COLUMBUS, Ohio – Fifteen hundred trade unionists filled the Veterans Memorial Auditorium here Dec. 9 to “Take Back Ohio/Labor 2004.”
“Politics is power – use it!” was Ohio AFL-CIO President William Burga’s call to action.
“Examples of extreme right-wing control of political power are all around us,” he said. “Just as in the 1920s, we are dealing with ‘economic royalists’ whose desire today is to reverse the clock on all New Deal legislation. The only thing standing in the way of removal of all safety nets established between 1935 and 1980 is organized labor.” Burga continued, “We see an increasingly conservative and over-ripe – nearly rotten – capitalist society and culture.”
Burga, a steelworker, noted that 11 percent of Ohio’s local unions have disappeared since Bush took office.
“We must be committed to do everything we can to dislodge this train wreck, and change government direction. It begins with the defeat of George W. Bush in 2004,” thundered Burga. “Our political power is in millions of people voting.”
Karen Ackerman, AFL-CIO political director, congratulated the Ohio unionists for achieving a 36 percent union vote of all votes cast in Ohio in the 2000 elections. “But that’s not good enough, you have to do better to win in 2004,” she said. Ackerman showed charts indicating where additional votes, both union and nonunion, had to come from, in key battleground states such as Ohio, to defeat Bush. She introduced Wiley Pearson, assigned by the national AFL-CIO to head the critical Ohio campaign.
Eight hundred or more local union and jobsite political co-coordinators were present at the conference, representing several thousand co-coordinators already in place statewide. This is the nucleus for mobilizing union membership.
The Ohio Election 2004 Task Force, chaired by Joe Rugola, state executive director of the Association of Public School Employees/AFSCME, began work six months ago on Ohio Plan 2004. Rugola outlined the Task Force’s four special projects which are already active: a minority message committee; a women’s vote committee; a committee on coalition building; and an outreach to retirees committee.
Ten mobilization centers, or “zones,” have been set up throughout the state, with an outreach to county and city labor federations. A 10-point program, popularized by using the most modern techniques and materials for reaching members and allies, was presented.
A spirit of celebration filled the hall over winning the Ohio Best RX Prescription Drug law, which will bring 20-40 percent discounts to Ohio citizens, a task which no one but a dedicated band of trade unionists, retirees, and community activists thought could be done.
Enthusiasm for getting to work and sending Bush back to Texas left no room for pessimism about the job that has to be done. “After taking back our country in 2004, I want you all back here to win back the state of Ohio in 2006!” said Burga, as workers and their union leaders dispersed and headed home to the four corners of the state.
The author can be reached at email@example.com.