The Socialist 10 December 2008 |
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Chicago workers occupy factory
ON THE afternoon of 5 December, 260 workers at Chicago's Republic Window and Door factory were told that it was closing down and that they would be laid off. These workers make up Local 1110 of the United Electrical Workers (UE) union. They are owed roughly $1.5 million in vacation and severance pay. There are even rumours that some of their most recent pay cheques bounced. Merry Christmas indeed!
Will Soto, Socialist Alternative, USA
Workers think that the company is trying to move production to another state where they can pay lower wages. The workers had a different plan. After a democratic vote they took the place over.
The police came but they left and did not try to forcibly remove the workers. The workers are very well organised. They are occupying the factory around the clock in three shifts. Some workers are sitting in with their families.
The company has already packed up and moved some of the machinery, but the workers know where it is located and they are checking on it every few hours. Many Chicagoans are helping out with donations of money, food and sleeping bags. They had a rally of several hundred outside the building on 6 December.
This factory occupation is a welcome break from the trend of factory closures and layoffs that have gone down without much of a fight. It remains to be seen how much the workers will gain as a result of this.
The company claims that it can't afford to pay the workers because Bank of America won't extend them the credit. Bank of America says that the company's debts are not its problem. Democrat Congressman Luis Gutierrez is scheduled to meet with the bank and the company on Monday to try and iron out the problems.
Workers are justified in their anger against management and the bank. This same Bank of America is among the financial giants who have lined up to receive billions of dollars of federal bailout money. Workers are asking: where is our bailout?
This country has not seen many factory occupations in the last half-century. It was just over 70 years ago in Michigan that the United Auto Workers fought and won the Flint sit down strike of 1936-37.
The independent UE union came out of the CIO (a trade union confederation) and the radical traditions of industrial unionism of the 1930s. Unlike some of the most corrupt union leaderships, its officials do not get exorbitant salaries. During the 1990s they supported the creation of an independent labour party. The union's motto is "the members run this union."
This struggle will be an inspiration to other workers on the need to fight back against cuts and layoffs. The labour movement needs to fight each and every layoff and cutback, explaining that if bailouts and public ownership can be used to protect rich investors, then these same policies need to be used to defend workers.
These workers are united and determined to win all that they can. Victory is not guaranteed, but sit-ins and factory occupations are proven tactics used around the world by workers who often have no other recourse against layoffs and closures. Factory occupations are important assertions of workers' rights to own and run their workplaces. As one of the workers joked, "we've got a lot, we've got this whole building."