Friday, February 24, 2012

Chicago Factory Occupiers Face 'Serious' Challenge

Workers and supporters rallying outside the factory last night
In 2008, two hundred and sixty workers at Chicago's Republic Windows and Doors occupied their factory, after the company sacked them at the moment's notice, and offered no redundancy payments. Over a week, the Republic case became emblematic of blue collar workers paying for others' mistakes, and the occupation became a media cause célèbre. Then President Elect Barack Obama was embarrassed into raising the issue, and Michael Moore later highlighted their action in his film Capitalism: A Love Story. The workers eventually won significant severance packages, and the new owners - Serious Materials - pledged to rehire them.

Three years and two months later, it turns out that Serious Materials only rehired seventy-five of the occupiers, and Serious too are now planning to close down the factory. The news broke yesterday, and so sixty of the experienced campaigners began another sit-in, locking themselves in the cafeteria. However, unlike in 2008, they had a ready made support network to call on - in the shape of Occupy Chicago. Over the next hours, occupiers and Occupiers mobilised over Twitter, and a large crowd soon assembled at the plant.

Tonight, representatives from the United Electrical union are claiming victory, after Serious agreed to keep operations going for ninety days, with a view to selling on the business yet again.

But if this is a victory, so far it is only a very marginal one. As Serious declared in their original statement:
"Ongoing economic challenges in construction and building products, collapse in demand for window products, difficulty in obtaining favorable lease terms, high leasing and utility costs and taxes and a range of other factors unrelated to labor costs, have compelled Serious to cease production at the Chicago facility"
Given the current state of the both the US and global economies, these conditions will likely be very similar - or even worse - three months from now. The relatively small proportion of the Republic workers rehired by Serious in 2009 was an indication that in an economic depression, it is necessary for industrial capitalists to drastically 'downsize' - that is, attack jobs, wages and conditions - if they are to maintain or increase their profitability.

It seems quite likely that no buyer will be forthcoming by the end of May. But if one does come forward, they will surely want to further increase the rate of exploitation at the factory. If so, yesterday's showdown could be a mere dress rehearsal for struggles to come.
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