CHICAGO, IL December 6 – “We are not going anywhere!” That’s what one worker said, speaking for his brothers and sisters who are occupying the Republic Windows & Doors factory. He was speaking to more than 200 workers, youth, union activists and local union officials who rallied in support of the occupation that turned the bone- chilling cold, wind and snow into a breath of fresh air.
On December 2, Republic gave about 250 black and Latino workers, members of the United Electrical Workers union (UE), three days notice that it was closing for good. Bank of America (BOA), their main creditor, cut off a line of credit to Republic causing the plant closing and canceling workers’ health benefits. According to the federal WARN Act, workers must get 60 days notice, and in Illinois they must get 75 days notice. Workers are demanding their 75 days pay and health benefits, plus vacation pay owed to them.
The total bill of about $1.5 million is a drop in BoA’s $25 billion bailout bucket. Bank of America received $15 billion as part of the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), raised $9 billion in government guaranteed loans and will get another $10 billion in TARP funds in the next two weeks. (As we go to press Bank of America has tentatively agreed to loan Republic some funds. But it is not clear how much if any will eventually be given to workers.)
Workers picketed BoA on December 3, and the bankers agreed to meet with Republic and the UE on December 5. The meeting was arranged by Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez, but Republic failed to show up. They are busy trying to sneak away to a new plant in Iowa with a non-union workforce. Some workers think Republic is planning to move out of state because the union rejected major concessions in the last contract and “won” pay increases. But as we’ve seen in the auto industry, when the bosses are in crisis our contracts aren’t worth anything.
The Democratic Party has taken over the struggle of the Republic workers. Obama publicly supports them. Jesse Jackson delivered a truckload of turkeys. Congressman Gutierrez has become their main advocate, the City Council has called for an end to doing business with BoA, the Governor has called for the factory to stay open, and the Attorney General is investigating Republic’s closing and possible move to Iowa. Workers come and go on 8-hour shifts, about 50 to a shift, without a racist cop in sight.
The Democrats know what’s in store for workers with many more plant closings and layoffs, especially affecting black and Latino workers. These politicians who have bailed out the bankers and industry bosses, as well as sending us to war and building fascism, want to mis-lead the workers‘ struggle. They are fearful that with massive layoffs looming there could be more plant takeovers. The opportunists, reformers and union full-timers who spoke at the rally are thrilled with the politicians trying to take over the strike and eager to be their foot soldiers.
By fighting back, Republic workers are setting an example to all workers facing layoffs and plant closures. PLP is mobilizing on our jobs and our campuses to collect food and money and to bring groups of people to the plant. Even more important, we will bring our revolutionary communist politics to show the Republic workers and those supporting them that the only way we can secure a future for the international working class is to build a mass PLP and fight for communist revolution.
One comrade went to the plant with coffee and donuts and ran into a friend and his wife coming out. His friend has worked there for about 10 years. They all went onto the occupied shop floor, where no guests are allowed, and the worker and his wife took our comrade on a tour of the plant. He dropped off the coffee and donuts at the lunch tables and got introduced to a group of Republic workers. He told the couple, “Fighting for what they owe you is good, but it won’t find you another job or give your son a secure future. It’s the whole system that’s no good and we have to get rid of it.” He showed the couple CHALLENGE and told them we wanted to do an article about their struggle.
As they toured the plant the comrade pointed out, “See all these windows piled up here? It doesn’t make sense. People need these windows to stay warm. The workers build them, but people can’t get them because the bosses can’t sell them.” He explained that we want a world where people get what we need because we need it, not because some factory owner or banker will profit off of it. We hope to have many more of these experiences in the coming days, and deepen the base of PLP among those fighting back, and those who support them.
Republic workers need your support. Send checks to UE Local 1110 Solidarity Fund, 37 S. Ashland, Chicago, IL 60607. Send messages of support to firstname.lastname@example.org