The Teamsters won a major victory in the Ohio governorship race with the re-election of Governor Mike DeWine, a conservative Republican, during the recent midterm elections. His celebration on the union’s social media channels should cause concern among labor reformers and socialists who have been looking for new direction from the Teamsters after the disastrous Hoffa years.
DeWine had broad support from the Republican establishment and, despite previous differences, was also backed by former President Donald Trump. While DeWine has had the support of some statewide building unions, along with the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police and the Trump-supporting National Border Patrol Council, it’s rare that a major Conservative politician like DeWine is endorsed by the Teamsters .
So why Mike?
The Teamsters supported Gov. Mike DeWine primarily because of his opposition to the passage of Ohio’s right-to-work (RtW) legislation. RtW fights have regularly erupted in the upper Midwest since the beginning of the last decade, when Republicans seized control of state governments across the region and enacted anti-union legislation. RtW laws are particularly damaging to public sector unions, but also private sector unions. But they have proved politically unpopular.
According to the New York Times in November 2011:
“A year after Republicans seized legislatures across the country, Ohio voters on Tuesday delivered their verdict on a key piece of the Conservative legislative agenda, striking down a bill that restricted public workers’ rights to collective bargaining.
The landslide vote to repeal the law — 62 percent to 38 percent according to preliminary results from Ohio’s Secretary of State — slapped Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican who had championed the law as a tool for cities to cut costs . The law was passed in March by a wave of enthusiasm among Republicans fresh from their victories.”
Since RtW’s public rebuke, most Ohio Republicans have largely avoided the issue since it has proved so unpopular. When DeWine first ran for governor in 2018, he was asked if he would sign the RtW legislation if elected, he didn’t give a straight answer. Efforts by Republican lawmakers to introduce anti-union amendments to the Ohio state constitution in 2018 also failed.
DeWine is the last person that can be counted on to stop any future RtW legislation. He has pursued an aggressive pro-business agenda, including massive tax subsidies for corporations and tax cuts for the rich. DeWine welcomed the Teamsters endorsement. “We are grateful to the Ohio Conference of Teamsters (OCT) for their support,” DeWine tweeted, “and look forward to our continued partnership.” What the nature of the “partnership” is would be interesting to discover.
OCT President Patrick J. Darrow also excited about DeWine:
“Governor DeWine and Lt. Governor Husted have earned the support of the Ohio Conference of Teamsters for their ability to communicate effectively and implement their vision of Ohio, which protects and expands job opportunities for Ohio families.”
Darrow’s rosy endorsement of DeWine does not match the reality of many working families in Ohio, where it was described as a “old state” in a recent study:
“Many people are already familiar with the idea of an ancient city, places that grew in prominence around a manufacturing economy in the early to mid-20th century but suffered significant losses in population and manufacturing industry in the mid-to-late 20th century. Ohio is full of places like this, with 22 old cities surrounded by 15 old subways. Cities like Akron, Toledo and Dayton exemplify this concept.”
Ohio is developing into “two states” with a booming region centered around the state capital, Columbus, and the rest of the state. According to The Greater Ohio Policy Center, this means:
“The old towns of Ohio are no longer experiencing precipitous population declines, but may still be experiencing only minor population changes, whether slow decline, slight growth, or steady development. This dynamic goes hand in hand with an aging population and declining economic vitality. Despite this history, ancient cities still host significant concentrations of jobs, residents, and anchor institutions that positively impact the state’s economy today.”
DeWine’s social conservatism is also notorious, especially when it comes to abortion rights. He signed Ohio’s infamous Heartbeat Bill, which bans abortion once a heartbeat is detected, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Abortion advocates have rightly called it the “forced pregnancy” law. Although the law was recently shelved, why would the Teamsters support such a regressive attack on a woman’s right to control her body? What does that say about the Ohio Teamsters?
