This diary is primarily a recompilation of research and articles written by Laura Flanders for Grit TV this summer. LAURA FLANDERS is the host of The Laura Flanders Show coming to public television stations later this year. She was the host and founder of GRITtv.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GRITlaura.
This past year, numerous newspaper articles heralded the opening of a brand-new worker-owned cooperative, New Era Windows. In a jobless recovery, the opening of any job creating business is a cause for celebration, but why all the national attention to a new cooperative in Chicago with only 20 employees? The reason lies in the historic struggle that brought New Era into being and what it represents for labor today.
People Power: The Republic Plant Occupation. It was during the big financial meltdown of 2008. As the relentless outsourcing of manufacturing jobs and the financial collapse brought layoffs in the USA to 500,000 a month, people around the country were increasingly aware of how the 1% was ripping off the 99% while the big banks were being bailed out.
Watch GRITtv’s 2009 discussion of worker takeovers with Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis and UE organizer Leah Fried: http://blip.tv/grittv/grittv-m…
It was just days after receiving a $25 billion federal bailout, that Bank of America cut off credit to Republic Windows and Doors, a small manufacturing company in Chicago, causing Republic’s management to fire all 250 workers with just three days notice and without paying workers the wages and accrued vacation pay required under federal law.
But instead of simply filing for unemployment insurance, setting up a picket line and filing a law suit for back pay, Republic’s workers and their union, UE Local 1110 (United Electrical Workers), did the unthinkable. They took over and occupied the plant and stayed, winning the hearts of downcast Americans everywhere. Of course there had been factory takeovers in other countries -progressives often recall with longing the factory takeovers in Argentina in the 1990s- but not since the 1930s had the US labor movement embraced sit-ins.
The workers’ action drew extensive media coverage and attracted wide support. Protest demonstrations at Bank of America branches took place in dozens of U.S. cities during the sit-in forcing U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to express support for the workers, and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to ban state business with Bank of America because the bank’s cancellation of the company’s line of credit had prompted the shutdown.
On December 10, the union members voted to end the occupation after Republic, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and the union negotiated a settlement of $1.75 million used to pay each worker eight weeks wages, plus all accumulated vacation pay, and give the workers more time to find a buyer for their company.