Raul Flores, sit-down striker at the Republic Window and Doors plant in Chicago
The U.S, and indeed global, working class received an early Christmas present this year from the predominantly immigrant and black workers at the Republic Window and Doors plant in Chicago. In a bold, determined move, that has not been seen since the 1930s in the U.S., 250 workers, members of the United Electrical Workers Union (UE), occupied their manufacturing plant and refused to leave until the owners and creditors met their demands. The occupation, which began on December 10th and continued for 6 days, forced owner Richard Gillman, and two banks, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase, which also owns 40% of the company, to concede on the workers modest demands regarding severance pay, accrued vacation time and health care coverage.
Workers were enraged that the owners, with only a few days notice, were planning to close the plant, and not even provide the federally mandated 60 days notice or severance pay for the workers. Furthermore, the companies’ bankers, Chase and BOA, have been the recipients of $ 25 Billion each, and untold more in loans, as part of the government’s bailout of Wall Street. Yet, these same banks refused--initially-- to provide the money for the severance package. The sit-down, and the broad solidarity the workers received, forced the capitalists to back down.
While winning their immediate demands was important, the most significant part of the strike was the example itself. In the midst of the most severe capitalist crisis since the 1930s, the workers at this small plant pointed to how the rest of the working class can fight back and win in the face of the savage attacks now being unleashed by the capitalist class and their states in the US and around the world. Indeed, the widespread support this action received from workers in Chicago and the Midwest, and messages of support from the around country and world, was a major factor in why they won and underscores how significant this action was seen by broad sections of the working class.
Nonetheless, despite the victory, the plant has been shut down and these heroic workers are joining the growing ranks of laid-off workers. In the next sit down we must combine radical actions with equally radical demands, including democratic worker control of industry and finance.