Economic concerns behind political shift in Indiana

Barack Obama’s surge in Indiana’s Oct. 23 Big10 Battleground Poll to a 10 point lead over John McCain (51 to 41 percent) is not surprising, considering the sharp concerns raised by workers at a union-sponsored forum in Indianapolis Oct. 22.

“It’s not like you can just find another job. There aren’t any around here,” said Kathleen South of IUE-CWA Local 919 at the workers’ roundtable sponsored by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Indiana State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Joe Breedlove.

A report on the forum, which appeared on the federation’s website Oct. 23, sheds light on the underlying causes of the big change underway on the political landscape in Indiana.

South, who recently lost her job after the Visteon plant she worked at for 22 years closed down in March, was one of eight recently displaced workers who shared their stories with the labor leaders.

South told them: “I’ll be OK for a few more months but I know that eventually, I’m going to lose the house.”

Stories of home foreclosure and the fear it causes and stories about loss of health care benefits took center stage during the round table.

The official unemployment rate in Indiana has jumped two percent in the last year.

“Good jobs in Indiana are being shipped overseas,” Sweeney told the group, “and every person sitting here has been touched by the problems caused by plant closures and companies sending factories out of the United States. Corporate greed created a mess that the rest of us – including the next generation – will have to clean up.”

“I’m having to decide between paying my car bill and my mortgage and taking my medication,” said Sonia Cook, a member of UAW Local 226. “I’ve actually been skipping doses and cutting pills in half to reduce my costs.”

Cook was laid off when International Truck and Engine downsized its operation in Indianapolis.

Despite their deep personal suffering, workers at the roundtable were anxious to move the discussion from one about problems to one about solutions.

Michelle Harrison, who also lost her job at the Visteon plant, said, “We know that in the last eight years, the lives of working people have not been a priority for the Bush administration or Mitch Daniel’s (Indiana’s Republican governor) administration for that matter. We need people in office who are finally going to care about the people sitting at this table, instead of corporate interests. And this year it’s clear that Barack Obama and Jill Long Thompson are going to be the ones to stand up for the middle class.”

Thompson is running against Daniels whose first act after his election was to remove the collective bargaining rights of public employees. He also privatized many state services.

Andrea Mooney of UAW Local 663 saw her job go overseas. She had worked for the Guide Corp. which moved production of auto parts from Anderson, Ind., to Mexico.

“If we don’t elect people who finally protect us from unbalanced trade deals, things are only going to get worse,” she declared, adding, “My husband works for Navistar and we’re scared he’ll end up losing his job too, and we’ll be left with nothing.” She said that she supported Obama because he would fix trade deals and prevent jobs from going overseas.