Friday, March 27, 2009

Republic Windows and Doors

Here's a story you probably didn't hear about, unless you're from Chicago. I learned about it from Bill Moyers just now, watching his great PBS show. It's the story of the workers at Republic Windows and Doors, and how they stood up to both the company and Bank of America. It was part of his interview with another great American, the labor organizer James Thindwa:

BILL MOYERS: He was in the thick of things recently when local factory workers stood up to a deadbeat employer. The company they worked for, Republic Windows and Doors, suddenly announced it was closing up shop and leaving town. By law, Republic's unionized employees were entitled to 60 days notice and some parting benefits. Instead, the owners gave them three days notice and cut off their health insurance. The angry workers took over their factory. Backed by their union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine workers of America or U.E., they called it a "peaceful occupation" and announced they wouldn't budge until the company did right by them.

REPORTER #1: Developing right now, laid-off workers occupying a Chicago factory-

REPORTER #2: Hundreds of workers are barricaded in a business on Chicago's-

BILL MOYERS: The story caught the nation's attention...

REPUBLIC WINDOWS AND DOORS EMPLOYEE: We've been here since yesterday and we aren't going anywhere. We are committed to this!

CROWD: Yeah!

BILL MOYERS: As workers stood firm inside the factory, James Thindwa helped rally supporters to raise a ruckus outside.

CROWD: The workers united will never be defeated!

JAMES THINDWA: We were going to use Republic Windows as an example. That if you're thinking about walking away from workers, you know, walking away from your obligation to pay workers wages and their benefits, and that you're going to have a fight on your hands. That we're going to bring the entire community- the wrath of the community was going to come and express itself. Chicago is a union town. And we like to say that here. And so we drew a line in the sand and said- it was snowing outside, we drew a line in the snow, and said that you can't do this in Chicago.

BILL MOYERS: Factory owners blamed the closure on declining home construction. They said they couldn't meet the payroll or pay their bills, because Bank of America had canceled the company's line of credit.

CROWD: Se, se puede!

BILL MOYERS: So organizers took on the bank. It had just received 25 billion dollars in federal bailout money- money meant to help banks do the very kind of lending companies like Republic Windows and Doors needed.

. . . .

JAMES THINDWA: And so this became a very, very powerful campaign, politically, emotionally. And I think Bank of America wisely decided that this was not a fight that they were going to win.

CROWD: Yes, we did! Yes, we did!

BILL MOYERS: After five days of public pressure, Bank of America caved. It came up with a cash loan to pay the workers what they were owed.

It's a great story. You can find the entire transcript here.


  1. 12/8/09 Democracy Now headline about the strike of Republic Windows and Doors:

    Laid Off Workers Occupy Chicago Factory
    A group of workers in Chicago have entered their fourth day of occupying a closed factory to protest the company’s decision to shut down the plant. The laid-off workers at Republic Windows and Doors have been conducting a sit-in at the Chicago plant since Friday. Workers say their former bosses gave them only three days’ notice of the closing. Many of the employees had worked at the factory for decades. Union organizers say the workers are still owed vacation and severance pay and were not given the sixty days of notice generally required by federal law when companies make layoffs. On Sunday, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson visited the factory workers

    Complete story from Democracy Now about the strike

    While your at it, check out Matt Tabbi in either the
    latest Rolling Stone or this interview in Democracy Now
    3/25/09. Tabbi says the economic crisis is not so much
    about money as power -- will a small group of plutocrats
    continue to control our country.

    For my three cents. Bill Moyers’ story about James Thindwa,
    and his more than 30 years as a community organizer, is wonderful
    in itself. However, it illustrates a function of “education” and especially elite education. Obama’s mere 3 years as a community organizer could be seen as a not untypical vacation before taking his elite ambition seriously (A frequent function of the Peace Corps,etc.) Regardless, Harvard was able to extract a potential leader of working people and deposit him in service of Goldman Sachs, AIG, and weapons manufacturers.

  2. the three pennies of wisdom came from David Lee


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