COLUMBUS, Ohio - Warning that organized labor and American democracy itself face dire threats if the GOP wins the presidential election, former Gov. Ted Strickland joined hundreds of AFL-CIO officials to kick off the Ohio Labor 2012 election effort here Wednesday.
"We are not dealing with your parents' and grandparents' Republican Party," Strickland said. "They have been taken over by radicals and extremists, and if we don't recognize the danger, we could lose everything."
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's recent choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate makes that crystal clear, Strickland said.
"Romney has no core beliefs," Strickland said, but Ryan's philosophy was formed by Ayn Rand, the right-wing Russian émigré who wrote, "Money is the barometer of a society's virtues."
"In other words, anyone who has to struggle is somehow inferior," Strickland said. "This is Social Darwinism" - an idea popularly known as "survival of the fittest."
Romney was "born into privilege and wants to be president to protect the privileged," he charged. "Ryan voted against extending unemployment benefits. He wants to privatize Social Security and eviscerate Medicare.
"They are not joking. They have resources. They have the Supreme Court."
The GOP, Strickland said, "fundamentally wants to change our country. They don't like America the way it is. That's why this election is so hugely, hugely important. If we lose the White House and they control Congress and the Supreme Court, they will have unbridled power and one thing they want to do even more than defeat the Democrats is to crush organized labor."
"This election is the firewall," he said. "If we don't do it now, the game is pretty much over. These next 83 days are the most important days that you and I will live."
Citing the labor-led repeal of Senate Bill 5, the GOP attempt last year to bust public employee unions in Ohio, Strickland told the union officials, "You demonstrated that you can do it. You are the salt of the earth."
Strickland's comments were echoed in speeches by top union leaders during the four-hour meeting at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 189 Hall.
"Losing is not an option," state AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said. "SB 5 will look tame if there is a Romney-Ryan administration."
"They have no concern for the wellbeing of working people. They want to divide workers. They are trying to get to blue collar white guys with race-baiting," he said, pointing to a recent Romney TV ad falsely claiming that President Obama seeks to eliminate work requirements to obtain welfare.
"We must harness labor's power for labor," Burga said. "They will outspend us. They will use the race card. They will try to suppress the vote. But we have the infrastructure. We have our members. We have the truth. We have the moral authority.
"Do we have the will to win?" he asked, as the crowd cheered and answered, "Yes, we do!"
Ohio AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Petee Talley blasted GOP efforts to suppress voting by workers and minorities by limiting early voting at election boards in the 35 days before the Nov. 6 election.
"They have also purged 1.3 million voters from the rolls since 2008," she said, outlining the broad Ohio Unity Coalition effort she heads, called "Stand Your Ground and Vote," seeking to register voters and organize early voting by mail or in person at the election boards.
Former State AFL-CIO President Joe Rugola said the current Republican Party is run by "theocrats."
"They want a new mullah-based government. They want a 'right to birth' movement, not a right to life movement. Their idea is 'throw them away as soon as they get here.'"
The appeal of the tea partyers, he said, is based on racial hatred inflamed by the election of Obama, the first African American president. Another GOP element is "old-fashioned right-wing ideologues," who "are opposed to the whole idea of democracy," Rugola said. "You can call it what you will but it is a new fascism, a corporate underwritten effort, all driven by and controlled by the Wall Street crowd."
Rugola praised Vice President Joe Biden who was attacked by Republicans when he charged they seek to reimpose "shackles and chains" on working people.
"Don't b.s. one union member. This is precisely where we'll end up again," Rugola said. "Make no mistake about it. They plan to put workers back in chains." Recalling his days growing up in Western Pennsylvania, he said the coal operators and the GOP see workers "as beasts of burden, to be used and thrown away."
"We have to keep democracy safe from the new Republican Party," the labor leader said. "They know democracy is the last remaining obstacle to their naked power. Joe Biden is right. We must save the unions and save democracy!"
Plans were outlined for the Labor 2012 effort including canvassing, phone banks, worksite leafleting, and use of social media. All speakers stressed the importance of re-electing U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, who has been targeted with $13 million in corporate attack ads, as well as other labor-endorsed candidates. Speakers also stressed the importance of passing a redistricting reform to end gerrymandering that favors one political party. The anti-gerrymandering reform will be Issue 2 on the November ballot.
Photo: Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Ohio, accompanied by local fire fighters. On the far right is labor secretary Hilda Solis. Ohio workers realize they must unite against dangerous right-wing efforts to crush organized labor. Amy Sancetta/AP