CLEVELAND - Hundreds of workers and their allies at events throughout Ohio rallied this week for jobs and to restore union and voting rights under siege by right-wing extremism.
In Cleveland some 30 protesters picketed the Federal Building on Thursday before going to Sen. Rob Portman's office. to demand action on the growing jobs crisis. The event, part of a national "Jobs Not Cuts" day of action called by MoveOn was one of hundreds at congressional offices throughout the country. Portman, one of the six Republicans appointed to the deficit super-committee, opposes tax increases but has indicated willingness to close tax loopholes and invest in renewable energy.
On Monday the West Chester office of House Majority Leader John Boehner was picketed by 125 workers from throughout his district, loudly chanting, "Where are the jobs?" Boehner's staff locked the doors and refused to meet with a delegation.
"I don't think the congressman should be afraid of his own constituents," said Gabe Kramer, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union, according to a report in the Cincinnati Enquirer. The protesters became further enraged, the paper said, when they learned that Boehner was at a golf outing at a nearby country club. The office also locked out representatives from MoveOn on Thursday.
Thursday evening over 200 union activists and supporters gathered at Laborers Local 310 in Cleveland to kick off the campaign to repeal Senate Bill 5, the union-busting law enacted by Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled legislature. The law strips public employees of the right to bargain collectively. Voters will have a chance to overturn SB 5 on Nov. 8, when it will appear on the ballot as Issue 2.
"We are here to celebrate the work up to this point," said Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO, "and to launch the next phase: Vote No on Issue 2!"
"This is not about politicians. It's not about President Obama or anyone else," said Ben Waxman, a staff representative of the national AFL-CIO. "This is a fight for our survival. This is about us."
Waxman praised the historic effort by more than 10,000 volunteers who collected 1.3 million signatures on petitions to place the measure on the ballot.
"This was the result of unprecedented solidarity of the entire labor movement and its allies," he said.
Waxman outlined plans to reach 1.7 million union members, retirees and their families as well as countless others in working class neighborhoods.
"We will reach them again and again at work and at home by phone, mail and direct contact," he said.
Canvassing and phone banks have already begun by unions and We Are Ohio, the statewide labor-community coalition coordinating the effort.
"Right now public opinion is on our side," Waxman said, referring to polls showing repeal supported by 58 percent to 32 percent with only 10 percent undecided.
Because of this, Kasich offered Monday to negotiate a revision of the law if the referendum were taken off the ballot, but the labor movement was united in saying that there was nothing good in the measure and it had to be repealed in its entirety.
Waxman vowed that labor would "overcome $40 million in lies" expected from groups led by Karl Rove and the oil billionaire Koch brothers for propaganda to demonize public workers and promote the law.
"Everyone in our national AFL-CIO office knows Ohio is the battleground state," Waxman said. "The entire country is watching. Ohio will determine whether or not there is a labor movement."
In addition to repealing SB 5, the event also backed a new petition campaign to repeal a voter suppression law known as House Bill 194. The measure greatly shortens the time for early voting, prevents election boards from promoting voting by mail and stops poll workers from helping voters who show up at the wrong voting precinct. Applegate said the law was directed against heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County where the Board of Elections had taken steps to encourage voting.
Labor, she said, must help collect the more than 231,000 signatures needed by Sept. 29 or the law will immediately go into effect and would impact both the elections this year and the 2012 presidential election.
The Cleveland kickoff was one of two dozen held by central labor councils in recent days throughout Ohio.
Photo Bill Obbagy/PW