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The Republic Windows and Doors factory occupation turned out to be the right action at the right time. It attracted solidarity from Jobs with Justice, congresspeople, President Elect Obama, and from the New York City IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, a longstanding union built on anarchist principles). The NYC solidarity action visited 3 Bank of America offices:
The net result…
The 240 workers who had occupied the factory since its abrupt closing Dec. 5 voted unanimously Wednesday night to accept a deal to pay them severance, vacation time, and temporary health care benefits. The $1.75 million agreement was negotiated over three days with the workers’ union, Republic owners and lender Bank of America.
Union negotiators were unable to obtain a commitment from the parties to reopen the Goose Island plant, said United Electrical Workers organizer Mark Meinster. So the union has decided to forge ahead to find someone new to run the plant, he said, using some of the money donated from around the world during the sit-in. (Chicago Tribune)
The settlement, happily coming on my birthday, includes the following:
The settlement totals $1.75million. It will provide the workers with:
- Eight weeks of pay [workers] are owed under the federal WARN Act;
- Two months of continued health coverage, and;
- Pay for all accrued and unused vacation.
JPMorgan Chase will provide $400,000 of the settlement, with the balance coming from Bank of America. Although the money will be provided as a loan to Republic Windows and Doors, it will go directly into a third-party fund whose sole purpose is to pay the workers what is owed them. In addition, the UE has started the “Window of Opportunity Fund” dedicated to re-opening the plant. (Jobs with Justice)
Of course, larger success will come (or not come) as these tactics are taken up across the country, as they change agenda and form of contest, and if they make workers (and, yes, that’s us) think of themselves as owning the economy instead of just working for it.
For now the threat alone may have an impact as well, as U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) put it, “This Republic Windows saga, I’m sure, is reverberating throughout boardrooms in America.”
Bitch, Ph.D. notes insightfully:
The last time American workers resisted mass layoffs this way, we ended up with a middle class.And that’s change you can believe in.
[Yes, more of an overview update is coming soon; there's been big news in the past two months. The bailout has morphed into something bigger, with both interesting and scandalous implications (some times at the same time); we have a new president; anti-authoritarians have some interesting things to think through around grassroots political campaigning, public works projects and an economic crisis, etc. Plus, Thai mass direct action just brought down a government. But everything starts somewhere, so let's start with a new kind of protest..]
In Chicago, the economic crisis hit the road in the form of worker suddenly cut off from their jobs at Republic Windows and Doors (company website here). Republic’s (apparently one and only) factory closed Friday, three days after its 260 workers were notified. Standard notice is sixty days. Severance and unused vacation for the workers have not been paid. In response:
Members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, which represents 260 workers at the company’s Goose Island plant, have taken shifts at a sit-in at the plant, 1333 N. Hickory Ave., since Friday. (Chicago Tribune)
Scores of workers laid off from a factory here that makes windows and doors have refused to leave, deciding to stage a “peaceful occupation” of the plant around the clock this weekend as they demand pay they say is owed them.
The workers, many of whom were sitting on fold-up chairs on the factory floor Saturday afternoon, said they would not leave.
“They’re staying because the fact is that these workers feel they have nothing to lose at this point,” said Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 1110, who said groups of 30 were occupying the plant in shifts. “Telling them they have three days before they are out on the street, penniless, is outrageous.” (NYT)
Clearly, this is the face of the overall downturn: we saw 533,000 lost jobs in November, bringing the total ot 1.9 million in the current recession. It’s also the front end of the bailout: Bank of America, backed up by our bailout, is Republic Windows and Doors’ creditor, and is accused by workers of not releasing the funds for the company to meet its obligations. Bank of America, by the way now includes ABN AMRO North America, FleetBoston, LaSalle Bank, NationsBank, predatory lender Countrywide Financial, Merrill Lynch, credit card giant MBNA. As of July, after taking on Countrywide, the company controlled between 20 to 25 percent of the home loan market. As Jobs with Justice reminds us, “Bank of America has received $25 billion in bailout funds, ostensibly in order to extend credit to companies that need it.”
You can back up their protest with letters to Bank of America here.