US: Chicago factory occupation leads to victory

Inspirational example for workers’ fighting cutbacks

By occupying their plant, and refusing to budge, workers at the Republic Windows & Doors factory in Chicago have provided an inspirational example to workers around the country of how workers can fight and win their demands. In early December, the workers were shocked when they heard that their factory was being closed down. They were outraged when the bosses told them they had only had three more days of work. The reason? Bank of America was cutting off its loans to the company. This is the same Bank of America that has been handed billions of dollars in government bailouts.

The workers did not take it lying down; they fought back. This can be a lesson for us all. The workers, represented by the United Electrical Workers (UE), reclaimed a strategy that helped to build the labor movement in the US: they occupied the factory. They demanded a good severance package, and they won. This shows the potential power of working people when organized and when taking action.

A workplace occupation poses the question: who is in charge here? Management has no power to give orders when workers run the show. In fact, it may have been possible to demand even more than the workers won due to the potential success of this militant tactic. The general population of Chicago and the US expressed a deep sense of sympathy for the workers. In future struggles, this sympathy can be turned into widespread solidarity demonstrations and support networks.

When layoffs and cuts are proposed by big corporations and their political servants, working people need to look to the brave example of the Chicago window workers who occupied their workplace and refused to be chased out.

The occupation sparked discussions among workers across the US about how they too can fight back against cuts. It is essential that union leaders follow the marvelous example of these Chicago workers. The union leaders need to demand better unemployment benefits and jobs for all to organize the unemployed. Instead of funneling trillions of dollars in loans to banks, the unions need to demand a massive public works programme, to ensure every worker has a job

To stop layoffs due to factory closures and bankruptcy, it will require that we raise the demand of public ownership under workers’ democratic control and management, to save jobs. If companies say that they cannot afford to keep paying for good jobs, then we need to get them to open their financial records to the workers’ movement. If they are telling the truth, then we need to take over the workplaces ourselves.

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December 2008