Leah Fried has been a union organizer with the UE (United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America) for 12 years
In 2008, UE Occupied the Republic Windows and Doors factory for six days. Banks had just gotten a massive bailout that most people hated; Obama became President-Elect on a wave of hope and change; and the bosses at Republic Windows and Doors and Bank of America were no-good crooks trying to steal workers' wages and benefits. For those six days in December 2008, there was a massive outpouring of support for the workers. Over 1,000 people visited the factory to show solidarity with the workers; rallies were held in dozens of cities; and the story cracked the mainstream media like no other labor story had in my time as a union organizer.
We celebrated after we won a $1.75 million settlement from Bank of America and Chase Bank that met all the workers' demands. Then the UE started to widely promote the idea that working class people could fight back and win. The leaders of UE Local 1110 visited 14 cities to tell the story of the Republic Windows occupation, and in the process we let other workers knows how they could do something similar. Our message then was that workers can win when we unite in peaceful civil disobedience against powerful corporations. Our message now is that if workers don't at the very least try to fight back, through work-place occupations and acts of unified, peaceful disobedience, then surely we will lose. And 99% of the people have been losing: we've lost wages; we've lost jobs; we've lost our homes; we've lost our political power to corporations.
It was easy for a lot of folks to explain the 2008 victory as a fluke: a one-time coming together of circumstances not easily found again, a unique point in time that allowed for the factory occupation to happen. A lot of people commented that this group of workers was special. But the truth is that the workers of UE Local 1110 are no different from anybody else. They are not shrewd political analysts, and they do not possess a higher degree of selflessness. What they had was good leadership, a plan, and the courage to believe in their collective power. This was enough to act.
On February 23, 2012 UE once again occupied the same window factory, though this time it's under the ownership of California-based Serious Energy. The occupation was about saving the jobs. And after 11 hours of occupation, the UE workers won all our demands to keep the factory open 90 days so it can be sold, even to the workers themselves. Now we are ready to mobilize for the next step – the fight to save these jobs.
We made the decision to occupy before there were supporters outside the factory, when there was no media presence and with only a few hours to prepare. This occupation was very different from the last one, as there were no clear-cut arch-villains and no easy demands. We chose to occupy because the workers knew that if we didn’t fight in that moment we would lose all the leverage we had. We would be out of jobs without a chance of regaining them. We had leadership and a plan. And we won.
This second UE occupation of the window factory shows it was not a fluke. When the laws of our country or world are not able to defend our human rights, we have to fight, occupy, and take risks. It’s scary and difficult, but the same old tactics aren’t working and, as a result, human suffering grows.
Finally, if you heard about the second UE plant occupation, and if you support the effective steps that the UE is taking to preserve workers rights in our national fight against the corruption of the 1%, then please know that the workers and UE need your support. Here’s how you can help:
1. Sign up for email action alerts at www.ueunion.org to get news on what you can do
2. Donate funds to the innovative organizing that UE supports at www.ueref.org.
3. Donate to create a worker-run cooperative: http://theworkingworld.org/index.php?action=contributeChicago
When we take direct action together, a just world is within our reach.
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