“You got bailed out. We got sold out.”
That, according to this story from MSNBC, is one of the rallying cries of 200 fired workers at the Republic Window and Door Company in Chicagoan have staged a sit-in at the factory where they used to work. It seems that these people lost their jobs because of the financial markets crisis when Bank of American, according to a company spokesperson, cut off the company’s financing. The employees were fired with little notice, no severance pay and they did not receive payment for accrued vacation time. Bank of American, who received a substantial payment from the recent government bailout, has said it has no responsibilities for money that Republic owes the fired employees. the Illinois Attorney General is investigating the situation.
Ht is a brief summary of the facts of this potentially historic workers’ demonstration. What makes this event so newsworthy is that it is attracting a lot of national attention, including that of President-elect Batack Obama. I’m not all that surprised that Obama has publicly stated that these workers are “absolutely correct” in demanding the monies owed them, because this sit-in has the full support of the union these workers belong to, and union support had a lot to do with Obama winning industrial states like Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The fact that this labor action has the support of the Rev. Jesse Jackson comes as no surprise either. Jackson is a long0time supporter of worker rights.
What I find most intriguing about this is that it happened at all. It has been a long time since workers, especially union workers, have done anything quite so radical and, dare I use the word, so socialist in this country. Organized labor has been one of the bulwarks of blue-collar conservatism for quite a few decades. To see union workers again really standing up for workers’ rights and actually being applauded for it is heart-warming and awe-inspiring for someone like me who is a long-time supporter of the spirit of the labor movement.
I;ve belonged to several major labor unions in my time: the Teamsters, the Steelworkers, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Back in the 1970s as a member of AFSCME, I was involved in a wildcat strike by state unemployment compensation workers over the firing of several union members that nearly shut down the unemployment offices citywide in Chicago. The state ultimately gave in and reinstated those employees as well as all those who walked the picket lines, bu by then many of us had found other jobs, although we did man the picket lines as much as possible.
While that strike started out as an illegal one, it did gain a lot of support from, not only AFSCME, but other unions, many of whom refused to cross the picket lines. That was one of the major factors leading to the concessions made by the state.
In this most recent action in Chicago, one anecdote about a young man, not one of the fired employees, who came by the factory to see what was going on, and then came back the next day with lots of prepared food for the demonstrators, struck me as quite telling. The young man said he wanted to help because his grandfather was a member of that union.
Such a show of worker solidarity is, for me at least, a hopeful sign. I hope that as this sit-in continues, it will gain support from other members and supporters of the labor movement. What happened to these 200 hard-working members of the working class in the USA could happen to many more working people. If companies are allowed to trample on employees the way Republic has then this country will never recover from our current economic crisis.
Fortunately, it appears our next President understands that, unlike the man currently in the White House and the current Congress, who both seem to think the road to recovery is paved with government bailouts of bloated and mismanaged corporations. The current administration and Congress seem to have forgotten that it is the workers, not the investors, that are the truly productive members of our society. The fruits of their labor is what makes the profits of the investors possible, bot the other way around.