Lessons of Ohio

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has drawn some important lessons from last week's election in Ohio that repealed a state law severely limiting the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Worse, it threatened to inspire passage of similar anti-bargaining laws elsewhere.

Listen to Trumka, a man who obviously knows what he's talking about. He cites post-election polls showing that more than half of Ohio's voters correctly “perceived the law as a political maneuver by Gov. John Kasich and state Republicans to weaken labor unions, rather than a genuine effort to make state government more efficient.”

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Another poll, done for the AFL-CIO, showed that more than half the voters also found that Kasich and his allies “are putting the interests of big corporations ahead of average working people.”

Voters everywhere in the mid-term elections clearly wanted change. But, as Trumpka says, they did not want “political maneuvers and overreach” like those of Kasich and Republican legislators. They want effective action to curb unemployment, create jobs and deal with the other severe economic problems facing the country.

As Trumka notes, public employees, union members, Democrats and liberals voted overwhelmingly to repeal the Ohio law, but so did a majority of voters “from households with no public employee, workers without union representation and independents – as well as 30 percent of Republicans and 36 percent of conservatives.”

One of the key lessons Trumka draws from Ohio's election is that “the myth of the pampered public employee has been busted. Public employees didn't cause the economic crisis and they're not the enemy. Demonization of public employees is neither a strategy nor a solution and the heartland Americans who voted to restore rights for public employees understood that.”

The election also reinforced the continued need for working people, public and private employees alike, to join closely together. That's what happened in Ohio. There, as Trumka notes, “firefighters, teachers and other public employees were joined by plumbers, pilots and all kinds of private sector employees to win. Worker to worker, neighbor to neighbor, the message spread, and what began as an attempt to divide workers flopped famously. In the end, working people's solidarity was the message.”

Politicians could also learn important lessons – if they will. For the Ohio voters “showed that when fundamental rights and livelihoods are targeted, working people will not only defend themselves, but come back stronger.”

The outcome of the Ohio vote should show politicians seeking office that it would be wise for them to pay much more attention to the wishes of working and middle class voters than to those of the wealthy and privileged. Says Trumka:

“Cutting taxes for millionaires and billionaires, scapegoating working Americans and their unions and downsizing Social Security and Medicare may get you a standing ovation from the 1%, but the voters who decide elections will not be fooled – and you may just get more than you bargained for.”

Trumka's correct. But despite the results in Ohio and the lessons they hold for the anti-labor political right, many undoubtedly will continue what the AFL-CIO sees as “part of Wall Street's strategy to chip away at collective bargaining rights, piece by piece, law by law, until unions and collective bargaining rights are destroyed.”

Working people and their unions can be reasonably certain, at least, that they'll have strong support in trying to withstand the attack – including support from the Occupy Wall Street movement, which Trumka credits with “redefining the political narrative.”

The next major test will come in the presidential and congressional elections in 2012. They're especially looking for support from the swing voters who supported President Obama in the 2008 election and generally have the same political views as the majority of Ohio voters.

Trumka describes the swing voters as “working Americans with modest incomes, moderate views and little patience for polices that aren't fair and don't work.”

He says politicians seeking election or re-election next year must heed them and “support public policies for the 99 percent – policies that create jobs, invest in America's future, safeguard Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and promote fiscal sanity by requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.”

OK, that's asking for much more than we've been getting. But the Ohio vote demonstrated that it is possible to garner the votes necessary to overcome the forces that would deny us vital economic and political rights.

Copyright © 2011 Dick Meister