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Support Grows for Republic Windows Occupation

by Stephanie Weiner |
December 7, 2008
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UE Local 1110 President Armando Robles speaks at Fight Back! event
UE Local 1110 President Armando Robles speaks at Fight Back! event, funds collected to support struggle.

Chicago, IL - Saturday, Dec. 6 brought more inspiration from workers at Republic Windows and Doors who are occupying their plant in Chicago. The workers’ union, Local 1110 of the United Electrical workers (UE), held a rally at noon outside the plant doors. By then, the workers’ militant action had already become international news.

Lalo Muñoz, a worker in the plant for 34 years spoke to the rally and explained that they had just been given notice on Tuesday that the plant would close Friday. The company had no plans to pay them the 75 days pay required in the Illinois WARN Act, nor their sick pay or vacation pay, and their health insurance would end immediately. Behind him were other occupying workers with blankets wrapped around them to protect them from the below zero temperatures.

Reverend CJ Hawking from the Interfaith Committee on Workers’ Issues called up speaker after speaker to express the importance of the plant occupation for all workers across the U.S. Teamsters Local 743 President Richard Berg, AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Larry Spivak, SEIU Local 73 executive board member Joe Iosbaker, Michelle Aymold, an officer with the Graduate Employees Organization at UIC, Moises Zavala from UFCW, Martin Unzueta from The Chicago Workers Collaborative and Jobs with Justice director James Thindwa called these 260 workers true heroes.

Leaders from the United Electrical workers, Carl Rosen and Leah Fried, explained that the workers were told that Bank of America would not loan the company money. Bank of America denied the loan despite the $25 billion taxpayer bailout the bank had recently received. The 200 person crowd assembled on hours notice chanted, “You got bailed out, we got sold out!”

By the end of the rally, Congressman Luis Gutierrez promised to stick with them until they got justice. People left with concrete plans to return to the 1333 N Hickory Street factory with food, supplies, money, endorsements and ready to get more people for the planned Monday and Tuesday events.

Local 1110 President Armando Robles and his family spent the late afternoon explaining to Chicago activists the details and history of their struggle. As he walked into the packed room at the 17th annual People’s Thanksgiving fundraising dinner for Fight Back! newspaper, the ecstatic crowd chanted “Si se puede!”

The room included people from the disability rights group Access Living, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Southside Together Organized for Power, Sector Latino, the activist fan club of the Chicago Fire, SDS, Palestine Solidarity Group, National Lawyers Guild, Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism, and even the staff of the Venezuelan Consulate.

The crowd made it clear that the workers’ action on Friday had inspired folks far beyond the traditional labor movement. The fundraising bags circulating the room were filled as people came forward to put in $100 donations. After the event a group of 25 people drove to the factory to personally deliver the $1500 raised.

By late night the factory had numerous TV trucks parked outside and was busy with Mexican community members bringing in large silver pots of homemade soup through the barricaded front doors of the main plant filled with expensive equipment and merchandise. The workers had already developed their own food, housekeeping, security and media committees. Vicente Rangel, a union steward with 15 years in the plant, was on his way to a live CNN interview.

Next steps

Sunday morning, Rev. Jesse Jackson of Operation PUSH met with the workers in the plant cafeteria and stated his intention to press Bank of America to reinstate Republic’s line of credit. UE has set up a website for this as well: http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/bankofamerica

A labor rally will be held at the factory door on Monday, Dec. 8 at noon, called by Chicago Federation of Labor president Dennis Gannon and SEIU state council head, Tom Balanoff.

The next negotiations between the company, the bank, Local 1110 and Representative Gutierrez will take place on Monday, Dec. 8 at 4:00 pm. If the company does not agree to the workers’ demands for justice, the occupation will continue. The workers will rally on Tuesday, Dec. 9 at noon in front of the Bank of America, 231 South LaSalle Street in Chicago.

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