From an abandoned Pennsylvania steel mill, from an ailing Maryland textile factory, from the Minnesota state capitol and from Capitol Hill, labor unions, business leaders and government officials made an impassioned plea to Congress yesterday to "save American industry and jobs."
Using a 55-city nationwide satellite hookup and some big-name entertainers, the two-hour teleconference sponsored by the United Steelworkers of America and five major steel companies was intended as an "Industry Aid" event, timed to sway Congress for tougher foreign-trade legislation, more job training and more investment in the nation's basic industries.
"This is the heartland of industrial America," Rep. Bob Edgar (D-Pa.) said, clutching a microphone as he stood before the 10-story hulk of an abandoned LTV Steel mill in Aliquippa, Pa., where 12,000 jobs have been lost and the community's tax base and public services devastated.
"We want to see our aging bridges and our crumbling roads rebuilt," said Edgar, one of more than 250 public officials participating in the hookup at rally sites from Baton Rouge, La., to Spokane, Wash. "This is the issue of 1986."
Surrounded by workers in the rotunda of the Minnesota capitol in St. Paul, Gov. Rudy Perpich (D) said, "We have to take the gloves off and get very, very tough with our congressional delegations, because there are a lot of people working today who will not be working tomorrow" if Congress doesn't act to protect steel, textiles, agriculture and other basic industries, while also forcing foreign nations to open markets to U.S. exports.
The trade deficit last year was a record $148.5 billion, and yesterday's $1 million-plus lobbying effort was particularly aimed at the Senate, which is considering a major trade bill similar to tough trade legislation that passed the House May 22.
The Reagan administration has taken the position that it wants no trade legislation, fearing that any measure Congress passes will be too protectionist. GOP senators, however, are worried that they could lose control of the Senate if they fail to deal with what many in labor and business see as pervasive unfair trade practices around the world.
Yesterday's video blitz also targeted the House, which is scheduled to vote Aug. 6 on whether to override President Reagan's veto of the Textile and Apparel Trade Enforcement Act, which passed last December. The law -- opposed by the president because of fears it would prompt retaliation by other nations -- would cut back imports from Asia and would save jobs here because the domestic share of the market would increase from less than 50 percent to more than 63 percent, sponsors said.
"We are not only destroying families and communities, we are destroying regions of this country," Perpich said of the trade imbalance, citing the loss of three-quarters of his state's iron industry jobs.
"No other country allows this to occur" without trying to impose tougher trade protections, he said, "It is an insane policy . . . because it is no policy."
Aliquippa Mayor Daniel Britza -- flanked by unemployed steelworker Charlie Williams and the Rev. Jay Geisler, whose parish is overwhelmed by joblessness -- urged members of Congress to travel in this country instead of foreign lands during their upcoming recess. "If you come to Aliquippa and look at our problems, instead of going to China and the Philippines and these exotic places . . . then you'll find there is no problem that cannot be solved," Britza said.
From the Capitol Hill satellite feed at the Sheraton Grand Hotel, Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), a prime mover of the Senate trade bill that has 37 cosponsors, told viewers in the 55 communities that the Senate will pass legislation by Labor Day aimed at curbing "dumping" of cheap foreign imports unfairly subsidized by foreign governments.
"Our trade laws are now the weakest in the world, and besides that, they are not enforced," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), speaking on a congressional panel with Heinz, as about 200 labor union members, some wearing hard hats, looked on.
"We hope this event contributes to increased understanding of the crucial question of whether America is going to have an industrial base in the next century," Steelworkers President Lynn Williams said in an interview before the event.
The Steelworkers union cited Labor Department estimates that 11.5 million industrial jobs have been lost in plant closings since 1979, and the union said many of those closings were brought on by cheaper foreign imports of steel and textiles.
AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland also warned that high-tech and service industry jobs "cannot be our salvation" without a manufacturing base. "Silicon chips have no value in and of themselves. If our industrial base disappears, so will our need for robots, lasers and computers," he said.
Amory Houghton Jr., chief executive of the Corning Glass Co. in New York, said that American innovation in high technology is undermined by unfair trade. Corning has pioneered fiber-optic cables for telecommunications that sell for 50 cents per meter -- only 25 percent of Japan's $2 cost, Houghton said. "But we have not sold a single strand of cable in Japan" because the Japanese prevent it.
From Hagerstown, on the factory floor of C.M. Offray & Sons, company Vice President Phillip Portner said the jobs of 700 textile workers who make ribbon there are threatened, despite the company's multimillion-dollar investment in high-speed weaving technology. Japan, he said, can still sell ribbon here for less than it costs Offray to produce.
Yesterday's event was the culmination of an unusual three-month lobbying and ad campaign cosponsored by the Steelworkers union and five steel companies, Bethlehem Steel Corp., LTV Steel Co., National Steel Corp., Inland Steel Co. and Armco Inc. The event featured performances and messages by Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers, singer Johnny Cash, and actors Cathy Lee Crosby and Michael Keaton.
"We have the disease of denial, in terms of acknowledging that we really have a problem," the Rev. Geisler said from Aliquippa, urging politicians to focus attention on Rust Belt troubles. "The problem here is that a lot of people have already given up hope."