Sunday, December 07, 2008

Speaking of Tim...

...he's the one who tipped me to this AP report:
Workers laid off from their jobs at a Chicago factory have occupied the building and are demanding assurances they'll get severance and vacation pay that they say they are owed.

About 200 employees of Republic Windows and Doors began staging the sit-in in shifts this week after learning the plant was closing Friday.
The New York Times adds that the workers are calling the sit-in a “peaceful occupation” and have no plans to leave. They said
they were notified Tuesday that the plant, more than four decades old, would close Friday. They said they were given insufficient notice and were never paid for vacation days or severance. ...

“They’re staying because the fact is that these workers feel they have nothing to lose at this point,” said Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 1110, who said groups of 30 were occupying the plant in shifts. “Telling them they have three days before they are out on the street, penniless, is outrageous.” ...

The Chicago police said they were monitoring the situation but had no reason to remove the workers. “We haven’t got any reports of a criminal nature at this time,” a police spokesman said.
The workers even got some support from a surprising but still noteworthy place, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
President-elect Barack Obama put himself on the side of the workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory Sunday:

“When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right,” Obama said Sunday at a news conference announcing his new Veterans Affairs director. “What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.
(Link via Raw Story.)

Neither AP nor the Times could reach representatives of the company for comment, which, all things considered, may not be surprising.

The thing is, I can't describe just how mixed my feeling are about this. I'm distressed at the prospect of these people out of work. I'm angry at the management for giving them so little notice (in fact, that may have been illegal), possibly to protect their own interests (although fairness requires me to say that we don't actually know that). I'm depressed about and fearful for an economy in which scenes of closed businesses are very likely to become a common occurrence.

But dammit, I am so excited and so encouraged by the fact that some workers are just! fed! up! Fed up enough to stage an old-fashioned sit-in. I don't know how far this will get or even that it will accomplish anything in the short run - the famous occupation of the GM plant in Flint, Michigan in 1936-37 that helped to build the labor movement was against a company that wanted to continue operating, not that intended to shut down - but simply the fact that they are pissed off enough, are at the point of feeling they have nothing to lose, to do this, is just... it makes me feel "dammit, yes! And I hope to see a whole lot more, because that kind of anger is exactly what we need."

Footnote: I had though of linking to a video of Peter Finch's famous "mad as hell" monologue as Howard Beale in Network, but on reflecting that the whole idea there was that the public anger was being channeled and manipulated in ways that were to the benefit of the network, which is pretty much the opposite of what I wanted to express here, I decided it wasn't truly appropriate.

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