The contents of the confidential deal between and Ottawa and U.S. Steel, and outdated bankruptcy laws were key talking points in Saturday's Stand Up for Steel rally in downtown Hamilton.
But for brothers Vincent and Dan Macdonald both U.S. Steel retirees who worked at the company for 40 and 30 years, respectively Saturday's Day of Action was simply about letting the courts and U.S. Steel know they aren't taking the loss of their pensions and benefits lying down.
"It was a real kick in the gut," said Dan, who is applying for Trillium benefits to help cover his pharmaceutical costs. "They took our benefits, benefits we worked decades for."
A strong contingent of NDP leadership with both federal and provincial party leaders and local representatives present headed up a passionate defence for Hamilton's steel industry, and called for fairness in pension and bankruptcy laws.
"Actions speak louder than words," Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair told the Spectator before thousands marched down Main Street East. He said the recently-elected Liberals spent a lot of time in Hamilton talking about helping out workers, and added "one would hope" the government will now take more progressive action than the previous Conservative government.
Chief among such action is ensuring an arrangement with creditors that protects pensions in the event of bankruptcy or insolvency.
"We're one of the few advanced economies that does not protect pensions and workers," said Mulcair.
As for the secret deal, Mulcair says there is nothing to prevent making the details public.
"I think Canadians have a right to know what kind of deal Conservatives signed."
Newly elected Liberal leader MP Bob Bratina braved a hostile crowd following the march at the Hamilton Convention Centre, telling the steelworkers he saw no net benefit to opening the document to the public.
While Bratina said he hasn't read the document himself, he has spoken with the authors of what appears to be a "normal confidential deal."
"The point is, if it's such a good deal, why did they settle out of court?" he asked.
Hamilton MP Dave Christopherson disagreed, arguing that revealing the contents of the confidential deal may reveal key information that would help the cause of unions.
Bratina argued that if the Liberals release the contents of the deal, U.S. Steel may have the capacity to sue the federal government, potentially putting more money into the pockets of U.S. Steel.
Instead, Bratina blamed NAFTA for many of the woes in the steel industry, and cited steel from China as a major contributor to the decline of the industry.
Earlier, NDP MP Scott Duvall, told the crowd the Liberals have not yet even opened the toolbox when it comes to helping Hamilton steelworkers, and unions across the country.
"If this is going to continue to be allowed, a lot of foreign investors are going to chew up the country," said Duvall, adding that jobs, benefits, pensions and health-care across the country will be threatened if swift action isn't taken. "We have a crisis is in this city."
Bratina a supporter of bankruptcy reform urged the crowd not to "discount (the Liberals) after 100 days" in office.
Bratina told the Spectator that while the steelworkers' plight was a priority, employment issues in Alberta and the East Coast were also causing headaches for the government.
The issue of pension losses brought union workers from as far away as Sudbury and Oshawa.
Trish McAuliffe, a former autoworker from Oshawa's GM factory, says she attended the protest because "the last thing we want to see is GM behave the same way."
"Pensions are part of your wage," said McAuliffe. "If they give their 30 years, they need to be looked after."
"Imagine getting a phone call on a Thursday from your pharmacy telling you are no longer covered," said Niagara Falls NDP MPP Wayne Gates.
Gates proposes the provincial government outlaw the use of replacement workers during strikes, forcing employers to bargain.
Provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath lamented the provincial and federal government's inactivity.
"The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer," said Horwath. She vowed that Hamilton's protest would "just be the beginning" in her party's fight for workers' rights.
He told the Spectator the government will need to wait for the courts to determine the priority of creditors before it can decide what approach can be used to mitigate the situation for the steelworkers.
Mulcair said the wait-and-see approach was not something he was interested in.
"I think what we have to start doing now is acting now," he said. "We're going to allow a company to disappear with over $2 billion of money that belongs to the workers.
"We can't let that happen."
Protesters rally for steelworkers at Day of Action