Union leader Rugola: This is our fight for democracy

White, African-American unionists unite for Obama

COLUMBUS, Ohio — At organized labor’s Get Out The Vote mobilization here last week, Ohio AFL-CIO President Joe Rugola announced that he will walk across the state, stopping at shut-down facilities, to publicize the over 122,000 jobs lost in that state due to the policies of the Bush administration. The “Walk for Economic Recovery” will kick off Oct. 5 in Youngstown, with a public rally at one of the many closed steel mills in the Mahoning Valley. Over 1,100 Ohio plants have been closed during the Bush administration, due to anti-labor policies of that group, Rugola told the audience.

Introducing Rugola, Steelworkers sub-director and Franklin County labor council President Dave Caldwell said 22,000 of the 122,000 jobs lost in Ohio due to Bush/GOP policies were steelworker jobs. “Four more years of this and we’ll be a third world nation,” Caldwell said. “Twenty three percent of all our manufacturing jobs are gone in our state due to the actions of these criminals. Nationally, we’ve gone from over 122,000 defined benefit pension plans when Bush took over, to under 21,000 now. Our only choice is to fight or die!”

“Time is up!” Rugola told the cheering crowd. “We have the kind of fight in front of us that only unionists really understand. We can’t back up a step and it’s now or never.” Harkening to the Union Army General Phil Sheridan, when he rallied retreating Union troops in the Shenandoah Valley, Rugola yelled: “Fight, dammit! Don’t cheer, FIGHT!!

“I no longer speak of this election as ‘historic,’ which, of course, it is,” said Rugola, “I really believe that it is epochal. We are now at a watershed moment in our nation’s history, much as the time that brought Lincoln into office to lead the fight to defeat slavery, or Franklin Roosevelt to the presidency, to defeat fascism and help us build our labor movement. This election will set our nation’s, and the world’s direction, possibly for the next century.”

Rugola’s Walk for Economic Justice will stretch 500 miles across the state of Ohio, and will involve 20-30 rallies and other media events. Organized labor is expected to use the events to build the ongoing labor walks for Barack Obama/Joe Biden and union-endorsed candidates throughout Ohio.

“We’re seeing some real shifts in our direction,” said Glenn Sheed, director of organized labor’s GOTV efforts in Columbus. “With the attention now on the economy and the economic disaster the Republicans have created, working folks are coming home. Who’s a pig, who wears lipstick and what McCain did 40 years ago matter little to someone who is losing their job and their health care,” he said.

“Make no mistake,” said Rugola, “This is our fight! This is our fight for democracy, as well as economic justice. And unionists understand democracy, real democracy that says that you and I, regular working folks, get a real say in what happens to us and our families. That is what we are about, what we are based on, down to the soles of our feet. When I was in elementary school, I remember learning about real democracy around my dinner table — when my dad, his brothers and many of the other coal miners in that small Western Pennsylvania mining community discussed real life, and what they needed to do to solve real problems. That’s real democracy,” Rugola said.

Closing the event, Ben Waxman told the audience that they will make history, one way or the other. “Let’s make history that we’ll be proud of,” said Waxman. “There are over 2 million Ohio unionists, white and African-American. We’re calling to show the world that white unionists are going vote in their own interests and elect the first African-American president, Barack Obama, to help us bring about the changes we need for us and our families, our communities.”

CORRECTION: In an earlier version the 'Walk for Economic Recovery' was incorrectly named 'Walk for Economic Justice.' We regret the error.