CLEVELAND — Warning of dire consequences if John McCain is elected president, national and local labor leaders urged union activists here to drop everything else and get out the vote for Barack Obama.

“This is the last opportunity to make America look right for many, many years to come,” State AFL-CIO President Joe Rugola told a crowd of several hundred at the Steelworkers Local 979 hall. Rugola, who walked 75 miles over the previous five days in his cross-state Walk for Economic Recovery, stopping for rallies at union halls and closed plants between Youngstown and Cleveland, said the George Bush/John McCain policies have left the Ohio economy “a wreck.”

“Since Bush took office,” he said, “1,087 separate facilities have closed in Ohio. Over 200,000 manufacturing jobs have gone.”

McCain, he said, “acts like he just discovered the problem,” but for “the entire two-and-a-half decades he has been in Congress he supported the policies that led to this problem. He has encouraged Bush to tell Wall Street to do anything they want.”

“If I have to walk around the state 10 times, I will do it to emphasize that we’ve got one more chance and Barack Obama is our chance.”

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Gerald McEntee, who chairs the national AFL-CIO Political Action Committee, said McCain has conducted the “most dishonest, dishonorable campaign of distortion, distraction and lies about Barack Obama,” who has voted with labor almost 100 percent of the time.

Calling McCain “the king of deregulation,” McEntee said the Republican candidate is out to destroy unions and Social Security and tax workers’ health benefits.

Yet “too many people in our unions like John McCain,” McEntee said. “They use code words. In the past it was ‘guns, God and gays.’ Now they are using different code words, saying that Obama is a Muslim and openly saying they will not vote for him because he is Black. You tell anyone saying those things: that is bullshit — total, absolute bullshit.”

“Don’t let them con us again. I’ve seen that movie before and the ending is always bad.”

The same warning was sounded by AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, who told how white people in the dying Pennsylvania coal town he grew up in were being distracted from the economic and social crisis all around them because of racial bias towards Obama.

“Racism,” he said, “is used to divide us and we lose every time.”

Trumka traced the origins of racism in America to Bacon’s rebellion of 1676 when poor English and African indentured servants and debt-ridden farmers in Virginia made common cause against heavy taxes imposed by wealthy landowners. After the uprising was suppressed and its leaders hanged, Trumka said, the landowners began indoctrinating poor whites that they were racially superior.

“What would those poor workers tell us today? They would tell us: Vote for Barack Obama! Let us elect Obama and put a dent in the most evil system that’s ever been created — the system of racism.

Trumka said the AFL-CIO is mobilizing an army of volunteers and issuing a new leaflet every week. He urged the crowd to talk to their members “five, six, ten times,” to do mailings to members and to sign people up for phone banks and labor walks.

“If we do these things,” he said, “we will have a more progressive country, a more progressive economy and a whole lot more fun.”