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Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Modern Sit-Down Strike (re-post)

[Here's the post I accidentally deleted for the sake of an Accurate Archival Record.  Thanks to Dan M. for finding it in the netherworld.  More new content soon!]

Some labor historians have a tendency to romanticize and exaggerate the importance of certain forms of worker "militancy." With that caveat, I was interested in this story about a group of union workers who were recently laid off by Republic Windows and Doors and Chicago but have thus far refused to leave the plant in what the workers are calling an "occupation." The workers claim they are owed severance pay and that the three-day notice of the shut-down they received violated the WARN Act’s requirement of sixty days' notice. Further, as the NYT reports, "their anger stretched broadly to the government’s costly corporate bailout plans, which, they argued, had forgotten about regular workers."

They want the poor person to stay down," said Silvia Mazon, 47, a mother of two who worked as an assembler here for 13 years and said she had never before been the sort to march in protests or make a fuss. "We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere until we get what’s fair and what’s ours. They thought they would get rid of us easily, but if we have to be here for Christmas, it doesn’t matter."

. . . [S]ome workers said they doubted that the company was really in financial straits, and they suggested that it would reopen elsewhere with cheaper costs and lower pay. Others said managers had kept their struggles secret, at one point before Thanksgiving removing heavy equipment in the middle of the night but claiming, when asked about it, that all was well. Workers also pointedly blamed Bank of America, a lender to Republic Windows, saying the bank had prevented the company from paying them what they were owed, particularly for vacation time accrued.

"Here the banks like Bank of America get a bailout, but workers cannot be paid?" said Leah Fried, an organizer with the union workers. "The taxpayers would like to see that bailout go toward saving jobs, not saving C.E.O.’s."

The workers said they were determined to keep their action — reminiscent, union leaders said, of autoworkers’ efforts in Michigan in the 1930s — peaceful and to preserve the factory.

"The fact is that workers really feel like they have nothing to lose at this point," Ms. Fried said. "It shows something about our economic times, and it says something about how people feel about the bailout."

According to other reports I’ve read, Bank of America received $25 billion in bailout money and then cut off operating credit to the Republic Windows and Doors.

Despite all the comparisons to the Great Depression and New Deal floating around these days, it would be a stretch to call this single act a tip of an iceberg of renewed labor militancy. Still, one can see this act as consistent with a long tradition of alternative views of economic justice and rights at the workplace, a tradition that has had a significant impact on the development of labor and employment law.

Posted by JosephSlater on December 14, 2008 at 05:15 PM in Workplace Law | Permalink


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