CLEVELAND — Fired up by three days of powerful and rousing speeches, 1,000 delegates and guests at the Ohio AFL-CIO 26th biennial convention here fanned out to the far corners of the state to campaign for the presidential ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
‘The entire world is watching Ohio,’ Joe Rugola, state federation president, told the gathering in his opening address Sept. 9, referring to the decisive role the state played in the controversial 2004 presidential election and its pivotal role this year.
The stakes could not be higher, he said, noting the convention marked the 50th anniversary of the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1958, when the two labor federations united and defeated an attempt by state Republicans to enact a union-busting ‘right to work’ measure.
‘Let us fight now for the election of Barack Obama,’ Rugola said. ‘It is a fight for the future existence of the labor movement, a fight to preserve 50 more years of democracy in America.’
The same urgency was hammered by top state government officials and national labor leaders every day of the convention. They included Gov. Ted Strickland and the state’s lieutenant governor, secretary of state and treasurer as well as AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer William Lucy and UAW Region 2B Director Lloyd Mahaffey.
All focused on the fact that the AFL-CIO through its active members, retirees, their families and the members of Working America, the labor group’s community affiliate, has the ability to reach 2.1 million voters out of a total of 5.8 million who take part in presidential elections in Ohio.
Many made passionate appeals to confront racism as the main obstacle to winning white workers to vote for Obama, the first African-American major party candidate for president.
‘We cannot allow silence on this question to overtake us and prevent the election of Barack Obama,’ Rugola said. ‘We cannot leave doubt in the mind of even one person that Barack Obama will not only be our president, but he will be a great president.’
‘Obama is a great candidate,’ said Rich Trumka. ‘He voted with labor 98 percent of the time. He voted for the Employee Free Choice Act and has walked picket lines. He is one of us.
‘There are a thousand good reasons to elect Barack Obama and only one really, really bad reason to vote against him and that is the color of his skin.’
Trumka said racism is a corporate tool to divide workers.
‘We can’t let stupid bigoted wisecracks go unchallenged,’ he said. ‘We can’t ignore the claim that the United States is not ready for a Black president. We need to make it personal. We need to confront every expression of bigotry and prejudice.’
Trumka blasted Republican John McCain’s anti-labor stands on trade and union contracts, his opposition to veterans’ benefits and his ‘catering to right-wing extremists’ in his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.
‘Palin lied through her teeth about Barack Obama’s record,’ Trumka said. ‘If this is who McCain picks for his vice president, just imagine who he would pick for secretary of labor, the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) and the judges on the Supreme Court.
‘A union member voting for John McCain is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.’
Charging that McCain is ‘weak, pliable and dishonest,’ Leo Gerard labeled him a ‘double-talking hypocrite and liar.’
‘I’m sick and tired of hearing about his war record,’ Gerard said. ‘Being shot down and held as a prisoner does not qualify you for everything.’
McCain is ‘repackaging himself as an agent of change,’ Gerard said. But McCain ‘got us into war, which has squandered thousands and thousands of lives, maimed and injured many more, and voted against giving veterans better medical attention.’
Since mid-2007, Gerard said, McCain has voted 100 percent of the time with President Bush and ‘supported every attempt to privatize Social Security, reduce benefits and raise the retirement age. He’s for socialism for the rich and Rambo capitalism for the rest of us.’
Gerard said the labor movement must deliver 65 to 75 percent of union households to carry Ohio for Obama.
‘If we don’t win Ohio, it’s all over,’ he said. ‘We can’t let the future of this country be determined by a bunch of closet racists.’