Our recent elections delivered a setback to Donald Trump, his allies, and their corporate-based campaign of racism/misogyny/homophobia, division, across our nation. It broke my heart, but didn’t surprise me, that my state of Ohio bucked that positive trend.

As national pundits cite Ohio as a “Red” state (not in the “good way”), it’s important to understand that it wasn’t always so and begin to understand why.

What Union Density Looks Like

When I hired in the Lorain US Steel mill a half century ago and joined up with the Steelworker’s Union (USW), Ohio was trusted to be a union-voting “Blue” state, especially its northern industrial section. Workers voted for those who delivered on our list of worker/people friendly issues. It wasn’t that right-wing Republicans didn’t float racist, misogynist, homophobic or other divisive issues, they did. It was that Unions were in place, represented/stood up for and educated workers on where their interests did/didn’t lie. Workers knew they weren’t alone, had people just like them to help them sort issues out.

In those years, Lorain County had the 8,000 member USW local 1104 at the mill, two 2,000 member UAW locals, 2,500 union shipbuilders, a 1,500 member USW local at Elyria’s foundry, all city, county jobs were AFSCME, machinists, teachers, trades workers almost all carried cards. New shops could expect union organizers to show up soon after doors opened. If you ran for office, any office, you knew you had to schedule visits to the Labor Fed, the big locals, and to come educated and prepared. I attended many Lorain City, County Commissioners meetings, generally in support of some union issue, and don’t remember every leaving disappointed.  

According to BLS, 35.7 percent of that county’s workers had union cards in 1970.

Today that number is only 12.6 percent. Only a few hundred work at the mill, with somewhat similar cutbacks across the board. Other jobs aren’t, don’t necessarily expect to be, unionized. Roads now are potholed, crime/arrests/suicides/divorces are up, college enrollment/new cars and the economy for working families, way down! A recent county fair controversy had some jerk pushing confederate flags and recent school debates centered on student’s sexuality, while attendance/graduations are way down. Last week the county voted GOP!

Walmart vs. Unions

Elections were different then, almost joyous sometimes. Today, everyone “hates politics!”

In the early 80’s, Lorain had strong unions, strong economy, when a rump group representing Walmart came to Lorain, buying politicians off, demanding tax breaks, and bad-mouthing unions. They had BOTH political parties on their side (and payroll). All newspapers, TV reps, were with them, but our unions all stood united in opposition (unless Walmart agreed to union wages/benefits).

The upcoming election had a pro-Walmart/tax-cut proposal on the ballot and it got massive business support. TV, newspaper editorials, visits from celibs. We caught ridicule even from D.C., national sources.

Unions were “fools,” “tilting at windmills,” “backward,” etc., but we held strong, pulling together. Union committees were set up, worker’s neighborhoods canvassed. AFSCME had a huge trailer with a big “NO to Walmart” sign on it. We stopped along the road, had impromptu rallies/parties with that as its center. We spoke at schools, nationality clubs, union, retiree meetings, etc. As the election got closer, media sources said we had “zero chance of winning,” would look ridiculous, cited outrageous polls.

But, come election day, WE partied! OVER 70 percent voted NO!

Some of us even when over to the Walmart “Victory Party,” with the really GOOD food, to party, rub it in. The depressed bosses left, and we actually made new friends of some of the folks there, who were just workers getting a check.

This is just one of many possible examples of how workers come out on top when we are active, have union density.

Blood Bank—Union or Not?

One other, involving the Lorain County Blood Bank bares mentioning.

A couple years after the Walmart issue, the local Red Cross/Blood Bank that had strong union support, decided that they’d “save money” by switching to non-union contractors. Unions responded by switching up themselves, to assure their lifesaving efforts went to unionized workers, with benefits.

Local media, newspapers, etc. excoriated unions, calling them “traitors,” who were “bringing the local economy down.” The same class forces lined up, and the outcome was similar.

Unions, with strong density, held together, defeated anti-union candidates at the election, the Blood Bank returned to union sources.

Today’s Debate

After an important election, where Ohio voted up/down the line against working people’s interests, national pundits write off Ohio now, as a so-called “Red” state. There will be highly educated (and highly paid) party analysts making reports. Spokesmen will tell us what issues we “should’ve campaigned on,” whether a particular neighborhood, suburb or demographic liked or disliked which candidate’s manner of speaking, dressing, etc., etc.

What I hoped to present here, with some real show/tell, is that is isn’t about which candidate had the best speeches, dressed the best, rooted for the right team, etc.

It IS about how many workers are organized, about whether we’re building our fighting labor movement or not, about whether working people see unions as representing THEIR interests.

The Way Forward

There is the way forward, and it isn’t brain surgery!

ORGANIZE the UNORGANIZED! If we ORGANIZE, they will come (and they will vote), and fight for their own interests, ALL of our interests!

In the 1930s-40s those organizing drives inspired millions, and Roosevelt was elected (following a series of Republicans). That movement inspired other movements and we won unemployment comp, huge relief packages, first civil rights gains, and a better economy/life for all working people.

Today, President Biden is the only U.S. president since FDR, over 7 decades ago, to openly state his support for ‘UNIONS’ (not the “middle class,” “hard-working families,” etc. but ‘UNIONS’)! He has appointed pro-labor reps to the N.L.R.B. We have new activist national AFL-CIO leaders, with the first woman, Liz Shuler, person of color, Fred Redmond, as our new leaders. A recent Gallup poll on this issue showed a near record 71% of American workers polled favored unions. This is EXACTLY the % shown for union support in the 1940s, at the height of union organizing.

As well, we saw massive spontaneous uprisings this past year against continued institutional racism. Women (the majority of our work force) are rising in unprecedented fashion in opposition to the anti-women’s health ruling of the reactionary, male-dominated supreme court. Youth are rising up, and showing themselves as potentially the MOST pro union generation our nation has ever produced.

What is left is for us to build that movement needed to rebuild, on a much higher level, our nation’s labor movement.

Then, we’ll have discussions on why so many people swung to voting IN their own class interests so quickly!