Workers at auto plant keep McCain at a distance

Only a handful of auto workers at the Lordstown, Ohio plant showed up for a meeting that management arranged for those who wanted to meet Republican presidential candidate John McCain when he toured the plant June 27.

“Management invited him,” said Tim Niles, a worker in the plant. “It had nothing to do with us. We’re with Obama.”

The problem that the virtual boycott represented for McCain is that Niles, who is white and is a registered Democrat, is the type of voter McCain is counting on if he is to win the “swing” state of Ohio. McCain’s trip to the auto plant was part of the Republican strategy to win blue collar workers and if the reaction he got at the plant June 27 is any indication he is in trouble. Although management welcomed him with a red carpet tour, workers gave him the cold shoulder.

Greg George, another white worker at the plant told a reporter for the Financial Times, “We’re a working-class factory, McCain calls himself a moderate, but his party has been a disaster for working people over the past eight years.” The opinion he voiced to the reporter parallels closely the position put forward in literature distributed by the United Auto Workers, the union that represents workers in the plant.

Analysts say the only way McCain can win states like Ohio and Pennsylvania is to attract so-called Reagan Democrats – white, working-class voters who switched to the Republican column in the 1980’s to back Ronald Reagan. Since the “Reagan Democrats” can’t be won over on the basis of McCain’s economic record, he has to appeal to them by exploiting existing fears on the issue of “national security” and by raising doubts about Obama’s “experience” and “values.” In addition, he counts on the ultra-right to supplement this strategy with outright appeals to racism.

So far, the McCain strategy does not seem to be working. The latest polls show him trailing in Ohio and Pennsylvania and nationally.

George said that workers who did attend the meeting with McCain “weren’t too impressed with what he had to say.” McCain supported the “free trade” agreements that unions blame for loss of jobs. He blamed the Great Depression of the 1930’s on lack of free trade, rather than on corporate greed. Rather than calling for the types of massive jobs programs that pulled the country out of that depression, he offered only vague promises that he would “put the country first over party.”

Lordstown is part of a section of Ohio that has suffered massive loss of manufacturing jobs, particularly in the steel industry. It is in the highly industrialized Trumbull County where John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, beat George Bush by 24 points.

jwojcik @pww.org