Militant rallies in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio, on Friday voiced mounting anger at threats by Republican Gov. John Kasich to slash jobs, services and union rights.
In Columbus hundreds gathered outside the Statehouse to hear speakers denounce proposals to cut already pared down educational, health, library, safety and other critical services.
The event was sponsored by One Ohio Now, a growing coalition of some 30 groups including the AFL-CIO, teachers and other public employee unions and community organizations dealing with a wide range of issues including housing, youth and childrens' services, legal aid, the environment and public transit.
The coalition advocates "a balanced approach" to the state's projected $8 - 10 billion deficit over the next two years. The Republican-controlled legislature must adopt a new biennial budget by July 1 and the coalition calls for new revenue sources - closing $7 billion in tax loopholes and restoring previous tax rates on corporations and high incomes - rather than attempting to cut services badly needed in the current recession.
"Unemployment in our community is 10 per cent," said Kirk Noden of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative. "Over the past two years aid to schools, universities and safety forces have been stretched to bare bones. We can't survive cuts."
Cathy Levine of the Universal Health Care Action Network said it would be inhuman to cut critically needed services funded by Medicaid.
"Every dollar Ohio spends brings in two dollars in federal money," she said. "Cutting these funds would mean job losses we cannot afford."
Debbie Hasek, a union librarian in Cleveland, said that "libraries are one of the few services left in our hard-hit communities. Because of cuts since 2002 many schools have cut libraries and the public libraries are the only way many students can access the internet."
Justin Hon, a member of the Cleveland Teachers Union, said class size is already excessive.
"We can't tolerate larger classes and cuts in programs that feed low income children. The gap between the richest and poorest is growing. If we see education as an equalizer we are deinvesting in our future."
In Cincinnati some 600 participants in the national AFL-CIO's annual Martin Luther King birthday observance cheered as speakers at a Community Forum called for heightened resistance to the assault on labor expected in the wake of the November elections including "a nationwide general strike" and reactivation of "the militant boycott weapons of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement."
The crowd then poured into the street behind a City of Cincinnati sanitation truck which led a stormy march to city hall symbolizing the historic connection between the 1968 Memphis Sanitation strike Rev. King died supporting and the current struggle in Ohio. The rolling echo of "we are the union, the mighty mighty union!" sounded in the concrete canyons of downtown Cincinnati. Efforts to privatize Cincinnati sanitation services were just defeated by labor a few weeks ago.
Speakers at a candlelight vigil at City Hall invoked Dr. King's militant legacy, his support for labor, his campaign against poverty and his opposition to militarism and the Vietnam war. AFL-CIO national Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker brought rank and file workers directly under attack in Ohio to the podium and with her powerful voice called for honoring Dr. King by reinvigorating the movement for social and economic justice.
The spirit evident at the events in Cincinnati clearly showed that a workers' rebellion could turn back the ultra-right anti-worker offensive begun by the Republican takeover of state government. For the first time in years, the annual memorial in this city felt like more than reverence to Dr. King's past legacy. It felt like Dr. King's fighting spirit was alive and well.
Revised 1/19/11. Phil Amadon contributed to this article.
Photo: Progress Ohio