Workers' Republic - Scenes from a successful factory occupation

When the workers at Republic Windows and Doors -- in Chicago, USA -- were notified their factory would close in three days, they took matters into their own hands. The unionised workers seized control of the factory for six days to demand the entitlements they were owed by law. They also demanded that Bank of America, which was ``bailed out'' with taxpayers' money just weeks before, make funds available to the company to pay the workers. On the sixth day, December 10, 2008, of their occupation, they won all their demands, and showed the world's working class a classic example of people's power.

This short video from Labor Beat (http://www.laborbeat.org) represents a fraction of its coverage of this historic event (something not seen in the USA for decades).

Republic workers protest against Bank of America, December 10, 2008

Solidarity with Republic workers

December 15, 2008 -- Socialist Worker -- The sit-in by more than 200 workers at Chicago's Republic Windows and Doors factory galvanised solidarity actions in cities across the US last week as people identified the fight for justice at Republic as their own fight.

The workers -- members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110 -- began occupying the plant on December 5, after learning that they would not be paid the severance and vacation time they were owed. Republic's main creditor, Bank of America, had cut off the factory's line of credit -- despite US$25 billion in taxpayers' money that the bank received as part of Congress' Wall Street bailout.

People across the country facing foreclosure, unemployment and economic uncertainty, saw in the fight back at Republic proof that it is possible to stand up and win -- even against Corporate America.

In Chicago, up to 1000 supporters turned out to Bank of America's downtown headquarters December 10 for a picket that included unionists, activists and Republic workers themselves.

"The people work, and guess whose money is in these banks?," said Reverend Gregory Livingston of Rainbow/PUSH. "Guess whose money is in the market? Guess whose money is in their pockets? It's our money."

That sentiment was repeated elsewhere. In Portland, Oregon., more than 100 people turned December 10 to march from Key Bank to Bank of America in solidarity with workers left out of the government bailout. The protests forced both banks to close their doors early.

The demonstration, called by Jobs with Justice, started at Key Bank, which was approved for $2.5 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Key Bank finances Oak Harbor Freight Lines, whose workers in International Brotherhood of Teamsters Locals 81 and 174 have been striking over unfair labor practices since September 23.

The union says that the company "has violated workers' rights by coercing and intimidating striking workers, discriminating against minorities and women in its hiring practices and by cutting off health care for retired employees."

Chanting "Bail out the workers, not the banks," the spirited crowd marched down the street to Bank of America, where organizers spoke in solidarity with the members of United Electrical Workers Local 1110. Eliana Machuca, staff organizer for Portland Jobs with Justice, pointed to the Chicago worker's "militant action" as the way forward for the labor movement.

In San Francisco, 50 people gathered at a Bank of America office downtown on the evening of December 9.

Though small, the rally was very vocal, with chants of "Money for jobs and education, not for banks and corporations" ringing through the downtown shopping area. The rally was called on less than 24 hours notice by the San Francisco Labor Council and ANSWER. There were speakers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Service Employees International Union on hand to offer support to the Chicago workers.

Four activists entered the bank during the course of the rally, and within half an hour were led out in handcuffs. Amidst chants of "let them go!" they were then apparently arrested, and taken away by police.

Smaller actions also took place in several other cities. In Amherst, Mass., a crowd of 20 picketed a Bank of America branch downtown on December 10, chanting, "The workers united will never be defeated."

Although the picket was called on less than 24 hours' notice, it was energetic, with protesters forming a roving picket around the entrance of the bank. The picket actually grew as time went on, as several people passing by joined in.

In New Brunswick, New Jersey, 30 people came out despite the rain, including members of the Campus Antiwar Network chapter from Rutgers University, the Central New Jersey Coalition Against Endless War, Say No to War, a Latino workers' association, and the College of New Jersey.

To explain the situation to passersby, protesters chanted: "The workers ask for money, the banks say that they can't. We support the workers when they occupy their plant!"

In Baltimore, more than 30 people picketed outside of the Bank of America building in downtown on December 10. The protest was called by a small network of groups, including the recently formed Baltimore Emergency Crisis Response Network -- a coalition of individuals and organisations that have come together to attempt to coordinate a progressive, activist response to local aspects of the economic crisis.

In Ithaca, New York, 25 people came out on a snowy evening December 12 to celebrate following the announcement that Republic Windows and Doors workers had won their struggle. Members of Students for a Democratic Society, the Campus Antiwar Network, the Workers Center, the community Peace Now group, the Cornell Labor Action Project and the International Socialist Organization were in attendance.

