Referendum votes in Ohio reject antilabor law and ‘Obamacare’
BY JOHN STUDER
In one of the most closely watched votes this November, a far-reaching antilabor law was overturned in Ohio in a statewide referendum.
In the same election, Ohio voters adopted by an even larger margin a referendum opposing President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“The people of Ohio thoroughly rejected blaming public employees for the economic troubles in the state,” Zach Schiller, research director for Policy Matters Ohio, one of the groups that championed the campaign against the antilabor law, told the Militant. “The defeat was resounding, and not just in areas traditionally expected to support workers.”
The measure was defeated 61 to 39 percent, losing in virtually every county in the state, in cities and countryside.
Introduced last March and championed by newly elected Republican Gov. John Kasich, the law took aim at public employees’ unions representing 360,000 workers. It would have replaced wage raises based on seniority with a “merit” system, end the right to bargain on benefits and pensions, impose a ban on strikes, increase workers’ health care costs and cut pensions.
The bill was heralded by the Wall Street Journal, saying it was “about political resolve, which is the only way to modernize government amid opposition from the usual pro-spending constituencies.”
While the law was being debated in the legislature, tens of thousands of workers rallied at the state capitol and across the state.
The Ohio law was similar to one enacted in Wisconsin and already on the books in Indiana.
The rejection of the antilabor bill highlights the big challenge Republican politicians face in appealing to working people hit hard by the capitalist economic crisis. This reality reflects a real crisis for Republicans, particularly when you consider the fact that the Obama administration and other Democratic politicians have likewise done nothing to alleviate effects of the crisis, while protecting interests of capitalist owners, banks and bondholders and imposing budget cuts and other antilabor measures.
Democratic politicians have proposed restrictions on unions like those in Ohio and Wisconsin in both New York and California.
Distrust ‘big government’
The even larger rejection of “Obamacare” underscores the fact that many workers have a healthy distrust of “big government” and resent being treated with contempt by government bureaucrats when seeking unemployment compensation, government-funded health care, and other aid—or just want to renew their driver’s license.
After passage of the antilabor law, unions and other groups launched a campaign to put the measure to a vote, gathering just short of 1 million signatures—the most ever for a referendum in the history of the state—in a successful effort to overturn it.
Within days of the defeat, both Republican and Democratic politicians predicted that attacks on state workers and their unions would continue.
On election night Governor Kasich told the press that his law was just “too much too soon.” He said that the result of the election would be deeper cuts by state and local governments. “Let me be clear, there is no bailout coming,” he added.
Republican state House Speaker William Batchelder told the press “to expect pieces of the 300-page law to reemerge early next year,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Two days after the vote, a coalition was formed to launch a campaign to make Ohio a “right to work” state. Bryan Williams, director of government affairs for the Ohio Association of Building Contractors, called the effort “long overdue.”
In an editorial on the defeat of the law, the liberal Plain Dealer urged the legislature to focus on “needed changes in merit pay, mandatory benefit contributions and imbalanced seniority restrictions in layoffs.”
Former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland said getting rid of some sections of the law would open the door to workers making sacrifices. When he was governor, Strickland explained, public workers’ unions agreed to take 20 days off work without pay and a pay freeze to “help him balance the budget.”
Some top labor officials echoed the sentiment that in “tough times” workers must give up hard-fought gains.
“There has always been room to talk,” Bill Leibensperger, vice president of the Ohio Education Association, told the Columbus Dispatch.