Cleveland labor: Now is the time to unite

CLEVELAND — Delegates to the North Shore (Cleveland) AFL-CIO Federation of Labor erupted in cheers and applause when President Loree Soggs, referring to Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, opened his report to the June 11 meeting saying, “We now have a candidate.”

Soggs, who also serves as executive secretary of the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council, told the delegates, “Go back to your locals. Now is the time to unite. We cannot let any bias or racial thoughts get in the way.”

In case there was any doubt, Soggs said, the building trades had learned that their longtime opponent, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), had endorsed Republican John McCain, citing his opposition to every key issue protecting unions and working conditions including project labor agreements, the Employee Free Choice Act, the Davis-Bacon Act and occupational safety and health regulations.

“If your members have a problem with racial bias, tell them to get over it,” Soggs said. “Get over it for all time, but especially now for this election, get over it. We must put Barack Obama in the White House and, if we don’t, we are in deep trouble.”

Soggs and Harriet Applegate, the labor council’s executive secretary, outlined the council’s ambitious plans to educate and mobilize union members and their families.

“We know that once again Ohio will be critical in the national election,” Applegate said. “Cleveland is the powerhouse for the Democratic Party in the state so we need to maximize the vote.”

She said that white workers and retirees especially must be reached to vote for Obama: “They are our members, our retirees and our neighbors.”

Applegate urged the largest possible turnout for the national door-to-door labor canvas set for June 28.

“We plan to continue through the summer and, starting in September, to walk every weekend.”

Phone banks to reach union households have already started, she said, and will continue until the election. Unions, including AFSCME, the Steelworkers, and the teachers, air traffic controllers and federal employees unions, have already released members to work full-time on the effort.

At the request of the national AFL-CIO, she said, the labor council will meet in July instead of taking its usual summer recess.

A massive Labor Day action is being planned, Soggs said, for the first time uniting marches that had previously been held separately by the AFL-CIO and the African American community.

“We have good reason to believe that Sen. Obama will speak at this event,” he said.

Discussions are also under way, Soggs said, to expand the Cleveland Citizen, the oldest continuously published U.S. labor newspaper, now 118 years old and mainly a publication of the building trades, into a general labor paper.

The Plain Dealer, Cleveland’s corporate-sponsored daily, is in decline, Applegate said. “Its advertising revenues are down 20 percent and it has cut back on news coverage.”

“We hope to begin building an alternative labor-based press in this area,” she said.

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