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2009-05-15

Chicago Window Factory Reopens with Occupying Workers Back on the Job

Guests

Armando Robles, president of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America in Chicago and a maintenance worker at the former Republic Windows and Doors factory.

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Workers at Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors factory occupied their plant in December after the plant’s owners gave workers just three days’ notice of the plant’s closure. They won a settlement, and now the factory has remained open under new management. We speak to Armando Robles, a maintenance worker at the factory and local union president. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to Chicago, where workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory occupied their plant in December after the plant’s owners gave workers just three days’ notice of the plant’s closure. This is an excerpt of a documentary produced by the workers’ union, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.

    ROCIO PEREZ: [translated] They gave us like an hour, more or less. They came and said, “OK, you have your papers. Now go.” That is when we said, “No, we’re not leaving. This is where we’re staying.”

    RON BENDER: So we decided — we just said, “Hey, we’re going to stay here until, you know, you all give us some better answers than this.”

    FACTORY WORKERS: Si, se puede! Si, se puede!

    CBS NEWS: This is a group ready for a fight.

    MARK MEINSTER: We put it to a vote, and workers decided that they will be staying in the plant for the remainder of the weekend.

    CBS NEWS: More than 200 of Republic Windows and Doors’ 300 union workers are staging a sit-in of sorts until they get what is legally owed to them. The union says company officials told employees they were closing shop because Bank of America would no longer extend Republic a line of credit. Bank of America wouldn’t confirm that, due to confidentiality concerns. Workers say the fact that Bank of America received $25 billion in the federal bailout makes this even more unacceptable.

    ARMANDO ROBLES: I’m going to stay until the end. If they tell me I have to leave, well, they have to arrest me.

    REPORTER: You’re prepared to be arrested?

    ARMANDO ROBLES: I’m prepared to be arrested, if it’s necessary.

    FACTORY WORKERS: Y no nos vamos! Aqui estamos y no nos vamos!

    CBS NEWS: Translation: “We are here, and we are not going anywhere.”

    MELVIN MACLIN: We have been here overnight. We’ve been here since yesterday, and we aren’t going anywhere. We are committed to this.

    CBS NEWS: Melvin Maclin is one of dozens of Republic Windows and Doors workers who is staying put in the company’s cafeteria until he gets his remaining vacation, healthcare and severance pay.

    FACTORY WORKERS: You got bailed out! We got sold out!

    PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: These workers, if they have earned these benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments.

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Workers all around the nation who are now facing massive layoffs, it’s your job, it’s your plant. Stay there and fight for them ’til justice comes. And justice will come.

    ROCIO PEREZ: [translated] What I saw inside was that people were very excited. They came to me, and they said, “Rocie, Barack Obama said that he’s impressed with us.” And we’re so happy to know that the people on the outside hear us and we have their support. And all that support that we got, it made us stronger, and it made us realize we had to stay, we couldn’t give up the fight. And we would keep fighting until we won.

    MELVIN MACLIN: Bank of America, it struck a chord in me, because the first thing that they said was, “Remember, we are an organization that’s here to make money.” That was the first thing that they said: you are here to make money. OK, then when you make money, make more money by keeping us open? You know what I’m saying? You would think — I mean, because we didn’t need a whole lot of money. We needed money for day-to-day operations. This bad press is coming into place, and you’re starting to lose money, and you stand a chance of now losing billions of dollars, as opposed to $1.7 million. Now you want to step up, you know, which is a good thing, you know. And so, then, now they wants to help. Now they’re saying, “Well, our only concern is for these workers.” Wow! Where was the concern before the publicity, you know what I’m saying? I mean, and it wasn’t just the Bank of America here; it was their branches all over. It was amazing. I couldn’t have dreamed a better dream.

    ARMANDO ROBLES: The occupation is over. We have achieved a victory. We say we will not go out until we get a justice. And we have it.

AMY GOODMAN: Excerpts from a video produced by the workers’ union, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. Armando Robles is the last person you saw in that video, and he’s joining us here in the firehouse studio, president of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America in Chicago, a maintenance worker at the former Republic Windows and Doors factory.

The latest news? And welcome, Armando.

ARMANDO ROBLES: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here and united now on Democracy Now!

