BARBERTON, Ohio — “No blisters yet, but I’ve got a darned shin splint,” said Ohio AFL-CIO President Joe Rugola as he walked into this rustbelt city near Akron last week. “The wonderful folks I’ve met on this walk have kept me so up, emotionally, that I don’t even feel it any more.”
Rugola has walked about 200 miles across Ohio, stopping at plants in each community that have closed up shop since the Bush regime came to power in 2002. At each closed plant he’s met with local workers and townsfolk, generated media coverage, if possible, and planted a large sign that states: “180,000 jobs lost — Bush/McCain legacy!”
Early in his walk, which the Ohio AFL-CIO is calling the “Road To Recovery,” Rugola was joined by German and Japanese reporters along with local media. “Most local newspapers in the smaller communities have covered us,” he said. “But it’s really about letting the working people in these hard-hit areas know that organized labor is still fighting for them, that there is still hope and that we can turn things around if they get out and vote for change and elect Obama!”
At his first Barberton stop, the former J & R Tire, Rugola was greeted by a crowd that included many unionists, former J & R workers and retiree activists, as well as Bob Genet, IBEW member and newly elected mayor of Barberton. A traveling van from the Alliance of Retired Americans was also there to support Rugola’s effort.
“There were 1,800 good manufacturing jobs here,” said Genet. “That’s 1,800 families that have lost jobs and a huge blow to our local tax base. But it’s more than that. That is where all of our fathers worked. They used to hire family members. It was a good union shop, part of our family here. Now it’s just an old rusty building, thanks to the policies of this administration.”
After a short rally and planting the sign, the crowd walked two miles to the padlocked and rusting shell that used to be Midwest Rubber, where another 400 jobs were lost.
“My brother worked there for over 25 years,” said AFL-CIO Retiree Council leader Charlie Lemon. “Now the damned thing just looks like an old, haunted prison or something.”
The group walked with Rugola from there to the former shops at Five Star Mold, where 140 Ohio jobs were lost. They finished up at Reiter Dairy, where 400 Barberton workers used to make a good living.
“Economists speak of somewhere between 8 and 11 secondary jobs being lost for every manufacturing job that is lost,” said John Wagner, president of the Summit County AFL-CIO. “That’s 25,000-30,000 jobs stolen away from this city by the trade, tax and manufacturing policies of Bush and his corporate friends.”
Wagner continued, “The bankers yell and they get to raid the public treasury. It’s here and places like Barberton that really need bailing out.”
Next on Rugola’s walking tour is Dayton, a city hard-hit by plant closures and home foreclosures. The big Morain Auto plant there is scheduled to close its doors this month and local housing activists estimate over 9,000 homes are now in foreclosure and boarded up.
Rugola’s “Road To Recovery” will finish up Nov. 3 in Columbus, where large crowds are expected to welcome him. “On Tuesday I get to vote, and we all hope to celebrate on Wednesday,” Rugola said.