Protesters demanded a bailout for regular people and, during a short speakout, discussed the Greek general strike, recent protests of Italian and Spanish students, and the importance of people fighting back.

Roger Dyer, Michael Fiorentino, Matt Hoke, Meredith Reese, Adam Sanchez and Kay Sweeney contributed to this article. From http://socialistworker.org/2008/12/15/solidarity-with-republic-workers.

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David Bacon on Republic Windows and Doors

CHICAGO WORKERS TO REST OF COUNTRY:  "DON'T LET IT DIE!"
By David Bacon
New America Media, 12/11/08
http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=a3d3cc49a93f6bfac1b3f22114371524

     When the day finally comes that Raul Flores loses his job, he will face a bitter search for another one. "I've got a family to support, so I've got to do whatever it takes," he says.  "It's going to be hard.  The economic situation is not good, but I can't just wait for something to happen to me."
    That puts Flores in the same boat as millions of other U.S. workers.  Last month alone 533,000 workers lost their jobs, the highest figure in 34 years.  A week ago, the heads of the big three auto companies were in Washington DC, pleading for loans to keep their companies afloat.  As a price, lawmakers and pundits told them they had to become "leaner and meaner," and in response, General Motors announced it would close nine plants and put tens of thousands of workers in the street.  Ford and Chrysler described a similar job-elimination strategy. 
        What makes Flores special?  He didn't just accept the elimination of his job.  Instead, he sat in at the Chicago plant where he worked for six days, together with 240 other union members at Republic Windows and Doors.
       Republic workers were not demanding the reopening of their closed factory.  They've been fighting for severance and benefits to help them survive the unemployment they know awaits them.  Yet their occupation can't help but raise deeper questions about the right of workers to their jobs.  Can a return to the militant tactics of direct action, that produced the greatest gains in union membership, wages and job security in U.S. history, overturn "the inescapable logic of the marketplace"?  Can employers, and the banks that hold their credit lines, be forced to keep plants open?
   Unlike the auto giants, Republic was not threatening bankruptcy.  It makes a "green product," Energy-Star compliant doors and windows that should be one of the bedrock industries for a new, more environmentally sustainable economy.  But Bank of America, as it was receiving $25 billion in Federal bailout funds, pulled the company's credit line.  Perhaps that alone led President-elect Obama to support the workers.  The bank-enforced closure undermines his program for using environmentally sustainable jobs to replace those eliminated in the spiraling recession.  He called Republic workers "absolutely right.  What's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy."
  Federal law requires companies to give employees 60 days notice of a plant closure, or pay them 60 days severance pay, to give them breathing room to find other jobs.  Republic workers got three days, and no money.  "They knew they'd be out on the street penniless," says Leah Fried, organizer for Local 1110 of the United Electrical Workers.  "When the negotiating committee came back to the factory to report that the company didn't even show up to talk with them, the workers were so enraged they voted unanimously not to leave until they got their severance and vacation pay."
    While the workers' acted to gain their legally-mandated rights, the plant occupation resurrects a tactic with a radical history.  In 1934, auto workers occupied the huge Fisher Body plants in Flint, Michigan, and when the battle was over, the United Auto Workers was born.  Sitdown strikes spread across the country like wildfire.  Occupying production lines in plant after plant, workers won unions, better wages, and real changes in their lives. 
        Seventy years later, the workers who have inherited that legacy of unionization and security are on the brink of losing everything.  Just since 2006 the United Auto Workers has lost 119,000 members.  The threat of plant closure has been used to cut the wages of new hires in half, to $14.50, the same wage paid on the window lines at Republic, where the union is only four years old.
Flores certainly hopes that those whose livelihoods are in peril will rediscover the tactic. "This is the start of something," he urges.  "Don't let it die.  Learn something from it."  And the sitdown was successful. After six days sitting-in, and a rally of 1000 people in front of the bank, JP Morgan, another beneficiary of Federal assistance that owns 40% of Republic, put up $400,000, and Bank of America  another $1.35 million.  That was enough to pay the legally-mandated severance, the workers' accrued vacation, and two months of health care.  Flores and his coworkers then voted to end the occupation.
        Fran Tobin, midwest organizer for Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor and community groups with chapters around the country, shares Flores' optimism.  "I think this is not the last time we're going to see American workers occupying American plants, as part of a move to save jobs and turn things around," he says.  Organizers for Jobs with Justice are fanning out with a program they call a "Peoples' Bailout."  "We need to ask, 'What kind of an economy and recovery do we want?'" Tobin emphasizes.  He lists funds for a jobs program, rather than huge loans to banks, a moratorium on home foreclosures, investment in infrastructure repair, and helping local and state governments (and public worker) survive the crisis without massive budget cuts. 
        Flores, Tobin and Fried all agree that none of those demands can be won without unions and workers willing to fight for them.  That makes the Republic plant occupation more than just a local confrontation.   "This might not be the right tactic in every situation, but people know we need to be fighting back," Fried says. 
      Will the unions in auto plants and other workplaces hit by layoffs take up the challenge of the Republic workers?   To Flores, they have to do something more than just watch the elimination of their jobs.  "We've got to fight for our rights," he emphasizes.  "It's not fair that they just kick us out on the street with nothing.  Somebody has to respond."


