Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago told its
260 workers last week that it was going to shut its doors in three
days, so they had better find another job, it might have been just
another plant closing in a time of economic turmoil in America.
there’s a difference. The Republic workers are members of the United
Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), a union that
prides itself on being democratically controlled by the rank-and-file.
Most often, they mean just that. So,
when the local workers decided to take an unusual action like a
sit-in, the international union backed them up.
25 years of mergers, downsizing, capital flight to other countries,
and plant closings all across the country, not many people have
shown interest. A local political leader might show up. A local
daily might run a few paragraphs (unless there’s violence), but
the general view is to just let it play out and watch the workers
members who work for Republic went into the plant and stayed there,
while management was not to be found. Observers immediately noted
the similarity between the UE in Chicago in 2008 and the United Auto Workers (UAW) in Flint, Michigan, in 1937.
like Jesse Jackson, head of the PUSH/Rainbow Coalition headquartered
in Chicago, was one of them. He visited the workers on site and speculated
later that it just might be the start of a militant movement of
workers across the U.S.
major difference is that, in 1937, workers in all kinds of manufacturing
industries, everywhere in the country, were just testing out their
new-found rights to organize, to form unions and to counterbalance
the power of capital in a burgeoning industrial nation that showed
great potential for growth.
union movement as an integral part of a democratic society was showing
the vigor of its youth and the promise that their unions held for
themselves, their families, and their communities. It was a promise
of equity, dignity, a rising living standard and, perhaps, most
of all, of respect - on the job and off.
today, according to what’s reported in the press, feel that unions
have become irrelevant or have outlived their usefulness. At the
same time, union polling shows that a majority of workers in the
would join unions if they could.
have adjusted to the downward pressure of a command economy, run
by Corporate America, with little interference from government at
any level. For years, under the very real threat of flight or downsizing,
unions have lowered their expectations at the bargaining table and,
as a result, the wages of all American workers have fallen,
whether they have a union contract or not.
action has been tossed out the window and employers everywhere congratulated
the unions for being so “reasonable,” until, today, the percentage
of workers in union has dropped to all-time lows and the disparity
in wealth between labor and capital has not been greater since the
Great Depression or the golden age of the American industrialists
at the turn of the last century.
comes a union last week that said, “We’re fed up. We’re fired up.
And we’re not going to move.” Not only did the employer break the
law, but management thumbed its nose at the workers by saying not
a word about paying workers what they were owed in severance and
vacation pay. Republic management abdicated its responsibilities
for a 60-day notice of mass lay-offs. The drama is playing out as
this is written.
Barack Obama, the former senator from Illinois
who lives in Chicago, declared
his support for the members of UE Local 1110 who were sitting-in
at Republic. He said that what happened to them is reflective of
what’s happening to workers all across the country.
blames the bank as much as Republic, because it was the recipient
of billions of dollars in the recent bailout of financial institutions
by Congress, but nevertheless cut off credit to Republic, which
is what banks do when they think their clients are not acting in
their (the bank’s) best interest.
this issue of Black Commentator goes on line, the standoff continues
and it is not clear that the workers will at least get what they
have earned. In a bankruptcy or any other financial trouble, employers
and the “financial community” push the workers to the back of the
line. If there is anything left, they might get to pick over the
and television reporters lose interest after a few days and that
seems to have happened to the UE workers already. A few big city
papers covered the story on the fourth day, but the rest have better
use for their shrinking space or time for news.
Cola workers used the plant occupation in Guatemala
City in the 1980s, a time when it was easy for union leaders to
be killed or “disappeared.” It didn’t happen in that case because
there was a groundswell of support from unions here in the U.S.,
along with numerous peace and justice organizations.
there is not too much concern that UE Local 1110 members at Republic
will be “disappeared,” it is not likely that they will see a just
resolution to their case, unless there is widespread and continuing
support for their cause. One of the UE international leaders told
Solidarity America that, no matter what happens, “We are
not going down without a fight. No way.”
the Republic plant is a small group of workers who are fighting
for essential rights for all workers and they won’t go quietly.
They might make only $10-$14 an hour, with a few benefits, but they
are fighting for what is right. Every small victory - even simply
getting their vacation and severance benefits - is a victory for
all workers, an assurance that every worker has rights and every
worker is important to this nation.
U.S. government already has
bailed out those who accumulate wealth by manipulating other people’s
money and they’re having a hard time deciding to bail out the American
auto industry. The bailout money has come from taxpayers like the
Republic Windows workers, but there are few protections for them.
No one bails them out when they have financial problems.
the people are ever going to benefit from their labors in America, the giveaways to corporations and the
wealthy and the
destruction of our environment have to stop. What’s the good in
calling this a democracy, if there are no citizens, just subjects?
worker, everyone who works for a paycheck - and lives on it from
month to month - should support the UE 1110 workers for the stand
they have taken, and resolve to do the same.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union
organizer. His union work started when he became a local president
of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for
14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers
as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from
factory food producers and land developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.