The Republic Workers Remind Us That Direct Action Gets the Goods

17 Dec

The Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement Newsletter, Issue # 16 – December 2008

 

 

At a time when big business is begging the government for big-money bail-outs and getting them, while workers get laid off and tenants and home owners get evicted, the employees of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago have taken matters into their own hands. And they have won. On December 5, 2008, following the announcement that the factory, which employs 300 people, would close in three days, 250 workers began a sit-down strike that may serve as a catalyst for a renaissance of working-class resistance throughout the United States. Republic CEO Rich Gillman informed the workers that although Bank of America recently received a $25 billion bailout, they were pulling their loan from the factory. As a result, Gillman gave his employees three days notice of the closure of Republic—well short of the 60 days notice required by federal law.

Facing the grim prospect of joining millions of others on the unemployment line, the workers, members of the United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 1110, refused to leave. They conducted a sit-down strike and took over the factory. The occupation lasted five days, and quickly won attention from the media, politicians, and others, and shamed Bank of America back to the bargaining table.

Well-known activist Reverend Jesse Jackson brought food to the workers and said, “These workers are to this struggle perhaps what Rosa Parks was to social justice 50 years ago… This, in many ways, is the beginning of a larger movement for mass action to resist economic violence.”

President-elect Barack Obama also offered his support. “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago” he said, “with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right . . . what’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.”

On December 9, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich came out with a statement that his state’s government would boycott Bank of America until the loan to Republic was reinstated. The next morning, however, the FBI arrested the Governor for alleged corruption. As a result, the media that had gathered at the Republic factory left to cover the Governor’s arrest. All the cars on the street outside of the factory were towed. Workers inside issued a call in fear of a raid on their plant. The raid, however, never came.

The politicians and corporate media were not the only ones paying attention. According to Giuseppe, an eyewitness to the occupation, “there is definitely an increased sense of class consciousness…other workers have been inspired.” He also said that mainstream unions, which had previously shunned the UE, have pledged to use similar tactics. Republic workers have vowed to offer the same kind of solidarity and support they received to others struggling in the future.

After only five days of the occupation, the media attention, and the resulting public outcry, Bank of America agreed to reinstate some of its loan, along with $400,000 from JP Morgan Chase. According to Chicago Independent Media Center, “late Wednesday night…more than 200 workers and members of UE Local 1110 voted unanimously to accept a $1.75 million settlement that includes eight weeks of back pay, two months of continued health coverage, and compensation for unused vacation time.” “We fought to make them pay what they owe us, and we won,” said Local 1110 representatives.

Republic has stated that it will not reopen the plant, and neither will the landlord, the Mars Candy Corporation. According to Giuseppe, the union “has created the Windows of Opportunities Fund to raise money to buy the factory, which would make it essentially worker-managed. There hasn’t been discussion about what that would look like.”

As embattled Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner said in an interview, “The workers in Chicago are showing us the way…We see them stand up and say `If them, why not us.’ That’s the nature of evolutionary/revolutionary change.” Just like the Chicago workers who led the 1880s movement that won us the eight-hour day, the workers of the Republic Windows and Doors factory are an example to the rest of us. The government is willing to use our tax dollars to help the richest CEOs keep their companies, but when it comes to defending what is ours–our jobs, our homes, our communities, and our futures–the only way to win is to band together and fight back.

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