Labor working to take back Ohio

CLEVELAND – On Dec. 9, 1,500 union activists packed the Columbus, Ohio, Veterans Memorial Hall for a “Take Back Ohio/Labor 2004” conference. Energized and determined, they headed home filled with the crusading spirit sweeping the country that “Bush out the door in 2004” must be the only possible result of this year’s election campaign.

At the conference, an Elections 2004 Task Force presented the “Ohio plan” to “take back our country in 2004 and take back Ohio in 2006.” The plan is integrated with the national AFL-CIO 2004 campaign.

Phase One, January through March, is to have at least 80 percent of union members registered to vote, and to begin leafleting on issues. The national AFL-CIO is contacting local union members throughout the country who have been inactive, do not vote, or are not registered.

The goal is to increase the vote of these members, sometimes called “swing voters,” by 5 percent. Millions of them are being contacted with mailings and phone banks working out of the national AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, and state federations.

A second part of Phase One is building an election infrastructure in affiliated local unions that will reach all members on job sites, in union halls, and in their homes. The aim is to increase the labor vote an additional 5 percent. Special emphasis is placed on selecting local union and job-site coordinators in every local union. One thousand of these coordinators were present at the Columbus conference. Most AFL-CIO staff have been assigned to build local union action committees headed up by the coordinators. Monthly leaflets are being provided by the national AFL-CIO to the local unions for distribution.

County labor federations are forming committees to assist the locals with their work. The Cleveland AFL-CIO’s committee, which was already in place from past elections, has tripled in size.

The county committees have a second function: to reach out to community organizations and pull together broad-based, labor-community registration campaigns. In Cleveland and other Ohio cities, labor is coming together with the NAACP National Voter Fund, church leaders, Working America, peace groups, and a variety of other organizations.

These coalitions are conducting loosely coordinated but highly effective registration and issue-oriented work in wards and precincts. In Cleveland, Working America is reported to have 50,000 nonunion workers signed to cards expressing their desire to be in a union and active in election work.

But the level of activity is far from uniform throughout Ohio, nor in other states. Organizations working on a national level are not yet functioning in many localities, especially in smaller communities outside of large urban centers.

Activists who are feeling the fires for change and want to get involved may want to look up their labor federations, local unions, NAACP chapters, active clergy, peace groups, or teachers’ unions. If nothing is moving, then a few friends can get something started with registration cards from the local election board.

Ongoing actions by the steelworkers fighting for pensions and health care are related to the Labor 2004 campaign. Democratic candidates are committing themselves to replacing Bush’s Labor Department and Pension Board Guarantee Corporation appointees, and ensuring that workers’ pensions will be paid. Northeastern Ohio cities are passing resolutions demanding the PBGC pay full pensions. A March 15 rally is scheduled in the steel town of Canton.

The Dennis Kucinich campaign is providing an outlet for many who support his message for getting the corporate thieves out of Iraq and the UN in, for putting an end to the “criminal” CEOs’ ability to outsource everything – including their corporate headquarters – to dodge taxes, and for getting workers back to work by investing billions in rebuilding our country’s infrastructure and creating new sources of energy that don’t rely on oil. He has picked up on the “two Americas” slogan and is going to closed mills and factories, and depressed neighborhoods, to emphasize the need for jobs and health care.

Delegates at county AFL-CIO meetings have enthusiastically grabbed Kucinich yard signs, bumper stickers, and campaign flyers. Most unions present at these meetings have endorsed and are working for other candidates, but all say Kucinich has a message that has to get out.

Bush out the door in 2004!

The author can be reached at wallyk@ncweb.com.