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7 January 2009

USA: Chicago factory workers occupation wins concessions

BY OCCUPYING their plant, and refusing to budge, workers at the Republic Windows & Doors factory in Chicago have provided an inspirational example to workers around the country of how workers can fight and win their demands.

Bryan Koulouris, Socialist Alternative (CWI, USA)

In early December 2008, the workers were shocked when they heard that their factory was being closed down with only three more days of work. The reason? Bank of America was cutting off its loans to the company. This is the same Bank of America that has been handed billions of dollars in government bailouts.

The workers, represented by the United Electrical Workers (UE), did not take it lying down; they fought back and occupied the factory. They demanded a good severance package, and they won. This shows the potential power of working people when organised and when taking action.

The occupation sparked discussions among workers across the US about how they too can fight back against cuts. The union leaders need to demand better unemployment benefits and jobs for all, to organise the unemployed. Instead of funnelling trillions of dollars in loans to banks, the unions need to demand a massive public works programme, to ensure every worker has a job.

To stop layoffs due to factory closures and bankruptcy, it will require that we raise the demand of public ownership under democratic workers' control and management.

If companies say that they cannot afford to keep paying for jobs, then we need to get them to open their financial records to the workers' movement. If they are telling the truth, then we need to take over the workplaces ourselves.