CLEVELAND — “Sign the petition to raise the state minimum wage,” was the call to passers-by from volunteers at the People’s Weekly World booth at the 2006 AFL-CIO Union Industries Show.
The annual event, showcasing unions and union-made goods, was held May 5-7 at Cleveland’s IX Center. It attracted over 100,000 people from throughout the region who came to check out cars, tools, housewares, canned goods and services provided by union labor throughout the country. They also took part in a seemingly endless series of drawings that raffled off over $l million worth of these products.
It was the first time the PWW had a booth and by all accounts it was a tremendous success. Over 1,100 people signed the referendum petition that the Ohio AFL-CIO hopes will put the issue on the ballot for November’s elections. The Cleveland AFL-CIO Retirees Council also collected 1,500 signatures at their booth and several hundred more were collected by a Teamster’s local.
Ohio and Kansas are the only two states where employers not involved in interstate commerce can pay workers less than the federal minimum wage. The ballot measure would raise the state level from the current $4.25 to $6.85 an hour with an automatic cost of living adjustment.
The PWW booth was a boost for organized labor in another way. Nearly 700 people signed up for introductory subscriptions to this working-class weekly which rallies, educates and mobilizes its readers behind the cause of working people.
Although many who signed up knew of the paper, others saw it for the first time and were delighted to know that it existed. They were hungry for news and needed little convincing that the Bush administration, under right-wing corporate control, is pursuing policies disastrous for working people.
They seethed with anger and frustration as they spoke of bitter experiences with long strikes and lockouts, corrupt politicians and skyrocketing costs of fuel, healthcare and college educations.
Many were union stewards, labor council delegates and local officers. Although most were from Ohio and nearby states, some came from far away. Al Perisho, president of the southern California International Longshore and Warehouse Union Pensioners, said he hadn’t seen the PWW for a long time and was glad we were there. He took out a subscription for his office. Others came from Alabama, Virginia, Tennessee, Minnesota and Canada.