Inspiration from across the seas:
Republic workers reach victorious settlement!
Thursday, December 11, 2008
By: John Beacham
Union plant occupation shows workers can bail themselves out through struggle
After occupying their work place for six days, over 260 workers at Republic Windows and Doors have won a major victory in Chicago. Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase, the two most powerful banks in the country, will pay the workers the $1.75 million in wages and accrued vacation pay they are owed.
The settlement will also cover employee health care coverage for two months. The United Electrical Workers, the union representing the workers, has also announced the creation of a supporters fund to re-open the plant.
The two banks, which have been given a combined $50 billion in government bailouts and were also the principal investors in Republic, had refused to give the company money to pay the workers.
The plant sit-in began on Dec. 5 when Republic illegally closed the factory with only three days notice. Companies are bound by the federal WARN Act to either give a 60-day notice or 60 days’ pay before a plant closing or layoff of 50 or more workers.
The sit-in action drew widespread national and international attention. It became an inspiration for millions of workers who are facing increasingly tough economic times. From the beginning, the workers announced that they were taking action not only for themselves but for all workers. After the settlement, UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley said that the outcome of the occupation was “a victory for workers everywhere.”
The workers at the plant are mostly Latino and African American workers. The average pay is $400 to $600 a week. The workers organized Republic four years ago and have a history of militant action. In June, the union won a raise of $1.60 an hour and defeated multiple proposed take-backs by marching on the owner’s office.
The decision to organize the sit-in was made by the workers on the shop floor. When the plant closed on Friday, they informed the owners that they were taking over the plant and not leaving until they were paid their wages.
Republic has secretly moved much of its machines to Iowa to a non-union shop, Echo Windows. The company was formed by the wife of Republic owner Richard Gillman in November. For weeks before the plant closure, Republic purportedly negotiated with Bank of America for loans to pay workers but the bank repeatedly refused.
The shady move to Iowa grossly violates the union contract, which had provisions to negotiate any outsourcing and to compensate employees in the event of a plant relocation.
At the plant, enthusiastic rallies were held every day despite severe winter conditions. Solidarity actions, including acts of civil disobedience, were held in dozens of cities including San Francisco, New York, Miami, Boston and Detroit. On Dec. 10, a rally of over 1,000 was held outside of the Chicago headquarters of Bank of America as negotiations between the union and the banks were taking place.
Hundreds of community members, members from other unions, and social justice activists—including the Party for Socialism and Liberation—donated food and supplies to the workers over the week. People sent items from as far away as Alaska.
Fighting back leads to important victory
Recession or not, the big banks and powerful corporations are sitting on billions of dollars. Some of it has been the result of recent government loans and bailout money. Much of it is based on their appropriation of vast sums of society’s wealth—wealth that is the result of the combined labor of tens of millions of workers.
The fact that the Republic workers are still being laid off by the company’s move to Iowa is emblematic of the private property relations under capitalism. The corporation right to move plants and operations to make a higher profit trumps the workers’ right to a job to provide for the needs of their families. This is a major reason behind the massive driving down of wages and high unemployment.
But the Republic workers nonetheless have provided a heroic example of what a united worker’s struggle can accomplish to defend their rights and wrest concessions from the bosses.
The Republic workers have made known the power of the working class in society. They have shown that workers can face off with the bosses and win—even at the beginning of a deepening capitalist crisis when major corporations are collapsing, plants are closing, and millions of workers are being laid off and kicked out of their homes.
The kind of struggle the Republic workers waged is a real-life lesson for all workers and should be replicated in different forms throughout the country. The ruling class will search out every avenue they can to make the workers pay for the deepening, countrywide economic slowdown. As production grinds to a halt as a result of the boom and bust capitalist system, they will seek to cut costs by shuttering factories, closing stores and laying off workers.
Idle workers and plants, however, need not stay that way. The profit motive of the corporations is not the only possible engine for the economy. Indeed, it is not the best engine available. There is another option—workers are more than capable of organizing production.
Millions of workers need jobs; millions of workers need products like housing, food, health care, transportation and education; millions of homes are empty every night; millions of people are being kicked out of their homes. But no matter how bad things are, the capitalists will not put people to work and in homes unless they can make a profit—or they are compelled to do so by the organization of workers.
Hardship and suffering can be avoided. Workers can fight and make the banks pay for the crisis their system created. Workers can take over their factories and get justice.
There is every reason that workers should take matters into their own hands. It is our hands, energy, labor, minds and sweat that are the source of all wealth.
Congratulations to the Republic Workers!
A Victory for One is a Victory for All!
Stop the Layoffs and Plant Closures!
Jobs, Economic Relief and Full Citizenship for All Workers Now!