For more articles and images, see http://dbacon.igc.org

Times are tough but these

Times are tough but these guys were treated dispicably. Way to go guys, workers around the world should take heart at your triumphant stance i hope you all get other work soon.

Workers Who Occupied Their Factory On Way to Owning Factory

Workers Who Occupied Their Factory and Beat Bank of America Now On Their Way to Owning the Factory

By Yana Kuchinoff, TruthOut.org
Posted on June 1, 2012, Printed on June 2, 2012
http://www.alternet.org/story/155683/workers_who_occupied_their_factory_...

First, they occupied the factory to get their wages from the bosses that owned the machinery. Then, they occupied their factory to keep the second bosses from shutting down their machinery. And, now, they are on their way to owning and running the machinery.

The group of workers who occupied their Chicago factory in 2008 and again in 2012 incorporated a worker-run cooperative on May 30, 2012. The factory window makers will take over was formerly owned by Republic Windows and Doors and then Serious Energy, and will now be run by New Era Windows, LLC.

Their battle to win wages and back pay from Republic Windows and Doors by occupying the factory is often mentioned in the same breath as the occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol to protest Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union bill as a flash point of progressive struggle since the recession took hold.

Armando Robles, president of the United Electrical Workers Local 1110, said that the school of struggle the workers went through with both factory occupations helped them win the confidence to take over their factory.

"We learned how to fight against the bosses and now to negotiate contracts with the owners of Republic and Serious Energy, how to negotiate in contract negotiations and how to make escalating actions before going on strike."

The story began in 2008, when the Republic Windows and Doors Factory shut its doors without paying workers their severance pay or accrued vacation time in "a perfect parable of all that was wrong with the financial crisis." 

"Just a few days after receiving $25 billion in bailout funds from the federal government, Bank of America cut off the company's credit line, leading Republic's management to immediately and unceremoniously fire all 250 workers without providing the 60 days' notice or 60 days' pay required of them by the federal WARN Act," reported Salon.

In response, they called for an occupation. The workers spent six days barricaded inside the factory before Bank of America was pressured into agreeing to reopen the company's line of credit, and the workers were paid their due.

"Here the banks like Bank of America get a bailout, but workers cannot be paid?" asked Leah Fried, an organizer with the union workers, in 2008. "The taxpayers would like to see that bailout go toward saving jobs, not saving C.E.O.'s."

When Serious Materials (now Serious Energy) bought they company, it promised to hire all of the fired workers. But in February 2012, it also fell victim to a continuing economic downturn, and announced it would be closing immediately.

In response, the workers occupied again. In the rain and cold, and with the support of Occupy Chicago, they won a temporary reprieve after only 12 hours. Serious Energy promised to sell the business and keep the factory open for 90 more days.

"When we found out nobody is going to buy the company we started this idea [to form a cooperative] and brought it in proactive," said Robles. "We started having meetings about it."

The next step for the workers, whose business in now incorporated with the State of Illinois, is to raise the investment money to start the cooperative and buy the machinery from their former employer.

Robles says they are working on getting the money together - about $2 million to purchase the machinery - and have already started building the structure of the cooperative: "we already have a steering committee, we have two treasurers. We will keep doing forward."

They expect to start producing windows in two or three months, said Robles, and running their unionized cooperative.

Yana Kuchinoff is an assistant editor at Truthout.

© 2012 TruthOut.org All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/155683/

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

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