CLEVELAND – The battle for affordable healthcare was the central theme of this year’s May Day event here, where, for the second year in a row, the Cleveland AFL-CIO officially observed this historic working-class holiday.

For decades, the May Day holiday was kept alive by left-progressives, ignored by the labor movement and unknown to nearly all workers. This is no longer the case in Cleveland. The annual May Day event is now seen as a time to bring the most active unionists and advanced ideas into the mainstream of the labor movement.

Nearly 200 people attended the May 2 event. More than $5,000 was raised for the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs, the statewide coalition of 300 organizations that is battling the big pharmaceutical companies for a Prescription Drug Fair Pricing Act in Ohio. The master of ceremonies was Tom Frisbie, president of the Cleveland AFL-CIO.

Dr. Wendy Johnson, medical director of Cleveland’s Dept. of Public Health, spoke of the nationwide crisis in health care and the 75 million people who have lacked health insurance at some time during the past two years.

Pete Talley, secretary-treasurer of the Ohio AFL-CIO, described the work of the Rx Coalition. Despite court challenges by the drug companies, the coalitionis growing and will launch a mass campaign to pressure the legislature to pass the bill.

Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-Ohio) said “healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” and the money from the Bush tax cut proposal could provide prescription drug coverage for every American.

Favorite-son presidential candidate Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) condemned the Bush administration’s rush to war and plans for tax cuts, saying you can’t have funds for healthcare, schools and jobs with huge war costs and huge tax cuts for the rich. “Everything all of us have worked for is on the line,” he said, adding that he would soon announce a plan to take private insurance out of healthcare and provides universal healthcare for all. He received two standing ovations.

Three activists were recognized for their dedication to the cause of working people: Athena Godet-Calogeras, co-chair of the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs, State Representative Dale Miller, author of the Rx fair pricing bill, and Nancy Colon, Teamster rank-and-file leader.