Taking back Ohio!

Under the banner headline “Take Back Ohio,” the Ohio AFL-CIO has put in place a 10-zone statewide political structure. The Take Back Ohio political organization, while working in cooperation with the area labor federations, is nevertheless an independent labor political structure dealing solely with working-class issues and endorsed candidates. Each zone covers several county labor federations and has a full-time coordinator, with a person from each local federation assigned to work with the coordinator.

Within each zone, actions are taking place to reach out to the local communities, building coalitions around issues and candidates.

Take Back Ohio took off with a bang on Election Day in November 2005. Unionists talked to voters at polling places then, collecting 50,000 signatures on a petition to raise the minimum wage in Ohio. At a news conference in January, Tim Burga, the state’s AFL-CIO legislative director, announced a “crusade for a revised minimum wage.”

Ohioans for a Fair Minimum Wage, a coalition of the AFL-CIO and nonprofit, community, faith-based, and civil rights organizations, is circulating petitions in union halls, at job sites and at public rallies. Unionists were back at the polls on Primary Day, May 2.

Ohio’s Republican-controlled Legislature is feeling the pressure. After stonewalling all attempts to raise the state’s minimum wage of $4.15 an hour, they suddenly decided to raise it to $5.15, the federal level. But the campaign to raise Ohio’s minimum wage to $6.85 per hour is going full steam ahead.

The state labor movement is supporting a slate of candidates put forward by the Democrat Party. These include Reps. Ted Strickland for governor and Sherrod Brown for U.S. Senate. Both have 100 percent labor voting records in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Town hall meetings held throughout the state by broad coalitions with strong labor support are getting large, enthusiastic turnouts. Campaigns are reaching out to rural and semi-rural districts with support coming from family farmers and people in economically devastated small towns.

The Ohio AFL-CIO is being reorganized under the New Alliance program. The program consolidates all the county federations into seven area labor federations, each of which will have full-time staff, with executive board members assigned from each local group.

The national AFL-CIO, together with other organizations such as America Votes and ACORN, are targeting Ohio with funds and organizers as a state that will be key in deciding the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. They are saying in very strong language: “Take Back Ohio in 2006, and Take Back our Country in 2008!”