(Cross-posted from Better than Machines)
By now you have probably heard that 200 or so laid off workers are occupying a door and window factory in Chicago, refusing to leave until they receive the severance and vacation pay they have earned.
Below is a quick review of what's gone down, followed by some of my brief observations.
Timeline of the Occupation
Tuesday, Dec 2nd: Republic Windows and Doors tells its workers they will be laid off by the end of the week—just 3 days notice, a violation of the Illinois WARN Act. Republic says it will shut the plant and not pay its workers the severance and vacation pay they are owed because Bank of America has canceled its financing of the company.
Friday, Dec 5th: The factory closes, but the workers--who are members of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)--won't leave.
“We aren't animals,” says Apolinar Cabrera, a 17-year employee of Republic. “We're human beings and we deserve to be treated like human beings.”
The workers occupy the factory in 8-hour shifts, shoveling snow and cleaning the building.
Saturday, Dec 6th: Bank of America, which received $25 billion as part of a government bailout, issues a statement saying it is not responsible for Republic's financial obligations to its employees.
Sunday, Dec 7th: President-elect Obama weighs in on the side of the workers, saying, “The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned, I think they're absolutely right and understand what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy.”
High-profile supporters visit the workers, including Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill)
Monday, Dec 8th: Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich announces that the state “will suspend doing any business with Bank of America” until the company restores credit to the factory.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) rallies with workers.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) helps arrange a meeting between the workers' union, the company, and the bank. Talks reach no resolution.
Tuesday, Dec 9th: In a victory for the workers, Bank of America reverses its position and agrees to extend limited loans to the factory so that the company can pay the workers the money it owes them.
Wednesday, Dec 10th: The workers' occupation of the factory continues and so do talks between the union, the company, and the bank.
Observations on the Occupation
1. This is a historic moment and it may take a while to realize just how historic it really is. Some accounts say a workplace sit-in like this one hasn't happened since the 1930s. Others say say it has been seldom seen since the 1930s. Others say it harkens back to the 1930s or that it is reminiscent of the 1930s. Any way you slice it, people are comparing this to the 1930s, when a failed economy gave rise to a grassroots labor activism that rose up and built most of what we love about our country today.
2. Democrats have been impressively supportive of the workers. From the Chicago area's US representatives, to the senior senator from Illinois, all the way to the president-elect. I'm proud to be a Democrat today.
3. Republicans' silence on the issue is deafening. Has anyone seen or heard any statement from a national-level Republicans about the sit-in? I've done a little searching and can find nothing. Zilch! Hmm, why might that be?
4. Chamber of Commerce types and the Anti-Union Network must be pooping their pants right now. You might too, if you had spent the last couple of decades growing sinfully wealthy while squeezing working people to near breaking point, or if you had gotten used to having friends in the White House and Congress who help you bust unions and ignore laws. A new sheriff is coming to town, and suddenly labor militancy is cool again.
5. What great timing this all is for the push to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. The lords of wealth have already poured millions into smearing this bill. Well, two hundred unionists just got more attention than all the ads Big Money could buy. And that, friends, is how we say BOOYA!