The Working Class Strikes Back

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

On Friday Dec. 5th 2008, an event
occured on the near-north side of Chicago
that sent a chill up the spine of corporate
America and inspired working people
around the world.
A small factory of 200 workers
refused to go home!
The management of the Republic Windows and Doors
factory had announced on the previous Tuesday (Dec.
2nd) to the employees that the plant would close permanently
at 10am Friday Dec. 5th.
It was also announced by management that the workers
would NOT be paid for vacation time they had accured
nor receive any severance pay.
Under U.S. federal law, Worker Adjustment and Retraining
Notification Act (WARN), workers must receive 60-
days notice and pay, when a company intends to cease
Management claimed that they were forced to close the
plant and not provide owed vacation pay and severance
money because their bank, Bank of America, which had
received $ 25 billion in taxpayer money from the $ 700 billion
bank bail-out bill, had cut-off the company’s line of credit.
The Republic Window workers were devastated. They
immediately contacted their union representatives at United
Electrical Workers (UE) Local 1110. The Union immediately
organized a press conference for the next day outside
Bank of America’s Chicago headquarters to inform the
public and to protest the bank’s action.
The Union press conference and rally received very little
media coverage (other than the alternative media). This
is not suprising since the corporate media in the United
States rarely covers Labor events, and besides, from the
media’s perspective, this was just another of many routine
stories about about workers being screwed by NAFTA
(North American Free Trade Agreement) America.
Two days after the rally outside Bank of America, in the
early morning hours of Friday Dec. 5th, the scheduled day
the plant was to close, something happened that hasn’t
been seen in the United States since the 1930’s. The
Republic Workers refused to leave the factory!
Management was dumbfounded. Then management’s
confusion turned to horror when a few minutes later they
looked outside and saw a crowd of people standing in
front of the small factory. The Republic Worker’s Union,
the UE, had assembled many of their members from other
job-sites. Chicago Jobs with Justice had called out people
from community organizations, churches, and members
from other unions.
Republic Window’s management franticly asked the
workers in the plant what was going on. The workers
repeated their demands that they were not leaving the factory
until they were paid what was owed to them.
Word spread fast thanks to Jobs with Justice and the
alternative media. By the afternoon the crowd of supporters
had swelled and the corporate news media began to
arrive in large numbers as well. The Chicago police had
also arrived but maintained a “ safe “ distance from the
crowd. City Council Alderman Scott Waguespack of
Chicago’s 32nd ward ( where the plant is located ) intervened
that morning to prevent an overreaction by the
police. The company did not call the police to have the
workers removed. Apparently due to the intense public
scrutiny and media coverage, the company did not want
any further negative publicity.
By Friday night additional supporters arrived from the
community and other unions. The Chicago Branch of the
IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) organized a material
support ‘pipeline’ to the occupying workers, bringing
food, soft drinks, coffee, and sleeping bags. The IWW also
organized ‘flying squadrons’—a phone tree network of
people to call to mobilize at the factory, in case the police
tried to remove the workers from the factory.
By Saturday the media coverage was unprecedented for
a labor dispute. Not only Chicago televion stations, but
journalist and television crews from national and international
news agencies appeared. The Republic Window
workers also received messages of support from unions in
Europe and South America, where factory occupations are
more common.
Other froms of support involved demonstrations around
the U.S. in front of Bank of America branches in support of
the workers, including San Francisco where 5 supporters
entered the bank, began speaking out loud to patrons and
employees, and were arrested for refusing to leave.
By Monday Dec. 8th (Day 4), politicians began to react to
the increasing popularity of the factory occupation, as
reported by the world media.
Fifteen Chicago City Council Aldermen voiced their support
by proposing a resolution that the City of Chicago
withdraw all of its monies from Bank of America if it refused
to loan Republic Windows money to pay it’s workers.
The next day, Illinois Govenor Rod Blagojevich made a
similar statement at a press conference, standing next to
UE Union staffers and members, saying that he would also
divest all State of Illinois monies from Bank of America if it
did not make a loan.
Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. Presidentelect
Barak Obama also jumped on board in support of the
Republic workers.
U.S. Illinois Congressman from Chicago, Luis Gutierez,
not only made a statement of support, but offered to help
in the negotiations.
Meanwhile, negotiations that began on Friday continued
through the weekend, between the UE Union, Republic
Windows Inc., and Bank of America, but still no agreement
had been reached.
Finally, on Wednesday evening Dec. 10th, UE Western
Regional President Carl Rosen, who led the Union negotiating
team, announced to the press that Bank of America
agreed to provide the money to pay the workers everything
they were owed, equal to $ 1.75 million.
A stipulation that the UE Union demanded was that
Bank of America pay the money directly into a third party
bank account (by passing Republic Windows Inc.) to pay
the workers. This demand by the Union was a result of
Republic Windows CEO Richard Gillman, who at one
point during the negotiations demanded that if he could
not have total control of the money lended to him he
expected the bank loans to also cover the lease of his two
cars—a 2007 BMW350xi, and a 2002 Mercedes S-500, as
well as 8-weeks of his salary equal to $37,500 ($225,000
During the occupation, UE Union staffers began a thorough
investigation of Republic Windows Inc., and had discovered
that the company was NOT shutting down.
Instead the company was moving production to western
Iowa under a new name, ECHO Windows and Doors,
where they had already bought an existing window and
door factory (TRACO) several months earlier under the
name of the newly formed ECHO corporation.
The plant in western Iowa was to remain non-union,
paying it’s workers $9 per hour with no benefits, as opposed
to the $14 per hour, health insurance, pension, and vacation
benefits of the Unionized UE plant in Chicago.
The workers at the non-union plant in Iowa were told
several months ago by the new owners (Republic Windows,
a.k.a. ECHO Inc.) that they were going to double
the number of employees and that they already had production
orders lined-up.
Ron Bender, a UE Union shop steward at Republic Windows
stated, “It was never the owners plan to save the
plant, and Bank of America was aware of the plan. They
were just running a game.”
The Republic Window workers have not only shown us
how a multi- racial workplace of Black, White and Latino
workers can overcome divisions and fight back together
successfully, but also a new economic model that all organized
workers should strive for, ie., worker owned cooperatives.
In essense, this means firing the boss and getting rid
of the capitalist middleman.
After winning all of their demands and ending the 6-
day factory occupation, the UE Union announced the creation
of a foundation fund dedicated to buying and reopening
the window and door factory under union/worker
direct ownership. Money from other unions and organizations,
nationaly and internationaly, as well as the UE
national union, has already been deposited into the foundation
According to Jerry Mead Lucero of
radio in Chicago, “It took a mere 6 days for the Republic
Workers to defeat a recalcitrant employer and one of the
nation’s largest banking corporations and to win ALL of
their demands… the big question is wether the occupation
of Republic Windows and Doors is just the beging of a
working class fightback and a resurgence of the U.S. Labor
Let us hope that is the case.
For more about the Republic Window and Door occupation,
check-out ;, “Workers Republic”
a 30-minute video from Chicago based LABOR BEAT
VIDEO, posted on youtube.
And,, an audio interview with
Robert Austin of the Chicago I.W.W. from the Jan. 3rd
2009 edition of the ILLINOIS WORLD LABOR HOUR (
WEFT community radio. 90.1 FM and webcast worldwide
at every Saturday morning from 11am-12
noon central standard time ).

This entry was posted in Labor/Economics. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.