Dec. 9—Chanting “You got bailed out; we got sold out!” workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago picketed outside Bank of America Dec. 3 after learning from their company that the bank was shutting Republic’s doors. Later that night, the majority Latin@ workforce, organized into Electrical Workers Local 1110, voted unanimously to occupy their factory if management went forward with its plans.
When the morning of Dec. 5 came around, the bosses at Republic must have expected a quick resolution when they decided to shut down the factory and lay off the 270 workers. But instead of walking off the job feeling dejected, these workers took bold and decisive action and have been occupying the factory floor since 10 a.m. that morning. Such a tactic has not been used by workers in almost 20 years. The last time a workplace occupation occurred was when workers in the Mine Workers union in Pittston, W.Va., took over their facility in 1989; that occupation lasted to the spring of 1990.
Republic closed up shop after Bank of America refused to extend a line of credit to the company to keep the factory open. With only three days’ notice—a flagrant violation of Illinois’ Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires at least 60 days’ notice before a plant closure—the factory put the workers out in the cold right before the holiday season without a job and the pay they were due. The company hoped they could move across the border to Iowa where they could find cheaper, non-union labor.
Bank of America’s refusal to grant Republic a loan comes after a $25 billion federal bailout was given to the bank—money taken out of the pockets of the workers and oppressed people via taxes.
“Taxpayers would like to see that bailout money go toward saving jobs, not saving C.E.O.’s,” said Leah Fried, an UE organizer. “This is outrageous.” (New York Times, Dec. 8)
UE continues to display its unique rank-and-file, member-run character in this struggle. Elected UE officers at national and local levels are maintaining a firm stance defending the Local 1110 workers all the way, including their just demands to keep the plant open.
“Amidst this crisis, workers are showing that we have no other choice but to fight back. Our backs are against the wall. The Republic workers’ takeover reflects what needs to be the response. It is an example of how to exercise our power over this crisis—take back the means that produce all the wealth in the first place,” UE Local 150 President Angaza Laughinghouse told Workers World. “The truth of the matter is that the workers should own that factory.”
As autoworkers in the United Auto Workers caravan to Washington, D.C., to request federal money for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler to maintain their jobs, the last thing their corporate bosses and the government want is for them to hear the news of the UE workers at Republic. Workers know their ultimate power rests with their labor and what they deserve is the run of the factory and all the things by which its products are produced. After investing their sweat and labor in running the factory, it has become their property right.
The Republic workers’ struggle has elicited support from labor and community allies from across the country. The Bail Out the People Movement announced a week of action from Dec. 8-13, calling for local actions at Bank of Americas across the country to demand the bank use the $25 billion of taxpayers’ money to give these workers their jobs back.
In addition to labor and community support, President-elect Barack Obama, Illinois Rep. Luis Guiterrez, members of the Chicago City Council, Jessie Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH coalition, Cook County officials and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have all come out in support of the workers’ struggle. Gov. Blagojevich has even instructed the entire state of Illinois, and is calling on other government entities, to divest from Bank of America and to freeze all of the assets held by Bank of America. This is a monumental victory, which was only won through the hard-fought struggle of the Republic workers.
On Dec. 8 in Charlotte, N.C., at Bank of America’s world headquarters, members of UE Local 150 and about 20 community supporters rallied in support of the Republic workers to demand that Bank of America extend the loan needed to reopen the factory. Workers traveled from across the state to lead a spirited demonstration in front of the bank, which evoked strong support from passersby.
UE 150 attempted to deliver a letter supporting the members of UE Local 1110 to bank executives and CEO Kenneth Lewis, but members and supporters were met by bank security and Charlotte police when they stepped into the building. Nonetheless, their message of support for the workers was heard loud and clear by the executives at Bank of America.
Strobino is an organizer with UE Local 150.
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