The Lessons of Ohio
By Richard Trumka
November 16, 2011
"Remember Ohio." Those two words should carry new
meaning to politicians in Congress and state houses who
think they can respond to unemployment, budget crises
and voter anger with faux solutions that serve up red
meat to their right-wing base.
With their now-famous rejection of a state law limiting
public employees' right to bargain collectively, Ohio
voters sent this emphatic reminder to Republicans (and
some Democrats as well): 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.
Four lessons to remember from Ohio:
1. 2010 didn't mean what you think.
Challengers in the 2010 mid-term elections benefited
from a formidable current for change, but the change
voters wanted was a solution to the economy and the
jobs crisis - not political maneuvers and overreach.
Keep in mind, too, that voter turnout in mid-term
elections is unrepresentatively low: Fewer votes were
cast to elect John Kasich governor in 2010 than were
cast last week to defeat SB5, the anti-worker law
pushed forward by the governor and the Republican
majority in the state legislature.
Across the board, voters in the Buckeye state said the
anti-worker law "was not the kind of change Ohio was
looking for in 2010," according to a post-election
survey conducted by Hart Research for the AFL-CIO.
Voters, in fact, are more leery than ever of partisan
games. Ohio voters said they perceived the law as a
political maneuver by Gov. Kasich and state Republicans
to weaken labor unions (53%) rather than a genuine
effort to make state government more efficient (33%).
Just as Ohioans voted down the anti-worker law, voters
in other states rejected right-wing overreach,
defeating a Maine law prohibiting a same-day voter
registration law that had been in effect for almost 40
years and recalling the state senate president in
Arizona, who had championed the state's anti-immigrant
2. In 2011 and 2012, fronting for the 1% is a
Remember, 2011 is not 2010, and politics in 2012 will
evolve even more. Give credit to the Occupy Wall Street
movement (and historic inequality) for redefining the
Fifty-six percent of Ohio voters in the Hart survey
agreed that Kasich and his allies "are putting the
interests of big corporations ahead of average working
These attitudes are widely shared by the swing voters
who supported President Obama in 2008 but elected
Republican governors and US representatives in 2010 -
and will decide the presidential and congressional
elections in 2012. They're working Americans with
modest incomes, moderate views and little patience for
policies that aren't fair and don't work.
More than 26 percent of 2010 Kasich voters, in fact,
were part of the overall 61 percent majority who
rejected the limits on collective bargaining.
This sea change was strongest among voters in the
middle of the economic and ideological spectrums. Yes,
public employees, union members, Democrats and liberals
voted overwhelmingly against the controversial law. But
they were joined by definitive majorities 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
3. The myth of the pampered public employee has been
The demonization of public employees is neither a
strategy nor a solution and the heartland Americans who
voted last week to restore rights for public employees
understood that. Public employees didn't cause the
economic crisis and they're not the enemy. They're our
neighbors and our friends, mainstays of the working
middle class, and the services they provide - from
police and fire protection to education, health care
and environmental protection - are essential to the
economy and our quality of life.
And yes, taking away the right to bargain collectively
in the public sector, which maintains standards at a
time when the private sector is running away from them,
will lower living standards for everybody.
Voters in the Hart poll said the anti-worker law would
have a mainly negative rather than positive impact on
the state's middle class. The attack on public
employees would be more harmful than helpful to wages
and benefits for all Ohio workers, they said (by a 20
point margin), to public safety (by 21 points), to
public education (by 14 points) and to jobs and the
economy (by 12 points).
4. Working people joined together will win.
Firefighters, teachers and other public employees were
joined by plumbers and 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.
Lest there be any doubt, voters in Ohio showed that
when fundamental rights and livelihoods are targeted,
working people will not only defend themselves, but
come back stronger. Conversely, when politicians listen
to and champion working people, they can win.
The 2011 elections are over, but their lessons are
lasting. Rather than pander to economic elites and an
ideological fringe, public officials and office-seekers
who want to be winners this time next year should
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 at the federal and state levels by
requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay their
At a time of near-double-digit unemployment and growing
concerns about economic insecurity and inequality, the
overwhelming majority of Americans are seeking
solutions, not scapegoats.
It's time for politicians to listen.
Richard Trumka is President of the AFL-CIO
Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.
Submit via email: [log in to unmask]
Submit via the Web: http://portside.org/submittous3
Frequently asked questions: http://portside.org/faq
Search Portside archives: http://portside.org/archive
Contribute to Portside: https://portside.org/donate