With a unanimous vote, workers at the Republic Windows & Doors plant in Chicago ended their six-day factory occupation on December 10, 2008 after Bank of America and other lenders agreed to fund about $2 million in severance and vacation pay as well as health insurance.
"Everybody feels great," said a tired but beaming Armando Robles, president of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE) Local 1110.
Melvin Maclin, the local's vice president, agreed. "I feel wonderful," he said. "I feel validated as a human being. Everybody is so overjoyed. This is significant because it shows workers everywhere that we do have a voice in this economy. Because we're the backbone of this country. It's not the CEOs. It's the working people."
Pointing, he continued, "See that sign up there? Without us, it would just say 'Republic,' because we make the windows and doors. This shows that you can fight--and that you have to fight."
The settlement was a resounding victory for union members who were told a little more than a week earlier that the factory would be closed in less than three days' time--and that, contrary to federal law, they would get no severance pay.
So to pressure the company to make good on what it owed them, the workers voted to stay put after the plant ceased production on December 5.
By deciding to occupy their factory--a tactic used by labor in the 1930s, but virtually unknown in this country since--the Republic workers sparked a solidarity movement that forced one of the biggest banks in the US to pay two months of wages and health care, even though the bank had no legal obligation to do so.
What began as a resolute act of some 250 workers quickly became a national symbol of working-class resistance in a crisis-bound economy. Hundreds upon hundreds of union members and officials--not only from Chicago, but around the Midwest--came to the Republic factory to express their solidarity and bring donations of food and badly needed funds.
But support for the Republic struggle went beyond the ranks of organized labor. The fightback crystallized mass anger about the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. Even though Bank of America--Republic's main creditor--was in line to receive $25 billion in taxpayer money, the bank refused to finance the 60 days' pay due to workers under the WARN Act if a plant closes without the two-month notice required under the law.
Democratic politicians, from President-elect Barack Obama down to Chicago aldermen...