DeWine’s Teamsters endorsement puts a seal of approval on Republican control of state politics. Ohio was once, but no longer, considered a swing state in presidential elections. DeWine’s endorsement of the vile newly elected Sen. JD Vance, who is as close to fascism as one can get in mainstream politics, helped legitimize him and lead him to victory.
The Teamsters endorsed former Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan for the US Senate, who was easily beaten by Vance, who in turn was also endorsed by Trump. Vance will now have a national platform to spew his racist filth off the floor of the US Senate, along with his regular appearances on the popular Tucker Carlson Show.
The Ryan alternative?
However, the alternative is not Tim Ryan. Ohio’s unions, including the Teamsters, overwhelmingly backed Democrat Ryan, a ten-year congressman with a long pro-union record, against JD Vance. Ryan began his political career out of college in the office of the notorious former Ohio congressman, the late James Traficant — a Mahoning County sheriff-turned-populist demagogue. Traficant was expelled from Congress in 2002 and Ryan succeeded him in office.
Ryan ran a campaign with largely the same tropes as Vance. His most notorious ad, “One Word,” was so offensive that many Asian-American Congressional Democrats asked him to remove it. While wearing a Workers First t-shirt, Ryan repeatedly declared “China” and “Us vs. Them” to an appreciative audience at union halls. Appeal reported:
“The ad, part of a $3.3 million campaign running statewide, drew an immediate backlash from Democratic groups championing Asian-American issues. New York Congressman Grace Meng, Vice Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, prompted Ryan to stop broadcasting. Shekar Narasimhan, the chairman of the AAPI Victory Fund, a super PAC that supports Asian American and Pacific Islanders, likened it to tactics inciting “hate” and “fear” used by Republicans supporting former President Donald Emulate Trump.”
“Rep. Tim Ryan’s promotion of his Ohio Senate campaign fuels a racist pedagogy towards China and leaves East Asian Americans vulnerable to attack,” Narasimhan said in a Statement posted on Twitter.
Ryan refused to remove the ad. He tried some other Trump right-wing tactics, attacking Vance as a San Francisco tech mogul who had no contact with real Americans. Ryan boasted, “I voted with Trump on trade” and for funding more police. With his “Bullseye” ad, he also dismissed issues such as abortion, transgender rights and racism as “culture wars”. “You want culture wars?” he asks in a TV ad while throwing darts in a bar. “I’m not your type. You want a fighter for Ohio? Count me in.”
Expectations of Tim Ryan were high. Ryan was the subject of an enthusiastic profile in The New Republic in mid-August entitled “Tim Ryan: Right Man, Right Place, Right Time.” He was a role model for winning back union voters for the Democrats. Author Alec MacGillis wrote in a New York Times op-ed: “Tim Ryan wins the war for the soul of the Democratic Party.”
In fact, Ryan has spoken positively about Trump’s policies on many occasions. No wonder Ryan lost to Vance. If you have a choice, you are the toxic variant of xenophobia or another. Should we be surprised that people voted for the first party of bigotry?
For decades, the right has dominated political debate in the United States, particularly as it relates to trade, immigration, and employment issues and their impact on older working-class communities. In this way, the mythical electoral center has moved further to the right. From Trump to DeWine and Vance to Ryan, they represent a wide spectrum of consensus on these issues, particularly anti-Chinese xenophobia, with which the Teamsters have historically been identified.
If all of this seems confusing and dizzying, that’s because it is. It’s hard to see any victory for the Teamsters or working-class people in this mess. And while Democrats fended off a major Republican election wave earlier this month, the Teamsters’ support for DeWine and the Labor Party’s support for Ryan’s xenophobic campaign is not only a dead end, but also serves to legitimize far-right politics among U.S. workers .
If the new Teamsters leadership does indeed move in a new direction, as O’Brien and his list widely promised in the union election, the sort of cynical right-wing electoral strategy should be left behind entirely.
This piece first appeared in The Tempest.