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Ohio workers protest ‘vulture’ capitalists

Published Jun 21, 2005 11:20 PM

Thirteen determined aluminum workers, men and women, demonstrated at the foot of a Madison Avenue skyscraper on June 17, chanting, “No justice, no peace!”

Connie Gray with ‘the Grinch
that stole the pensions.’

The workers are members of Steel Workers Locals 5760 and 5724. They had driven 500 miles from Hannibal, Ohio, to protest the impact on their lives of the ruthless policies of the MaitlinPatterson investment firm.

MaitlinPatterson, a “vulture” investment firm, has bought up their bankrupt employer, Ormet Corp. Ormet is one of the top four U.S. aluminum producers, with factories in four states.

Now MaitlinPatterson is laying off employees, contracting out jobs, cutting wages, and slashing retiree health insurance benefits so it can bring Ormet out of bankruptcy and re-sell the company for a fat profit. (www.uswa.org)

In New York Sharon Strope, a casting operator from Moundsville, W.Va., handed out fliers to passersby. The leaflet bore this question and answer: “What’s the difference between Mark Patterson and a vulture? At least the vulture waits until you are dead.”

Strope has worked 27 years for Ormet. She said the workers have been on strike for a fair contract and to protect pensions and health insurance since Nov. 22.

Strope, who pours molten aluminum that other workers will ultimately roll and shape, noted that she and her co-workers make products people use every day. Her aluminum ends up as decorative trim on cars, light-weight pans for cooking holiday meals—and even the buttons that activists wear to demonstrations.

The Steel Workers members have staged militant protests at Ormet plants in Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio—and at the homes of MaitlinPatterson owners in New York. At one demonstration at Ormet headquarters in Wheeling, W.Va., police arrested worker Norman (Pete) Gray, using the Homeland Security laws as a pretext.

On the picket line in New York, Connie Gray said that when her husband was arrested he was wearing a “Grinch” costume to dramatize MaitlinPatterson as the “Grinch that stole the pensions.” Pete Gray was well known to the arresting police, and clearly not concealing his identity in any way. He has refused to plead guilty and is demanding a jury trial.

As the aluminum workers chanted, they were quickly joined in solidarity on the picket line by people passing by. A giant inflatable rubber rat, symbol of labor protest in New York, got inflated to its 12-foot height. Truck drivers honked their horns in support.

Groups of workers from New York unions suddenly appeared, including some in the distinctive green jackets of District Council 37, State, County and Municipal Employees, as well as representatives of the Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York and the United Federation of Teachers.

The office of Mark Patterson, co-owner of the investment firm and a former executive at Credit Suisse, floated some 43 floors above the workers on Madison Avenue. Sharon Strope commented: “He likes to stay far away from the dirt. He didn’t work for 40 years only to have someone come and take it all away.”

The Ormet takeover is part of a wave of economic manipulation by big business in search of easy profits. The impact on workers has been devastating. Layoffs in the United States jumped 42 percent between April and May 2005.