By John Wojcik
In Toledo, Ohio, a 100-year-old plant that makes plumbing fixtures is closing. Two hundred men and women who make $19 an hour at the American Standard plant will be out on the streets.
In the same city, Johnson Controls, which made seats for the vehicles at the Jeep plant, lost its contract to a company in India.
The Ford stamping plant in Toledo’s suburbs, where workers make fenders and dash panels, will close soon.
It is much the same throughout Ohio, which has lost over 200,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000. “Manufacturing is getting its head handed to us around here,” said Thomas Joseph, business manger of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 50, which represents workers all over northwest Ohio.
The two Democratic presidential candidates, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have promised a fight to change this and organized labor in unionized Ohio has jumped into the 2008 elections to push for that change.
Some unions support Obama and others back Clinton. Signs are, however, that labor’s unity on issues will pull all unions together behind the eventual Democratic nominee and that many outside of organized labor will join in.
Infrastructure investment supported by the AFL-CIO could create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Many in Ohio see their state, with a huge reserve of skilled workers, as the perfect place to build an economy based on renewable energy technology.
Toledo itself is a historic center for the glass industry, which could benefit from government-backed efforts to increase the use of solar energy.
The 6-million-member Change to Win federation has endorsed Obama because he says he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Unions see NAFTA, with its lack of decent labor and environmental standards, as responsible for the loss of millions of U.S.
The 10-million-member AFL-CIO has not made an endorsement. Some AFL-CIO unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers and the Machinists, are backing Clinton.
Unions have jumped into the Obama and Clinton campaigns because each has called for significant infrastructure investment, development of alternative energy and other green collar jobs and strengthening labor standards for both existing and any future trade agreements.
The AFL-CIO has called for repeal of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, extension of tax cuts to working people and tax credits to help working families pay for college.
Obama and Clinton both support these positions and say government has a responsibility to protect workers who are struggling.
All the unions in Ohio are concerned about the mortgage crisis. In the Toledo area home prices average $100,000, yet the city is in the top 20 in the nation in number of foreclosures.
Obama calls for $10 billion in bonds to help workers avoid foreclosure. He would also give a tax credit to struggling homeowners to cover 10 percent of the interest on their mortgages each year. Clinton would temporarily freeze foreclosures and interest rates on adjustable rate mortgages
John Anklam, 39, is a recently laid off autoworker enrolled in a Teamster-endorsed truck driver training program in Toledo.
“His stand against NAFTA and his inspiring style is why I’m for Obama,” he said. “We need a fair shake and we can’t get it if they can dump us for cheaper labor somewhere else.”
Asked what he would do if Clinton becomes the nominee, Anklam said, “McCain would be a disaster. I’ll support her if that happens. She may not be as exciting but she’s got brains and she’d fight for the jobs.”
Karen Ackerman, AFL-CIO political department director, said, “Labor will be united for the election of a pro-worker president in November. The unions will be mobilized on the issues that unite most Americans: an economy that works for all, universal health care, support for the Employee Free Choice Act so that everyone can exercise their right to form a union, and an end to the war in Iraq so that money will be available to rebuild our country.”
At its executive council meeting in San Diego, March 4–6, the federation’s leaders are expected to authorize $54 million for grassroots organizing around the elections. Total spending on 528 races, including presidential, senatorial, congressional and state legislative races and ballot initiatives, is expected to reach $200 million, according to Ackerman.
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