March Draws Thousands
in Granite City, IL
By Scott Cousins
St Louis Suburban Journals
Feb. 10, 2009 – A line of more than 5,500 laid-off steelworkers from Granite City, auto workers from Decatur and Fenton, Mo., and their supporters stretched out for more than eight blocks along a mile-long route as part of a “Put America Back To Work” march Tuesday morning in Granite City.
The march, sponsored by local and state labor unions and several community groups, was held to support passage of a federal stimulus bill, including a “buy American” provision.
Both city and union officials said slightly more than 5,500 people participated.
The march went from a parking lot at U.S. Steel-Granite City Works to Amsted Rail, a distance of about one mile.
At a press conference before the march, labor leaders and local politicians said that passage of the bill — now working its way through Congress — would help jump-start the nation’s economy.
“We are living in unprecedented economic times,” said U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Belleville). “Families here in Granite City are hurting.”
More than 2,500 area steelworkers are currently laid off or will be soon — almost 2,000 now at U.S. Steel-Granite City Works, which has been idled, and almost 700 at Amsted Rail, which produces railcar parts.
Costello said he is hoping that differing versions of the bill can be reconciled by Congress and passed, and be on President Obama’s desk for signature by the end of the week.
“Every member of Congress can find a reason or something in this stimulus package they do not like,” he said. “If you are looking for an excuse to vote no, you can find an excuse. The fact of the matter is … it’s time to support this president and his economic plan so we can give him the tools to turn this economy around.”
Much of the focus of the press conference was on “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges and schools that could begin within 90-120 days.
Costello said each billion dollars spent on infrastructure generates $6 billion in economic activity, and provides 34,000 “good-paying” jobs.
Union officials said that starting the infrastructure projects would be especially good for plants like Granite City Works. Approximately 30 to 35 percent of Granite City Works’ output is construction-grade steel.
Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes was among those attending the press conference, although he did not speak.
Later, he said passage of the bill was important for the state, which is facing a $9 billion deficit.
“The Congress has to put aside their differences and realize that people are desperate right now,” Hynes said. “They’re bickering over minute details while people are spiraling downward and losing their economic security.”
He said the state would benefit both from infrastructure programs and money it might receive for health care, education and other programs.
The march itself began just after 11 a.m., and was led by a tractor-trailer, followed by Joe Stephens, of Alton, and Marvin Tucker, of Granite City, both laid-off members of United Steelworkers of America Local 1899, carrying a large American Flag.
Most of the local’s 1,300 workers are laid off right now because Granite City Works was idled in December.
“There are so many people off work right now, the country is in bad shape,” Stephens said.
Behind them were several elected officials, including Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan, Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer, Pontoon Beach Mayor Jim Denham, and Madison Mayor John Hamm.
“We have a lot of people in Granite City laid off at this time,” Dunstan said. “I think it’s important for us to be here and show our support.”
Hagnauer agreed, saying officials had a duty to support both the steel mills and their workers.
“Our community is not decimated by this, but it’s affected us greatly and we’ve got guys we want to put back to work,” he said.
Behind them, other marchers stretched out over approximately eight city blocks.
Louis Norton, of Centreville, was one of them.
Norton was an employee of Stein Steel Mill Services, which provides support services for Granite City Works, but is currently laid off.
“We need to go to work. We’d just like to get to work and get back to like it was,” said Norton.
The march worked its way along 20th Street to Niedringhaus Avenue, then past the main entrance to Amsted Rail, where about 40 workers were watching.
The march ended in an Amsted Rail parking lot, where some steelworkers performed a few skits, and people mingled, ate donuts or waited for shuttle rides back to their cars.
Dennis Barker, political action coordinator for USWA Local 1899, was one of those performing a skit about the demise of the American middle class.
“This is the first time we’re actually in the street — not in protest but in support of government action,” he said. “We want the government to take action, we want the government to pass the stimulus bill. The government is the last entity that can turn this country around.”
As the end of the parade was working its way toward the parking lot, others were walking back or waiting for friends.
Jack Guelzow of Worden, a laid-off member of Local 1899, had been at the front of the march, but he and some friends had already finished and were waiting near Amsted Rail for others who had been in the middle.
“Hopefully we can do some good here today, we’ll see what happens,” Guelzow said of the march. “It’s a pretty good crowd.”
Granite City Alderman Don Thompson was nearby, said, “I think it’s a very good turnout. I was really surprised. I think the weather was with us, and I think that’s what brought a lot of people out here today. I’ve been here 40-some years, and I’ve never ever seen this magnitude of people.”
“It was a great day for working people here in Granite City,” said Russ Saltsgaver, president of USWA Local 1899.