Solidarity with Republic workers

December 15, 2008

THE SIT-IN of more than 200 workers at Chicago's Republic Windows & Doors factory galvanized solidarity actions in cities across the U.S. last week as people identified the fight for justice at Republic as their own fight.

The workers--members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110--began occupying the plant on December 5, after learning that they would not be paid the severance and vacation time they were owed. Republic's main creditor, Bank of America, had cut off the factory's line of credit--despite $25 billion in taxpayer money that the bank received as part of Congress' Wall Street bailout.

People across the country facing foreclosure, unemployment and economic uncertainty, saw in the fight back at Republic proof that it is possible to stand up and win--even against Corporate America.

In Chicago, up to 1,000 supporters turned out to Bank of America's downtown headquarters December 10 for a picket that included unionists, activists and Republic workers themselves.

"The people work, and guess whose money is in these banks?," said Rev. Gregory Livingston of Rainbow/PUSH. "Guess whose money is in the market? Guess whose money is in their pockets? It's our money."

That sentiment was repeated elsewhere. In Portland, Ore., more than 100 people turned December 10 to march from Key Bank to Bank of America in solidarity with workers left out of the government bailout. The protests forced both banks to close their doors early.

The demonstration, called by Jobs with Justice, started at Key Bank, which was approved for $2.5 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Key Bank finances Oak Harbor Freight Lines, whose workers in International Brotherhood of Teamsters Locals 81 and 174 have been striking over unfair labor practices since September 23.

The union says that the company "has violated workers' rights by coercing and intimidating striking workers, discriminating against minorities and women in its hiring practices and by cutting off health care for retired employees."

Chanting "Bail out the workers, not the banks," the spirited crowd marched down the street to Bank of America, where organizers spoke in solidarity with the members of United Electrical Workers Local 1110. Eliana Machuca, staff organizer for Portland Jobs with Justice, pointed to the Chicago worker's "militant action" as the way forward for the labor movement.

In San Francisco, 50 people gathered at a Bank of America office downtown on the evening of December 9.

Though small, the rally was very vocal, with chants of "Money for jobs and education, not for banks and corporations" ringing through the downtown shopping area. The rally was called on less than 24 hours notice by the San Francisco Labor Council and ANSWER. There were speakers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Service Employees International Union on hand to offer support to the Chicago workers.

Four activists entered the bank during the course of the rally, and within half an hour were led out in handcuffs. Amidst chants of "let them go!" they were then apparently arrested, and taken away by police.

Smaller actions also took place in several other cities. In Amherst, Mass., a crowd of 20 picketed a Bank of America branch downtown on December 10, chanting, "The workers united will never be defeated."

Although the picket was called on less than 24 hours' notice, it was energetic, with protesters forming a roving picket around the entrance of the bank. The picket actually grew as time went on, as several people passing by joined in.

In New Brunswick, N.J., 30 people came out despite the rain, including members of the Campus Antiwar Network chapter from Rutgers University, the Central New Jersey Coalition Against Endless War, Say No to War, a Latino workers' association, and the College of New Jersey.

To explain the situation to passersby, protesters chanted: "The workers ask for money, the banks say that they can't. We support the workers when they occupy their plant!"

In Baltimore, more than 30 people picketed outside of the Bank of America building in downtown on December 10. The protest was called by a small network of groups, including the recently formed Baltimore Emergency Crisis Response Network--a coalition of individuals and organizations that have come together to attempt to coordinate a progressive, activist response to local aspects of the economic crisis.

In Ithaca, N.Y., 25 people came out on a snowy Friday evening December 12 to celebrate following the announcement that Republic Windows & Doors workers had won their struggle. Members of Students for a Democratic Society, the Campus Antiwar Network, the Workers Center, the community Peace Now group, the Cornell Labor Action Project and the International Socialist Organization were in attendance.

Protesters demanded a bailout for regular people and, during a short speakout, discussed the Greek general strike, recent protests of Italian and Spanish students, and the importance of people fighting back.

Roger Dyer, Michael Fiorentino, Matt Hoke, Meredith Reese, Adam Sanchez and Kay Sweeney contributed to this article.

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