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you tell us a little bit about what’s happened to the factory since? There were reports about a couple of months ago that a new buyer came in and is reopening the factory?

ARMANDO ROBLES: Yeah, in December, the end of December, I receive a call in the union hall from a guy from California, and he is interested to buy Republic Windows and Doors facility, and we have an agreement to bring him to Chicago. We showed the company, and we introduced him to the government and the bank to start dealing to the possible buy-in. In like a month and a half, they conclude the buy. We have our — we negotiate our own contract for four years, and we go forward with this.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how many of the workers have returned to the factory?

ARMANDO ROBLES: Right now are ten workers, because we don’t have a lot of sales right now. We expect starting getting sales to rehire the 275 workers.

AMY GOODMAN: You said you were willing to risk arrest, you would stay in the factory. Why?

ARMANDO ROBLES: Well, because it was for — to support my family. To going out to find another work, it takes time. And it was my last — my last card, my last play, what I had to do before going out and resigning.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Were you surprised by the enormous support you got from around the country and the enormous attention that the sit-in generated throughout the United States?

ARMANDO ROBLES: Right now, yes. Before, when we started, we don’t believe in that’s going to be the — that intensity is going to take this. But right now, like I wake up from —-

AVI LEWIS: It’s been a bit of a dream, hasn’t it?

ARMANDO ROBLES: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you been in touch with the Hartmarx people, the factory that made the suits for Barack Obama and his tuxedo, that is being closed by the TARP-bailed-out Wells Fargo?

ARMANDO ROBLES: Yeah. Well, we sent a crew of co-workers to talk with them. And unfortunately, I was working, but I’m in touch with that, and I feel great this happened, because it’s bad to have the peoples going out on unemployment, and it’s hard for all the workers.

AVI LEWIS: There’s something going on in Chicago, you guys, and it’s powerful to have two examples in one city, because -— and it’s powerful what the Republic Windows and Doors workers did. Now it’s Serious Materials workers, I guess. Is that what you’re going to be called?

ARMANDO ROBLES: Yes, yeah.

AVI LEWIS: That’s the new company. Maybe they’ll have a new name.

But, you know, so many of the workers’ struggles that we’ve been seeing around the world in this moment of crisis have been for people to just get their severance pay, because all of these factors are closing abruptly. Companies are using the crisis as an excuse to shed jobs and to close facilities. And so, so much worker energy has been mobilized just to get the last paycheck.

But what happens to those people after that? What the Republic Windows and Doors struggle shows, and what all of these recovered companies in Argentina show, where they’re actually worker-run, is that the next phase is far more important. How do we get to there, where the jobs are maintained or even that the workplace has become democratic in the process of being saved from bankruptcy? Because it’s one thing to get one last payout and spending a week in Detroit. It’s devastating how many people are fighting the last great fight of their working lives in order to get another three months of what they were owed. What happens after that?

So these struggles need to go forward to not just, you know, getting the severance — preserving jobs and creating jobs, because worker-run enterprises are so much more efficient, without CEO salaries, stupid marketing campaigns and other executive gambling and derivatives and everything else, that worker-run factories and businesses are actually much more profitable and can afford to employ many more people.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what has happened to the rest of the workers? You say about ten now have returned to the reopened factory. What about the other 230? How are they faring, or how have they fared in the last few months?

ARMANDO ROBLES: Well, they got a hope. But in the meantime, it’s desperate. Outside, they try to look for work on the outside. And it’s kind of worse, because they go through the [inaudible] factories, window factories, including those factories have some former supervisors from Republic, and they know the workers. So when these workers come to these factories and ask for employ, they said, “You know what? We know you. We know you have experience and all the skills you have, but because the economy is real bad, we can’t hire year at the minimum wage.” So it’s terrible, including the people they know, they’re treating that way, though, the workers. And, well, probably it’s the economy, but in the meantime, probably they abuse for — from the workers.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you, Armando Robles, for joining us, president of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America in Chicago, a maintenance worker at the former Republic Windows and Doors factory; and Avi Lewis, for bringing this to our attention.

When we come back from break, Naomi will come back, along with the story of what happened in Argentina, the documentary that Avi and Naomi did called The Take.

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