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.
Rev. Jesse Jackson: “These workers must be congratulated for having the courage. In the great tradition of Dr. King, in the tradition of Cesar Chavez and the tradition of Rosa Parks, your sitting down in many ways allows America to stand up, 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.”
The company told workers last Tuesday that the plant was closing because Bank of America had canceled Republic’s line of credit. The laid-off workers have hoisted placards saying “Bank of America: You got bailed out. We got sold out.” On Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama voiced support for the workers.
President-elect Barack Obama: “Number one, I think that these workers, if they have earned these benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments. And number two, I think it is important for us to make sure that, moving forward, any economic plan that we put in place helps businesses to meet payroll so that we’re not seeing these kinds of circumstances again.”
The factory occupation has attracted international attention.
Labor organizer Leah Fried said, “We’re doing something we haven’t done since the 1930s.”
The factory occupation began on Friday, the same day the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 533,000 jobs were lost in November, the highest monthly total since 1974. A total of nearly two million jobs have been lost this year. At a congressional hearing on Friday, Keith Hall of the Bureau of Labor Statistics told Congressman Elijah Cummings that this was one of the worst job reports in the agency’s history.
Keith Hall: “If I were to characterize this jobs report, I would say this is a dismal jobs report. There’s very little in this report that’s positive. This is maybe one of the worst jobs reports that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has ever produced.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings: “Ever?”
Cummings: “And how long has the Bureau been around?”
Hall: “124 years.”
Cummings: “124 years. And so, that means that we’re sliding down a slippery slope fast.”
The nation’s official unemployment rate has risen to 6.7 percent. The New York Times reports the unemployment rate does not include those too discouraged to look for work any longer or those working fewer hours than they would like. Add those people to the roster of the unemployed, and the rate hit a record 12.5 percent in November. Meanwhile, the proportion of homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments or in foreclosure rose to an all-time high in the third quarter.
On Saturday, President-elect Barack Obama outlined plans for a massive economic stimulus program to help rebuild the economy.
President-elect Barack Obama: “Second, we will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s. We’ll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we’ll set a simple rule: use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money.”
He also pledged to invest in technology.
President-elect Barack Obama: “As we renew our schools and highways, we’ll also renew our information superhighway. It is unacceptable that the United States ranks fifteenth in the world in broadband adoption. Here, in the country that invented the internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m president, because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world.”
In transition news, President-elect Barack Obama has chosen retired Gen. Eric Shinseki to be secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department. Shinseki made headlines in February 2003 when he testified before Congress that the US would need several hundred thousand soldiers to stabilize Iraq after the invasion. At the time, Shinseki was Army chief of staff. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other high-ranking Pentagon officials publicly rebuked him, while insisting that Iraqis would welcome the Americans as liberators.
General Eric Shinseki: “A word to my fellow veterans: if confirmed, I will work each and every day to ensure that we are serving you as well as you have served us. We will pursue a twenty-first century VA that serves your needs. We will open doors, new doors of opportunity, so you can find a job, support your families when you return to civilian life.”
If confirmed by Congress, Shinseki would become the first Asian American to head the Veterans Affairs Department. Shinseki, who is of Japanese descent, was the first Asian American to be a four-star general and the first to head one of the branches of the US military.
Newly released campaign records reveal that President-elect Barack Obama raised a record-shattering $750 million during the overall campaign. That is triple the amount raised in 2004 by President Bush, who held the previous record. Obama and the Democratic National Committee outspent McCain and the Republicans by a two-to-one margin during the final two months of the campaign.
The Washington Post reports congressional Democrats are drafting legislation that would give Detroit automakers at least $15 billion in emergency loans early next week and grant the federal government broad authority to manage a massive restructuring of their operations. The proposal would establish a seven-member “auto board” of Cabinet officials and a chairman to be appointed by President Bush to help restore the faltering industry to profitability. On Friday, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank said lawmakers can’t allow the automakers to collapse.
Rep. Barney Frank: “A failure, to some extent, of three of our major domestic manufacturing entities would be a very serious problem in any case. In the midst of the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, it would be an unmitigated disaster.”
The Justice Department is expected to unveil indictments today against five Blackwater guards for their involvement in the killings of seventeen Iraqis in Baghdad in September of last year. The Blackwater guards facing charges have been identified as former Marine Evan Liberty; former Army sergeant Nick Slatten; former Marine Corporal Dustin Heard; former Marine Corporal Donald Ball; and Paul Slough, who served in the Army and the Texas National Guard. While the indictments will be unveiled in Washington, the Blackwater guards are expected to surrender today in Utah. By surrendering in Utah, the men could argue the case should be heard in a far more conservative, pro-gun venue than Washington. In Iraq, Mohamed al-Kinani called on the United States to prosecute the management of Blackwater as well.
Mohamed al-Kinani: “We hope to see a fair judgment that will impose the maximum penalty for them, not only the guards but the director who gave them the authority, weapons, vehicles and immunity. He must be taken to trial, because this is our demand.”
Mohamed al-Kinani was in his car with several members of his family when it came under fire from Blackwater guards. His nine-year-old son died in the shooting.
In Pakistan, armed militants attacked two truck terminals in northwestern Pakistan Sunday, destroying more than 150 trucks loaded with Humvees and other supplies for American and allied forces in Afghanistan. The attack occurred on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar, where a car bombing on Friday killed thirty-four and wounded more than 100 people.
The top commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan has told USA Today that the United States will need nearly twice as many troops for up to four years to stabilize Afghanistan. Gen. David McKiernan said the US needs to raise troop levels from about 32,000 to around 60,000. A new report by the International Council on Security and Development estimates that the Taliban have expanded their footprint in Afghanistan and now have a permanent presence in nearly three-quarters of the country.
In other news from the region, Pakistani security forces have reportedly raided a camp used by militants blamed for the Mumbai attacks and arrested more than a dozen people, including one of the suspected masterminds of the attack.
In Greece, the police killing of a fifteen-year-old has sparked three days of clashes between the police and youths. The unrest began in Athens but has spread across the country.
And in Louisiana, Democratic Congressman William Jefferson has lost his bid for a tenth term in office. Jefferson lost to Republican lawyer Anh “Joseph” Cao, who will become the first Vietnamese American to serve in Congress. Last year, Jefferson was indicted for bribery, racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Green Party candidate Malik Rahim placed third in the race.