Labor rallies for high-stakes election

CLEVELAND — The Ohio AFL-CIO is mobilizing an army of political activists to make sure Democrats win the state in next year’s elections.

Under the slogan, “The road to the White House runs through Ohio,” hundreds of political coordinators and local union leaders, many of them veterans of past electoral campaigns, have met in six regional “political training meetings” throughout the state recently to discuss plans to reach union members and supporters.

Underscoring the urgency of the situation confronting working people, Joe Rugola, president of the state labor organization, told those meeting here Nov. 27, “We are perched on the edge of what may be the most difficult economic period in our lifetimes. There is a greater concentration of wealth than anytime since the eve of the 1929 stock market crash that set off the Great Depression.”

The 2008 election, he said, is “the last good shot to change course” from the disastrous tax, trade and budget policies that have created this crisis.

“We have to convince our members of the importance of this election,” he said. “All the Democratic candidates have weaknesses, but for those of you who play golf, there are no ‘mulligans,’ no do-overs. This is our only shot.”

Rugola said that without a Democrat in the White House, “there could be severe consequences for generations to come. Our children and grandchildren will pay for years.”

Rugola pointed to dramatic gains labor has made since Democrat Ted Strickland was elected governor and Democrats won most state offices as well as electing Sherrod Brown to the U.S. Senate in 2006. The gains have included sweeping changes in enforcing prevailing wage laws and allowing unions to organize.

In addition to the White House, there are real possibilities to win more Ohio congressional seats for the Democrats, but Rugola warned that Republicans plan to promote hysteria and scapegoat immigrants to distract voters from the real problems.

“They will tell us immigrants, not the corporations, are responsible for the loss of jobs,” he said. “We must convince our people to keep their eyes on the ball.”

Jobs, universal affordable health care and the right to organize are key to reaching union members and establishing “an economy that works for all,” said Jim Tackett, AFL-CIO staff representative, who presented a slide show on these issues.

The AFL-CIO will be able to reach 2.1 million Ohio members and their families in 2008, said Ben Waxman, state director of the Labor 2008 campaign. This is the highest number of any state, he said, and it is due in large part to the organizing efforts of Working America, the unions’ community affiliate, whose membership here is expected to reach 800,000.

With offices around the state, teams from Working America have gone door-to-door recruiting people on such issues as the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP), living wage campaigns, union solidarity and elections, said Dan Heck, the group’s state director. Members are contacted six to 38 times in person and by phone, mail and email in the course of a campaign, and they vote like members of “regular” unions.

Workshops at the meetings addressed issues in reaching union members at their places of work.