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PORTSIDE  June 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE June 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Chicago Factory Occupiers Form Worker Cooperative

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Date:

Thu, 7 Jun 2012 20:27:39 -0400

Content-Type:

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text/plain (114 lines)

Chicago Factory Occupiers Form Worker Cooperative

by Yana Kunichoff, Truthout Report 

Truthout
May 31, 2012

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission

http://truth-out.org/news/item/9500-republic-windows-and-doors-serious-materials-workers-form-cooperative

First, they occupied the factory to get their wages from the
bosses that owned the machinery. Then, they occupied their
factory to keep the second bosses from shutting down their
machinery. And, now, they are on their way to owning and
running the machinery.

The group of workers who occupied their Chicago factory in
2008 and again in 2012 incorporated a worker-run cooperative
on May 30, 2012. The factory window makers will take over
was formerly owned by Republic Windows and Doors and then
Serious Energy, and will now be run by New Era Windows, LLC.

Their battle to win wages and back pay from Republic Windows
and Doors by occupying the factory is often mentioned in the
same breath as the occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol
to protest Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union bill as a flash
point of progressive struggle since the recession took hold.

Armando Robles, president of the United Electrical Workers
Local 1110, said that the school of struggle the workers
went through with both factory occupations helped them win
the confidence to take over their factory.

"We learned how to fight against the bosses and now to
negotiate contracts with the owners of Republic and Serious
Energy, how to negotiate in contract negotiations and how to
make escalating actions before going on strike."

The story began in 2008, when the Republic Windows and Doors
Factory shut its doors without paying workers their
severance pay or accrued vacation time in "a perfect parable
of all that was wrong with the financial crisis."

"Just a few days after receiving $25 billion in bailout
funds from the federal government, Bank of America cut off
the company's credit line, leading Republic's management to
immediately and unceremoniously fire all 250 workers without
providing the 60 days' notice or 60 days' pay required of
them by the federal WARN Act," reported Salon.

In response, they called for an occupation. The workers
spent six days barricaded inside the factory before Bank of
America was pressured into agreeing to reopen the company's
line of credit, and the workers were paid their due.

"Here the banks like Bank of America get a bailout, but
workers cannot be paid?" asked Leah Fried, an organizer with
the union workers, in 2008. "The taxpayers would like to see
that bailout go toward saving jobs, not saving C.E.O.'s."

When Serious Materials (now Serious Energy) bought they
company, it promised to hire all of the fired workers. But
in February 2012, it also fell victim to a continuing
economic downturn, and announced it would be closing
immediately.

In response, the workers occupied again. In the rain and
cold, and with the support of Occupy Chicago, they won a
temporary reprieve after only 12 hours. Serious Energy
promised to sell the business and keep the factory open for
90 more days.

"When we found out nobody is going to buy the company we
started this idea [to form a cooperative] and brought it in
proactive," said Robles. "We started having meetings about
it."

The next step for the workers, whose business in now
incorporated with the State of Illinois, is to raise the
investment money to start the cooperative and buy the
machinery from their former employer.

Robles says they are working on getting the money together -
about $2 million to purchase the machinery - and have
already started building the structure of the cooperative:
"we already have a steering committee, we have two
treasurers. We will keep doing forward."

They expect to start producing windows in two or three
months, said Robles, and running their unionized
cooperative.

[Yana Kunichoff is an assistant editor at Truthout.]

==========

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