Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Occupying Workers Win Support

Lisbeth Latham

The ongoing occupation of Republic Windows and Doors, which began Friday morning, has caught the attention of people around the globe. The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America’s (UE) website reported that by Monday Google News had nearly 1500 story mentions and a facebook solidarity group had grown from 800 members at noon on Sunday to 2, 400 by midnight. Both these figures have expanded significantly, there are now 3, 984 stories on Google News, and the Facebook group is up to 7,717. The occupation has become a rallying point for labor activists with officials and rank-and-file members from a range of unions visiting the workers.

The occupation has also attracted support of an increasing number of politicians. On Sunday, “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right”, Obama said “What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.

Then on Monday the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich ordered state agenicies to stop doing business with Bank of America. The same day 15 alderman of the City of Chicago announced that they would be pushing for the city to do the same. The workers have also been visited by Democract member of Congress Luis Gutierrez Illinois, who has sort to broker meetings between the workers, Republic Windows and BoA.

The support and interests of labour and social movement activists is easily understood, as is the support demonstrated politicians and the generally very positive coverage in the media. As UE points out on its solidarity page “working people, caught in the turmoil of the current economic crisis have found new hope in the actions of these UE members. And, that's not gone unnoticed”.
The media coverage has treated the occupation as an oddity. However once the coverage began it tapped a significant amount of anger in working class communities, communities that had opposed the bail out when it was first proposed, and now the US’s second largest bank, received $25 billion in as part of that bail out was now forcing the closure of a company and putting people out of work (although it may not be quite that simple, as Lee Suster reported in Socialist Worker, Republic Windows’ management appears to have intended to reopen the factory with non-union labour in Iowa).

While some of the support from Democratic Party Politicians may be genuine, its clear that they also want this dispute to go away. The longer the dispute continues the more support and publicity it will generate. Increasing the possibility that more of the thousands of US workers, who themselves are facing the redundancy, might consider occupying their own workplace to be a good idea. The increasing pressure on both BoA and Republic is to get them to settle and give the workers their entitlements. Such a strategy has its own dangers of course. A victory for the workers at Republic Windows could set the example that by fighting they can win.


Thomas MacEntee December 11, 2008 at 3:25 AM  

Employers trying to screw employees out of what is owed them is not new. In October I was laid off along with close to 700 other employees at my law firm - and no, I am not an attorney. Just someone who wiped attorney butt all day.

Just like Republic they won't pay accrued vacation (I am sitting on over 225 hours) or the WARN Act monies as required by law. You'd think that lawyers would know what laws to follow and not to break! At least 300 of us have not found new employment in this economy and are looking forward to Crappy Holidays thanks to Heller Ehrman as well as Bank of America and Citibank who are making decisions not to pay us.

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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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