Conservatives Target Greenlining
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Hungry By The Numbers
Living in District 9
keith harmon snow
2006 BP Probe
NAFTA & Immigration
The Past & Democracy
Herbert P. Bix
Media, Culture, Reviews
UGC & Media
Klare's Rising Powers
Zaps - 07-08/10
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How to Occupy Your Workplace
An Interview with Chicago Workers
This year's Labor Notes conference in April 2010 featured hundreds of workshops and was one of the largest ever. Over 1,000 labor activists, organizers, and others gathered to share experiences, learn lessons, and celebrate "troublemakers" in the arena of workers' struggle.
One of this year's Labor Notes "Troublemaker" awards went to the workers of the Republic Windows and Doors factory for their workplace occupation in December 2008, when they sat down and refused to leave until their demands were met. They shared their experiences in a workshop titled "How to Occupy Your Workplace" where they explained the nuts and bolts needed for a successful occupation, including personal and legal safety precautions.
Broader strategic issues were considered as well, such as the difference between a "hard occupation" and a "soft occupation." A hard occupation is where the workers may take bosses, managers, or machinery hostage in order to meet their demands, or when the workers try to run the workplace or factory themselves. A soft occupation includes sit-down strikes and workplace takeovers in order to achieve workers' rights, such as back pay, better working conditions, and health and safety standards.
The Chicago workers' experience exemplified a soft occupation, while Jesús Torrez Nuño of the Democratic Tire Workers Cooperative in Mexico, TRADOC (formerly Euzkadi Tire), discussed a hard occupation. The tire workers' struggle included a three-year strike and eventual takeover of the factory to run it themselves. At first it was out of necessity for survival, but later it was to improve wages and reorganize the division of labor for horizontal remuneration and decision-making across the workplace. Each worker gets paid the same amount in the tire factory and, according to Jesús, they are some of the best paid in all of Mexico.
After the workshop I talked with Rocio Perez and Leah Fried, both participants in the Republic Windows and Doors occupation. Rocio Perez is a union steward with United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110 and Leah Fried is an organizer with UE.
Spannos: What led workers to occupy the factory?
Perez: We were told on a Wednesday that the factory would be closing on a Friday and we knew we had to do something to fight back. The company also told us that our vacations were null and void. There was a fear that our last paychecks would bounce. Under the law they were supposed to give us 60 days notice, something they did not do.
Spannos: Of all the tactics you could have chosen, how did you arrive at the decision to occupy the factory?
Perez: We had to take the factory because we didn't have any other options. That was the only power we had. The machinery inside the plant was the only guarantee we had of getting what we were owed—to make sure they could not get their machines until we got paid.
Spannos: Were you ever in a workplace occupation before?
Perez: No, that was my first time.
Spannos: What was that like?
Perez: At the beginning it was a little scary. We weren't sure what was going to happen, but we knew we could not just stand there with our arms crossed after what they had done. So we found the courage and we decided to do it.
Spannos: How do you think that experience changed you and the other workers?
Chicago workplace occupation began December 5, 2008—photo from documentary, Workers' Republic
Perez: It is sad what happened to us, but at the same time it made us stronger. We have greater knowledge of the abuses that workers suffer and how to defend ourselves. One of the things that changed me and one of the lessons I learned was that when you are faced with losing your job, it's not okay to sit back. I had been unemployed before and I sort of took it. Now the idea came to me that I can fight back. I was angry. That's where I found the courage. Also there were a lot of us. If it were just me that was angry, maybe I would not have had that courage. But it was all of us who were really pissed off at the way they were treating us so that gave us more strength.
It was even more upsetting to see that there were entire families where the husband and the wife both worked at that place and they were the only source of income for their family. To see them crying and really frightened, wondering, "How are we going to feed our kids? What is going to happen to us tomorrow?" All of that pain and emotion converted to anger and the desire to fight and really made us much stronger. We decided that, whatever happens, we have to stay till the very end.
Spannos: What kind of support was there outside the factory?
Perez: There were other unions and other organizations. Every time somebody arrived with support and help, it made us stronger. We knew we had to keep up the fight because people were watching us and really cared about what would happen to us. It started out with people in our state. Then it became national. Then it became international and you really felt like you were doing something important.
Spannos: What were the obstacles you experienced along the way?
Perez: One of the obstacles was that even among the workers, there were those saying, "We can't do this because we are going to get arrested.... They are just going to call the police and they will arrest us and take us away." But at that moment, compared to all the pain that was being caused by the actions of the company, getting arrested didn't seem that bad.
Spannos: What do workers say now?
Workers won their demands against RWD and its creditor, Bank of America, on December 11, 2008—photo from www.workersrepublic.tv
Perez: All of us are happy because we want justice in the end. Just the feeling that the company tried to pull one over on us, and we fought back, and we were not weak like they thought we were. They could not walk all over us like they thought they could. That makes you feel really good. I think employers are going to think twice before they try to pull one of their tricks on us again. If they try it again, we have the experience now so we will be even more powerful.
Spannos: If you were talking to any other worker in the U.S. facing a similar situation, and they were considering occupying their workplace as a tactic to get their demands met, what would you tell them?
Perez: Be sure to talk a lot among yourselves. That you should not be afraid, because when you are united you can win. Everything is possible.
Spannos: Are you working at the factory now?
Perez: The factory re-opened under a new owner, Serious Materials. There are about 29 workers who have been called back to run the factory. I hope that eventually we will all be called back and that we will be together again soon. Even if, for some reason, I end up not going back, it would make me feel wonderful knowing that all my co-workers are going to eventually have their jobs back and that all that pain that they went through will eventually be healed.
Fried: One thing we were able to do was negotiate a union contract with Serious Materials that requires them to hire all 270 UE members of Local 1110 before they can hire anyone else. As production ramps up, they have to hire from our membership before they can hire anyone else. So a lot of them are still out of work, but they are guaranteed to be hired back to that job.
The owner did not bother to show his face. The COO (Chief Operating Officer), who told people that there was no money for them, didn't really understand how callous they were being towards people. They really just thought, "These are just a bunch of immigrants. Who cares? We will pull a fast one on them." In fact, the company was pulling a fast one. They had known since that summer that they planned on closing. They were slowly moving the machinery out.
I think that most employers just assume that the WARN Act (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) is so weak because it has a huge loophole that basically says that economic conditions can dictate that the employer does not have to give notice to workers. Certainly, Bank of America knew about the move and Bank of America said that, "You can shield us from any liability from the WARN Act and any anger from the employees," and they were just caught with their pants down. They just didn't anticipate workers fighting back. I hope this is an example to other workers everywhere to not be afraid.
Chris Spannos is an activist and a Z staff member. He also edited the collection Real Utopia.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.