Thousands protest Koch Brothers convention in Ohio

COLUMBUS – In a powerful rebuff to extremist efforts to push “Right-To-Work” and other anti-working class programs, some 4000 union members and supporters poured into Columbus Friday, Aug. 21 to protest the “Summit on the American Dream” held by Americans for Prosperity” (AFP), a political action group funded by the right-wing billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch.

Protesters sported a kaleidoscope of union t-shirts on this bright sunny day, as they poured off buses from cities throughout the state, and as music by Bruce Springsteen and other artists blared from the stage at McPherson Commons.

Ten buses of UAW auto workers unloaded red-clad protesters, joined by busloads of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) members in green. Teachers also wore red. Teamsters in black shirts mixed with steelworkers in blue and United Food and Commercial workers wearing yellow. A group backing Bernie Sanders for President joined in their “Feel the Bern” shirts. A giant puppet mocking Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who passed a “Right-To-Work” law there, mixed in with dozens of union banners and hundreds of signs. There was also a contingent of red t-shirted Communist Party members with a banner reading “Socialism USA – Of, By and For Working People. Modern, Democratic and Green.”

They gathered for a “Rally to Defend the American Dream.”

“Stand up to the Koch Brothers,” Ohio AFL-CIO PresidentTim Burga exhorted the cheering crowd. “Stand up to their agenda of busting unions, destroying pensions, privatizing Social Security and Medicare so that they can enrich the few while impoverishing the many!

“Too many people have fought too hard, for too long, under tough conditions, for us to allow a handful of greedy billionaires to steal our democracy! It’s too precious for all of us and we won’t stand for it!”

The corporate media may have preferred to cover the AFP event, with appearances from GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal, without distractions. However, the huge demonstration took over the front page of the Columbus Dispatch. All TV stations covered the march, displacing attention from the Koch Brothers group to the thousands of demonstrators calling for democracy and worker’s rights.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, also a candidate for president, was not invited to the Summit evidently because he had agreed to expand Medicaid in the state as part of Pres. Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Nonetheless, he was very much on the minds of the protesters because of the infamous Senate Bill 5, his failed 2011 attempt to outlaw collective bargaining rights for public employees, an attack on public workers’ rights. The protest served as a powerful warning to Kasich, who is anxious to show he has this key battleground state under control as he attempts to sell his candidacy to the GOP, that any attempt to use Republican control of the legislature to pass Right-To Work in Ohio would unleash the same massive uprising that repealed SB5.

“We’ve seen firsthand what these so-called ‘Right-To-Work’ laws do to working folks,” said Ohio UAW Retiree Director Bill Bowers. “The billionaires push their anti-worker laws, telling people it’s in their interests, but it literally wipes out working class communities. Small businesses and local tax bases are killed, as well as hurting workers’ bargaining power. We had to show up to let folks know that we are drawing a line in the sand in Ohio. No further!”

“Keep the faith, don’t give in,” Rick Ward, a UAW worker from Kokomo, Ind., declared. “The billionaires passed ‘Right-To-Work’ in Indiana. They thought we’d just lay down and give up. Instead, they just pissed us off! We got so inspired we just organized 4000 new workers into the union!” The response from the crowd was deafening cheers!

“We’ve seen the Koch Brothers. type of ‘prosperity,'” said Mike Walton, leading a delegation of Teamsters who recently suffered cuts in their federally administered pensions. “It doesn’t work for regular working folks,” he said. “Some of our people had their pensions cut by over 65 percent. If that’s ‘prosperity,’ it’s not for us!” “We’re all with Bernie,” he added, referring to Vermont Sen. and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a socialist. “He introduced a bill that would restore our pensions. He stood up for us.”

“We are the majority, we are the people!” said Rev. Susan Smith, an African American leader, as protesters prepared to march.

“The corporate politicians love to talk about ‘takers and makers,’ as though they’ve ever made anything in their lives,” she said. “Every road and every bridge, every school and every home, every hotel and building, everything, was made by you! All they have is money! We are the people, and united there is nothing we can’t accomplish!”

With bystanders, including some police cheering them on, the crowd marched to the Columbus Convention Center, a sea of colors chanting, “People’s needs – not corporate greed,” “United we stand, divided we fall,” “No justice – no peace!”

Photo: Ohio workers on the march against the Koch brothers.  |  Bruce Bostick/PW


Rick Nagin
Rick Nagin

Rick Nagin has written for People's World and its predecessors since 1970. He has been active for many years in Cleveland politics and the labor movement.

Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and leader in Ohio Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.