No accident that it happened in Chicago, and that the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) is at the forefront of the first American workers’ “resistance” in decades. The Windy City and the unyielding union herald a long, militant history of labor struggles.
“I’m not surprised that the UE is involved; this is a union where the workers are used to fighting back. I am surprised by the support they’re getting,” said Bill Fletcher Jr., co-founder of the Center for Labor Renewal and executive editor of the BlackCommentator .com.
In the face of questionable government bailouts for greedy, mismanaged corporations, should we be surprised that a small band of factory workers refused to be disrespected and dismissed without due compensation? Or, that millions more of frustrated American taxpayers seem relieved, even elated, that finally someone said “enough” to this money madness?
In what Mr. Fletcher characterized as “symbolic resistance,” about 250 workers of the Republic Windows & Doors since Friday have been taking turns occupying the Chicago factory where they were employed until last week. They refuse to leave until they receive a legal severance and accrued vacation pay.
The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires employers to provide 60 days’ notice or 60 days’ salary before a layoff. The UE workers received only three days’ notice that the plant was closing, reportedly owing to the owner’s failure to secure credit from Bank of America, which received $10 billion and stands to be allocated more as part of the federal bailout of Wall Street this fall.
“The workers have it right. Enough is enough. Working people have been continuously stepped on, and in the midst of this economic crisis the bailouts have ignored the working person,” said Mr. Fletcher, who also is the author of “Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice.”
Until recently, the public has not been generally supportive of union protests and strikes. However, this union sit-in, a not-so-subtle throwback to the 1930s, has caught Americans’ attention and garnered their support. The UE workers’ plight and “occupation” became a symbol of the economic imbalances on the road to recovery from this recession.
“[The UE] issues are resonating with people,” Mr. Fletcher said. He added that federal lawmakers, including President Bush, were not only unprepared for just how angry Americans are, but also the ways in which they are expressing their anger about the increasing price tag of bailing out corporations but including little help for struggling homeowners and workers.
These workers are only asking for what the law guarantees them. Even President-elect Barack Obama said that companies should follow through on their commitment to workers, members of Local 1110 of UE.
Republic owners blame the bank for refusing to give them enough money to pay severance packages, but there are reports that the company is relocating to a cheaper venue. Bank of America officials contend they had no say or obligation in Republic’s decision not to provide severance packages to its workers, most of whom are Hispanics and reportedly make less than $400 a week.
After the camera crews arrived and the Rev. Jesse Jackson met with the workers, state and city politicians chimed in. They threatened to file a complaint against the plant closing, to withdraw all business from Bank of America and to seek repayment of financial incentives that had been granted to the owner.
No wonder the owner and the lender relented and agreed to meet with the workers, though to no avail yet.
They “don’t roll like that” in the Windy City. History buffs know that Chicago is the birthplace of the U.S. labor movement and home to the Haymarket Affair of 1886. Here the violent campaign for the eight-hour work day, lead by anarchists such as Lucy and Albert Parsons, was won at considerable cost and loss of life.
Economist Michael Zweig, director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life at Stony Brook University, said the Republic workers have to make a “pretty impressive” showing in “this very excellent turn of events” in which “working people are protecting themselves through collective acts.”View Entire Story
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