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Forum Post: Chicago Factory Occupiers Form Worker Cooperative

Posted 2 years ago on May 31, 2012, 5:04 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

Chicago Factory Occupiers Form Worker Cooperative

Thursday, 31 May 2012 14:31 By Yana Kunichoff, Truthout | Report

First, they occupied the factory to get their wages from the bosses that owned the machinery. Then, they occupied their factory to keep the second bosses from shutting down their machinery. And, now, they are on their way to owning and running the machinery.

The group of workers who occupied their Chicago factory in 2008 and again in 2012 incorporated a worker-run cooperative on May 30, 2012. The factory window makers will take over was formerly owned by Republic Windows and Doors and then Serious Energy, and will now be run by New Era Windows, LLC.

Their battle to win wages and back pay from Republic Windows and Doors by occupying the factory is often mentioned in the same breath as the occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol to protest Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union bill as a flash point of progressive struggle since the recession took hold.

Armando Robles, president of the United Electrical Workers Local 1110, said that the school of struggle the workers went through with both factory occupations helped them win the confidence to take over their factory.

"We learned how to fight against the bosses and now to negotiate contracts with the owners of Republic and Serious Energy, how to negotiate in contract negotiations and how to make escalating actions before going on strike."

The story began in 2008, when the Republic Windows and Doors Factory shut its doors without paying workers their severance pay or accrued vacation time in "a perfect parable of all that was wrong with the financial crisis."

"Just a few days after receiving $25 billion in bailout funds from the federal government, Bank of America cut off the company's credit line, leading Republic's management to immediately and unceremoniously fire all 250 workers without providing the 60 days' notice or 60 days' pay required of them by the federal WARN Act," reported Salon.

In response, they called for an occupation. The workers spent six days barricaded inside the factory before Bank of America was pressured into agreeing to reopen the company's line of credit, and the workers were paid their due.

"Here the banks like Bank of America get a bailout, but workers cannot be paid?" asked Leah Fried, an organizer with the union workers, in 2008. "The taxpayers would like to see that bailout go toward saving jobs, not saving C.E.O.'s."

When Serious Materials (now Serious Energy) bought they company, it promised to hire all of the fired workers. But in February 2012, it also fell victim to a continuing economic downturn, and announced it would be closing immediately.

In response, the workers occupied again. In the rain and cold, and with the support of Occupy Chicago, they won a temporary reprieve after only 12 hours. Serious Energy promised to sell the business and keep the factory open for 90 more days.

"When we found out nobody is going to buy the company we started this idea [to form a cooperative] and brought it in proactive," said Robles. "We started having meetings about it."

The next step for the workers, whose business in now incorporated with the State of Illinois, is to raise the investment money to start the cooperative and buy the machinery from their former employer. Robles says they are working on getting the money together - about $2 million to purchase the machinery - and have already started building the structure of the cooperative: "we already have a steering committee, we have two treasurers. We will keep doing forward." They expect to start producing windows in two or three months, said Robles, and running their unionized cooperative.

This article may not be republished without permission from Truthout.

11 Comments

11 Comments


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[-] 3 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

Now this is what I'm talking about, rolling up sleeves, and getting busy. The question is, how do we do this 100 more times, then 1000 more times, then 10,000 more times, etc.? One thing to keep in mind, in order for this idea to become a major player in our economic landscape, cooperatives, employee owned companies, etc., would have to grow at a faster rate relative to conventional companies.

This is just macroeconomic reality. The key here is raising capital (but no, the irony is not lost on me) :)

[-] 0 points by EricBlair (447) 2 years ago

The key here is raising capital (but no, the irony is not lost on me) :)

You are asking just the right questions.

However the key is not raising capital---it's SEIZING capital---that which is rightfully ours to begin with.

1)Take the streets. 2)Take the rail. 3)Take the factories. 4)Take the workplaces. 5)Take the means of production and distribution.

6)Fire your boss.

7)Smash the state.

8)Win.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

I mean, how do you honestly think we'd all be able to pull something like that off? I was thinking more along the lines of crowd funding.

[-] 1 points by EricBlair (447) 2 years ago

"I mean, how do you honestly think we'd all be able to pull something like that off?"

Yes it's easily within the power of the people to do this---the masses simply have to realize that they are the masses.

"I was thinking more along the lines of crowd funding."

