In Ohio, job losses loom large

CLEVELAND — Industrial plants continue to close down, and the official unemployment rate goes up. This is the real situation faced by Ohio’s working families as they go into the home stretch of the 2004 election campaign.

Ohio’s official unemployment rate climbed to 6.3 percent in August, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services announced, a 16,000 increase in the number of unemployed in one month. That number does not include thousands of destitute, long-term unemployed workers who are no longer listed on the state’s unemployment rolls.

Hundreds of homeless people without jobs nor income of any kind are overtaxing this city’s welfare agencies, churches, and shelters, which desperately try to provide them with a minimum means of existence. Starvation is a growing reality for families. Cleveland has just been listed as the most poverty-stricken city in the nation.

Steelworkers employed at Elkem Industries are joining their brothers and sisters in two other industrial plants in Ashtabula, Ohio, who have been told their plants are shutting down. The steelworkers union is going nonstop to try to save whatever is possible for their members in pensions, health care, plant closing payments, and provisions provided for in the contracts. Bankruptcy courts provide little relief for workers, despite the tenacious fight put up by the union on their behalf.

“How can any Ohio worker vote for George Bush for president?” asked John Edwards at a recent rally in Springfield, located in southern Ohio. Citing 230,000 job losses in the Buckeye State since 2001, he emphasized that Bush is the first president in U.S. history to preside over a net loss of jobs — at least 1.1 million nationwide — during a four-year term of office.

Added to the loss of jobs, of course, is the loss of health care by 5 million Americans since Bush became president. This is especially devastating to seniors, who expected that a genuine prescription drug benefit would be added under the “Medicare reform” law that was passed by the Bush administration and the Republican Congress.

The Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans, along with the national ARA, has denounced this new Medicare law as a multi-billion dollar giveaway to the insurance companies and drug manufacturers. Instead of providing for a true prescription drug benefit, the law actually prohibits measures that should be taken to control and bring down prices. Seniors’ costs for health care will escalate under this law.

The Cleveland AFL-CIO, in cooperation with the Ohio ARA, has mailed an exposé of the Medicare law along with absentee ballot applications to 19,000 retired union members in northeastern Ohio. This week will mark the beginning of a massive get-out-the-vote (GOTV) drive directed at union retirees.

All aspects of Ohio’s “Take Back Ohio” 2004 election campaign are moving forward in high gear. Nearly 250,000 new registrations have been turned into the state’s election boards, resulting in a huge backlog of registrations that have to be processed and loaded into the voting systems. Pressure is being brought to bear by voter coalitions to force the boards to hire enough people to complete processing before registration deadlines.

The AFL-CIO’s “labor walks” are moving forward with large numbers of union staffers and volunteers coming into Ohio to assist with the door-to-door contact with union members. The work also includes mailings and phone calls to tens of thousands of union members on the issues and GOTV activities.

Large rallies for Edwards and Kerry are taking place in all corners of the state. The so-called polls showing Kerry to be 10 percent behind Bush in Ohio are depicted by union activists as being out of touch with reality, given the expected large turnout of new voters.

The author can be reached at wallyk@ncweb.com.click here for Spanish text