CLEVELAND -- Tens of thousands of workers and their families took part in Labor Day rallies, marches, festivals and picnics in cities across Ohio honoring labor and kicking off its 2010 campaign to defeat the Republicans in November.
Warning of the extreme danger to the rights working people and to democracy if Republicans win, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and candidates for federal, state and local office took part in the weekend events. Vice President Joseph Biden joined Strickland in a two and half hour march in Toledo. Other major actions occurred in Cleveland, Lorain, Barberton, Columbus, Ashland, Lima, Portsmouth, Fremont and Cincinnati.
In Lorain, where the annual festival Sunday drew 10,000 to 20,000 according to Mayor Tony Krasienko, Trumka defiantly declared that "the working class built this country, we defend it and we're going to take it back!"
"I'm sick of CEOs saying they love America, but hate American workers," he said, calling for electing "economic patriots" like Strickland, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher running for U.S. Senate and Congresswoman Betty Sutton.
Strickland, running for re-election, faces a strong challenge from former Congressman and Lehman Brothers Executive John Kasich.
"John Kasich is the poster child for everything that's wrong with America," Trumka thundered. "He gives new meaning to the term CEO. For him it stands for Chief Executive Outsourcer."
Sutton faces multimillionaire car dealer Tom Ganley, who Trumka charged "promises to cut the dickens out of Social Security, Medicare and veterans' benefits."
"After Nov. 3," he said. "we can be stronger. We can win the Employee Free Choice Act and guarantee the right of workers to join unions."
But, he said, "if we let the corporate traitors buy this democracy, if John Boehner becomes speaker of the House, there will be no jobs bills, no Employee Free Choice Act, no unemployment extensions and they will try to repeal the health care reform."
Reflecting concern about slow progress on the economy and the so-called enthusiasm gap, Lorain AFL-CIO President Joe Thayer said "Everybody's frustrated. But you have to be frustrated at the right people. We can't have George Bush's henchmen back in office."
Strickland, also speaking in Lorain, voiced the same urgency.
"The future of our state and nation are at stake," he said. "This is the final struggle, the death rattle of the extreme right. This is not the Republican Party we used to know. The Republican Party has been taken over by radical extremists. They want to change our country fundamentally. They want to eliminate Social Security and change the constitution. They see power slipping away from them. They know if they win in Ohio they will be in a good position to win the presidency in two years."
Strickland blasted Kasich for voting for NAFTA, the trade agreement, which cost Ohio hundreds of thousands of jobs, and against providing relief to the affected workers.
"He tried to cut $1 billion from veterans' health care and voted against increasing the minimum wage."
Kasich made $l.3 million at Lehman Brothers in 2008, the year the Wall St. bank collapsed. "It would take a minimum wage worker 96 years to make that much. He thinks he's special."
In the collapse "our state pensions lost $400 million, but Kasich got a $400 thousand bonus," Strickland said, charging that Kasich and the Republicans want to "let their buddies come into Ohio and outsource everybody. That threatens American values."
"I will fight like hell to keep John Kasich from bringing Wall Street values into the office of the governor."
Paul Lemon, AFL-CIO field director in Ohio for Labor 2010, the union's election campaign, said dozens of staff from unions, including the United Food and Commercial Workers, the United Mineworkers and the American Federation of Teachers were being released to work in this key battleground state.
Phone banks have been set up in union halls and other locations in 17 cities. Massive mailings and distribution of literature at work sites are scheduled as well as repeated door-to-door canvassing.
In Cleveland, the North Shore AFL-CIO launched a "Labor 2010 - Count Me In" campaign with this slogan on buttons and posters and signed up volunteers at its Labor Day march and picnic. Strickland and Fisher took part in the event and the governor is scheduled to speak at the federation's monthly delegate meeting Wednesday.
"The fight kicks off today," Lemon said. "We may be behind in polls right now, but there's no question when we get our members out, we will win."
Photo: AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka and Gov. Ted Strickland greet each other at Lorain's Labor Day festival. (Mike Gillis)