Workers say ‘We finally stood up’

Niles, Ohio — Forty-four members of Steelworkers Local 4564-02 walked off their jobs on Sept. 13 at Phillips Manufacturing in Niles, Ohio, a town located in the Youngstown area, known as the Mahoning Valley. Picketers have remained strong on the line ever since.

Workers shut down their machines — where they produce drywall along with steel corner beads and studs — and walked out in response to the company’s proposal to redefine seniority, cap wages and raise insurance costs. The last contract expired on Aug. 9, and the company wouldn’t budge when the union tried to negotiate wages.

The bosses have been even less cooperative since the fightback began. Strikers told Workers World that in the last 14 years since Phillips Manufacturing has been at the Niles location, it has forced several concessions, including pension cuts, takebacks in holidays and, at one time, a five-year pay freeze.

According to Dave Hanshaw, a Local 4564-02 member, “Workers here had no other choice but to strike because every two years the company wants to take away more and more. The company’s actions reflect the typical, corporate greed we as working people face all over and here at this plant. We finally stood up.” Hanshaw has been at the plant for 30 years, much longer than the Phillips Manufacturing bosses.

The strike is very significant because it falls on the 75th anniversary of the “Little Steel Strike,” when steelworkers in the Youngstown area militantly struck against the steel companies for better conditions and union recognition through the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. The SWOC was the CIO predecessor of the current Steelworkers union.

Strikers have had to confront strikebreakers today, just as they did then. The Vindicator, a historically anti-union newspaper in the Mahoning Valley, has been running ads for so-called “openings” at the plant. Security guards often clear the gates as scabs drive through, waving dollar bills. Strikers point out that many of the scabs have yelled racist and sexist obscenities at the women on the line.

Despite the company shenanigans, people in the Mahoning Valley have been very supportive. Most people in the area have relatives who once worked in the steel mills and were proud members of the USW. Most of those who drive by the picket line honk or wave; many people have donated coffee and water.

Hanshaw concluded, “We have received solidarity from other unions in the area, which has given us some strength. I have a relative who just got back from Milan, Italy, and brought to my attention that when a union goes on strike there, other workers walk out. As a result, other businesses shut down. We need to bring that type of class-conscious solidarity here.”

Bauman grew up in the Mahoning Valley, comes from a family of union steelworkers and visited the picket line in late November.