Now this is what isn't possible to pull off. If we had enough money to build a new economic system then we wouldn't be in the situation we are in. "Crowd funding" a project to overthrow capitalism isn't possible when the CROWDS don't have the capital---the capitalists do:

http://thesocietypages.org/graphicsociology/2009/05/27/champagne-glass-distribution-of-wealth/

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

I'm not sure if "we" (as in OWS) could pull something like this off, but I'm fairly confident that a competent group of professional could pull something like this off. I mean, OWS is an engine for inspiring change, inspiring people to come up with new ideas, but as of yet, it hasn't proven itself as capable of actually executing innovative ideas. Maybe it can, various affinity groups are doing interesting things, but I don't see OWS as the exclusive venue for change.

Crowd funding companies or cooperatives or (quasi) open source initiatives that work to provide funding for cooperatives already exist, worker cooperatives already exist, employee owned companies (which are structurally very similar to cooperatives) already exist, and so yes, not only do I think this can be "pulled off" ... it is being pulled off.

[-] 1 points by atki4564 (1259) from Lake Placid, FL 2 years ago

Better to create a new constitution, as follows:

We the peoples, in order to secure Freedom and Justice for All, do enact this Constitution for Strategic International Systems LLC (or SIS LLC) as summarized in the following Business Operations Forecast:

The customer value mission of SIS LLC is (1) to organize all customer-investors into 3,000 investment squad sites of 16 friends (or virtual specialties), and related internet investment legislatures of 50,000 friends (or virtual towns), requiring (2) a $20 weekly capital contribution for 1 year (or $1,000) to (3) create your investment club bank of 50,000 friends (or physical town) -- that is, having $50 million in initial assets -- which (4) due to the operation of today’s fractional banking system becomes (5) $500 million in new annual business loans (or $10,000 in new annual individual loans) from yourself as a new bank officer to yourself as a new business officer who (6) takes 75% employee business control as business officer-investors and 25% customer business control as bank officer-investors of (7) your specific 12 businesses (or investments) in your new bank investment account wherein (8) your investor voting power equals (9) your 1 of 12 levels of experience in (10) your 1 of 12 sectors in 1 of 50 industries in 1 of 200 occupations in 1 of 3,000 specialities which (11) votes-upon your purchasing (or investment) orders as (12) proposed by your employee-elected chain of command.

This means you will have 75% employee business control over your workplace as business officers and, as bank officers, 25% customer business control over all 12 investments (or businesses) in your new bank investment account. In turn, with this 100% town-level business control of your 3,000 workplaces, you can decrease your 12 customer consumption expenses by 75% for services, vehicles, education, retail, food, construction, technology, manufacturing, wholesale, health, justice, and banking expenses; that is, over your first 12 years of SIS LLC membership using a 75% more effective and efficient town design, and related 3,000 workplace designs (herein). Furthermore, while creating your new town & workplace design as described by this constitution, you will replace today’s communist big businesses, and related big governments, with your new small investment club banks, and related small businesses (or investments), as proposed, financed, and patronized by your 3,000 investment squad sites of 16 friends (or virtual specialties) in your internet investment legislature of 50,000 friends (or virtual town).

Why? First, because today’s executive business income (mostly from bank or financial asset income) is 33% of all income which is a huge amount of upper 1% income to split among yourselves as new bank officers having 25% customer business control, right? Second, because today’s executive business wealth is 42% of all wealth which is a huge amount of upper 1% wealth to split among yourselves as new business officers having 75% employee business control; that is, only after becoming new bank officers (above) first, right?

For example, this means if you earn $12/hour today, then you will earn $36/hour tomorrow after adding (1) your old wage income, plus (2) your 33% (more and new) interest income as a new bank officer, plus (3) your 42% (more and new) dividend & gain income as a new business officer. Together, these 4 sources of wealth & income from your specific 12 businesses (or investments) will double your net worth every 6-12 years (until retirement); that is, from the compound interest decline of today's upper 1% executives whom you will replace as the new bank & business investor-officers. So, with this power, let’s end today’s communist big businesses, and related big governments, okay? How? By helping to operate your own Business Operations Forecast (above) at http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/StrategicInternationalSystems/ ; so help us help you, today!

[-] 1 points by gnomunny (6614) from St Louis, MO 2 years ago

Great post. Now time will tell if they can make it work. I wish them the best.

[-] 1 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 2 years ago

This is real progress, what many of us hope will become the model for a better America. Worker cooperatives are the first step.

[-] 1 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 2 years ago

This is great news! Best of luck to them.

[-] 0 points by XenuLives (1645) from Charlotte, NC 2 years ago

Awesome. A good piece of news to end the day!