This certainly has been a very exciting year for the Left and Chicago. I received word last night (Saturday December 6, 2008) that workers at the Republic Window and Door glass factory on Goose Island in Chicago had occupied their factory, becoming the first factory workers to conduct a sit-down strike since the 1930's.
The factory announced that it would be closing, without giving the employees their back pay, vacation time, insurance or proper notification. The workers, after having been through a fight to be members of the United Electrical workers union several years prior, were ready to fight for their rights. They voted to occupy the plant, and demanded their back pay and rights.
The workers are staying at the factory in shifts, some spending the night. There was a rally Saturday and there will be another one with Jesse Jackson on Sunday. The workers and the owners will have negotiations with Congressman Luis Gutierrez on Monday. If negotiations fail there will be a rally on Tuesday outside the Bank of America offices on Lasalle st.
I met one of the leaders of the occupation, Armando Robles, at the People's Thanksgiving dinner and went that night to the factory. I spoke with the workers there and found out more info. The plant is predominantly Latino, the massive immigrants rights marches of the last few years must have played a role in their getting organized and militant. The plant is the only one of the company's, and while it used to employ around 500 people, today it's down to maybe 200-300 employees.
It's unclear how Obama feels about it. Congressman Gutierrez has been speaking in support of the workers, but it's unclear how far he'll back them. Thus far the police, and by default Daley, have been calm. If negotiations work on Monday, it could be a big victory, signaling that workers can be more militant to gain their rights and that those actions have pay off. There are risks if the occupation isn't concluded on Monday and goes beyond it, but possibly bigger pay offs. If the occupation lasts through till Obama appoint new people to the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB could take a stand to legalize workplace occupations.
I asked Armando Robles at the People's Thanksgiving dinner if the company was unable or unwilling to give the workers their back pay and right if the workers at the factory were interested in expropriating the factory or starting up production. Robles replied in the affirmative.
With the economy failing, more actions like this can be expected. With President Obama in power, we might be able to get some substantial gains for the working class. Regardless, this sit-down strike has already had an impact on American labor, inspiring many and raising the militancy of the movement.
Armando Robles Speaks on the Occupation Part 1
Armando Robles Speaks on the Occupation Part 2
Armando Robles Speaks Part 3