By David Bacon
New America Media, 12/11/08
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).
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.
Workers Who Occupied Their Factory and Beat Bank of America Now On Their Way to Owning the FactoryBy Yana Kuchinoff, TruthOut.org
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.
Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.