike in March 1997.
Speaking at the rally before the march from the Washington County Fairgrounds to the picket line, USWA staffer Gary Cochran pointed to conditions in the plant that spurred the MSI workers to begin organizing. He said that one worker passed out in the plant because of diabetes. When Mike Holland, now a leader of the strike who is a trained paramedic, tried to assist him, Holland was ordered to go back to work. Cochran said one woman worker was fired at the end of her 12-week maternity leave, and another worker was disciplined for missing work when his house burned down.
Other speakers included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, speaking via a telephone hook-up from Chicago; USWA secretary treasurer Leo Gerrard; Ohio AFL-CIO president Bill Berger; West Virginia AFL-CIO president Jim Bowen; and United Mine Workers of America District 6 president Larry Ward.
Most of the speakers encouraged those in attendance to vote for Democratic party candidates in the November elections and to support the protectionist "Stand up for steel" campaign being pushed by the steel bosses and the USWA officialdom.
Mingling at the cookout following the rally and march, many of the unionists spoke about the need for union solidarity.
During the course of the strike six other USWA organizing drives have taken place in the Marietta area with the help of the MSI strikers. Dinah Barger and Jean Francis were at the rally with a group of nurses from the Home Nursing Service and Hospice at Marietta Memorial Hospital. The home service nurses have been involved in a USWA organizing drive since January. "MSI shows what strength we have when we get together and stick together," Barger said.
The nurses are waiting for a National Labor Relations Board ruling on whether the home nurses, 65 percent of whom have signed union cards, can have a representation election. If that is successful, they plan to organize the rest of the hospital.
Eight members of Laborers' International Union Local 1353 on strike against Monarch Rubber in Spencer, West Virginia, came to Marietta to build a rally they will be holding November 8. The Monarch workers went out on strike one month after the MSI strikers. "I love it, it's good to see so many people," said Randy Whytsell, president of the USWA Local at Monarch. "It's good the unions are wising up and coming together."
Whytsell said an indictment was handed down on September 23 against a scab worker in connection with a bomb blast near the strike picket shack in March. Whytsell said the bomb consisted of a five-gallon bucket filled with acetylene and gasoline.
Johnny Lynch a retired member of USWA local 5668 in Ravenswood, West Virginia, said the rally was "a good show of solidarity of unions from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. We got the point across."
Lynch said he came "because like Ravenswood, no union can win by itself. If all unions don't jump in and help, you'll go down by yourself." Members of USWA Local 5668 fought a successful 20-month battle against a lockout by Ravenswood Aluminum Corp. in 1991-92. "We found out at Ravenswood how important it is to have other unions join the fight."
Lynch is the strike coordinator for USWA Local 5668, and works with the Monarch strikers in nearby Spencer. "When someone goes on strike I go talk to them on behalf of the local. If they need anything, I go back to the local, whether it's money or anything." He said the Ravenswood Steelworkers are going to hold a Christmas party for the Monarch strikers' families.
Denise Jones, an activist with the Alejandro Ramírez Defense Coalition in Cleveland, went to the rally to get out information on the case of Ramírez, a Mexican worker who was framed on a murder charge in Painesville, Ohio, and is now serving an 18-years-to-life sentence. The major evidence against him was a confession he signed while in custody, which he had retracted by the time of the trial. Ramírez had signed a waiver of his rights during an interrogation conducted in English, which he does not speak or read.
"I thought the rally was fantastic," said Jones. "I loved the solidarity ... it felt like everyone supported each other." She said the response to the Ramírez case was good. Some were familiar with the case, and others got information for the first time. She said the MSI strikers "have been out there and seen injustice right in the face, and were real receptive."
MSI striker Mike Holland told the Militant that the strikers built the rally by sending out flyers, manning a phone bank for two days, and going to local union halls in the area. "At RJF, which is organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers, if the union puts a leaflet on the bulletin board, the management takes it down. So we handed them out to the members."
Holland said that they wanted to have the rally "to show that the support is still there." Negotiations are taking place between the union and the company, but neither side is allowed to reveal details to the media.
Union locals from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia were represented at the rally. They contributed over $21,000 to the strikers, donated by the locals, collected at plant gates. Some took up extra collections on the buses coming to the rally.
Kevin Dwire is a member of United Auto Workers Local 1196 in Cleveland.
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