Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chicago Workers Occupy Factory

Lisbeth Latham

Workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago began an occupation of the factory after the Bank of America refused new loans that would have allowed the manufacturer of energy efficient doors and windows to keep operating. The workers, members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110, began their occupation at 10 am on Friday December 5, when the factory was scheduled to close with the last shift. According to UE all 260 workers at the factory are participating in the weekend long occupation, demanding that the company pay their full obligation to the workers.




The workers had been told three days prior that the factory would be closing due to Bank of America’s was cutting off operating credit to the company. The decision followed a decline in Republic’s sales from $4 million per month to $2.9 million during November. The Local responded to this decision with a picket outside Bank of America’s main Chicago branch December 3 chanting, “You got bailed out, we got sold out!”

Local 1110’s President Armando Robles told the media “Just weeks before Christmas we are told our factory will close in three days. Taxpayers gave Bank of America billions, and they turn around and close our company. We will fight for a bailout for workers.”

Vincente Rangel, a shop steward and former vice president of Local 1110, told Socialist Worker’s Lee Sustar “The company and Bank of America are throwing the ball to one another, and we're in the middle".

Many workers had suspected the company was planning to go out of business--and perhaps restart operations elsewhere. Several said managers had removed both production and office equipment in recent days.

Workers’ anger was increased when they learned that Bank of America had instructed Republic’s managers to not pay workers’ their accrued vacation pay or the severance pay that they were entitled to the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, as the company had failed to give the workers the legally required 60 days notice of closure. In a statement issued on December 6, the Bank of America has stated that it isn’t responsible for Republic’s obligations to its workers. “Republic the Bank is controlling all expenditure”, UE organiser Leah Fried told the Chicago Tribune but “was not allowing it”.

Fried continued “This is a company that's been around for 48 years. They've been through quite a few ups and downs in the housing market and they probably could have gotten through this, but Bank of America decided to cut off the financing despite the bailout they received (from the government) and now these people are out on the street."

Bail Out for Capital While Workers Pay the Price
Bank of America, the second largest bank in the US, received $25 billion as part of the US government’s $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act which bailed out of the finance sector. The public justification of bailout was that it was necessary in order to keep credit flowing and prevent the loss of jobs. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had argued that the package was central to securing the “viability of businesses both small and large, and the very health’ of the US economy. Yet as UE notes in a December 4 statement “the very-well-paid executives at Bank of America have actually cut off credit and forced the closing of Republic where workers were, at least up until Friday, producing energy-efficient doors and windows”.

The workers at Republic are not alone in feeling the brunt of the economic slowdown. According to the US Department of Labor, 533, 000 workers lost their jobs during November. More job losses are likely as a consequence of the crisis in US auto industry. Within this context the occupation has generated considerable support, with union and other social movement activists in Chicago visiting the occupying workers.

The Chicago Tribune on December 6 carried the views of a range of Union Officials.

Richard Berg, President of Teamsters Local 743, said "across cultures, religions, union and nonunion, we all say this bailout was a shame“. Berg continued “if this bailout should go to anything, it should go to the workers of this country".

Larry Spivack, Regional Director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31 was reported as saying, "the history of workers is built on issues like this here today”.



Republic workers, many of them now facing the loss of their homes, are determined to win the fight.

Blanca Funes, a 13 year veteran at Republic, told the Chicago Tribune “we're going to stay here until we win justice”.

To support the members of Local 1110 in their courageous fight, send checks payable to the UE Local 1110 Solidarity Fund, to: UE, 37 S. Ashland, Chicago, IL 60607. Messages of support can be sent to leahfried@gmail.com. For more information, call the UE Chicago office at 312-829-8300.

For more info visit UE’s website and Jobs with Justice.

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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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