Workers Occupy Chicago Factory
Echoes of Argentina's 2001 Worker Uprising
When the 250 workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in
"They want the poor person to stay down. We're here, and we're not going anywhere until we get what's fair and what's ours," Silvia Mazon, 47, a formerly apolitical mother and worker at the factory for 13 years told the New York Times. "They thought they would get rid of us easily, but if we have to be here for Christmas, it doesn't matter."
The workers are demanding that they be paid their vacation and severance pay, or that the factory continue its operations. They were given only three days' notice of the shut down, not the 60 days' notice which is required under federal and state law.
On Friday, fifty of the workers at the plant – taking shifts in the occupation – sat on chairs and pallets inside the factory and were supplied with blankets, sleeping bags and food from supporters. Throughout the takeover, workers have been cleaning the building and shoveling snow while protesters gathered in solidarity outside waving signs and chanting.
The occupation of the factory - which produces heating efficient vinyl windows and sliding doors – is taking place in the midst of a massive recession, with the rate of unemployment in the
The factory workers are protesting the fact that the Bank of America received $25 billion in the recent $700 billion government bailout, and then went ahead and cut off credit to Republic Windows and Doors, resulting in the subsequent closing of the factory.
"The bank has the money in this situation," said Mark Meinster, a representative of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, the union the factory workers belong to. "And we are demanding that Bank of America release the money owed to workers who have earned it and are entitled to it." On Monday Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich announced that, in support of the workers, the state will temporarily stop doing business with Bank of America.
President-elect Barack Obama also announced his support: "When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right . . . what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy."
Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered turkey and groceries to the workers, saying, "These workers are to this struggle perhaps what Rosa Parks was to social justice 50 years ago… This, in many ways, is the beginning of a larger movement for mass action to resist economic violence."
Occupy, Resist, Produce:
Perhaps the most well known of these initiatives were the occupation of factories and businesses which were later run collectively by workers. There are roughly two hundred worker-run factories and businesses in
The Chilavert book publisher in
Candido didn't attribute Chilavert's success to any politician. "We didn't put a political party banner in the factory because we are the ones that took the factory. All kinds of politicians have come here asking for our support. Yet when the unions failed, when the state failed, the workers began a different kind of fight… If you want to take power and you can't take over the state, you have to at least take over the means of production."
"We aren't animals," Republic Windows and Doors employee Apolinar Cabrera, 43, told reporters. Cabrera is a father of two, with another child on the way, and has been an employee at the factory for 17 years. "We're human beings and we deserve to be treated like human beings."
Click here to take action in support of the workers at Republic Windows and Doors and to hold Bank of America accountable.
Benjamin Dangl is the author of "The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia" (AK Press). The book includes many stories of workers, families and activists throughout