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Forum Post: Please help! Workers vs. Capitalists

Posted 12 years ago on July 5, 2012, 9:45 a.m. EST by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA
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By Laura Flanders

A workers' cooperative in the Goose Island area of Chicago is desperately trying to stop the liquidation of a windows and doors factory the sale of which will scuttle their plans but benefit some well-connected investors.

Union members who put their bodies on the line not once but twice to save their windows and doors factory in Chicago found out Sunday that their former employer has broken a pledge to give workers a fair chance to buy factory equipment and plans instead to sell off machines as soon as Friday rather than let a Black and Latino-led workers' cooperative buy and keep the plant in operation.

The workers, members of the United Electrical and Machine Workers of America Local 1110, sat in and briefly occupied their plant this February after owner, Serious Energy of California, announced a shut-down and a plan to move jobs out of state. Many of the same workers occupied the same factory in December 2008, becoming a cause-celebre at the height of the unemployment crisis.

After the sit-down, Serious agreed to delay liquidation and to give workers a fair chance to bid on the plant's equipment. About two dozen long time employees then formed a co-operative -- New Era Windows – kicking in $1,000 each (wth the help of family and friends.) For months, several workers have been attending weekly co-op management classes.

The news of a next chapter for the famous Chicago windows workers was beginning to spread. (America Beyond Capitalism author Gar Alperovitz, wrote about them this week.) Prospects for a worker take-over were looking good when, three days before the July 4th holiday, Serious Energy announced on a conference call that bids were due at once and told New Era that their offer of $1.2 million ($500,000 in cash), was insufficient.

"No one else is going to save the factory. Every other bidder is going to chop the place up and sell the machines for scrap," said Brendan Martin who was on the call. Martin's nonprofit, the Working World, has been helping New Era. "It seems Serious never intended to give the workers a chance to buy."

Calls to Serious Energy executives have so far not been returned.

Now the workers have launched a petition drive, calling on Serious to play fair. On Thursday July 5, at noon, they are planning a march that could turn up the heat on local politicians.

One of the investors most likely to profit from Serious’s shady sell-off is Mesirow Financial, a financial firm with close ties to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Mesirow made a $15 million investment in Serious in 2009. Thomas E. Galuhn, a Senior Managing Director at Mesirow Financial, sits on the board of directors at Serious.

When Mayor Emanuel graced the cover of Michigan Avenue Magazine this May, the party for the issue was hosted at Mesirow's swanky Chicago headquarters. In December 2011, Emanuel appointed Olga Camargo, still senior VP of Mesirow, to the City of Chicago Plan Commission, which, among other things, reviews city development plans and long term "community projects."

Mesirow Chairman, Howard Rossman, is a major contributor to Democratic party campaigns. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Rossman gave $30,800 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2012, along with $5,000 to the DNC and another $2,500 to Barack Obama's re-election effort.

“Rahm could do the right thing, or he could watch this become his Bain Capital,” said Brendan Martin Tuesday.

New Era workers had been hoping that Emanuel’s “Refit Chicago” plan to retrofit city buildings could be a source of good contracts for their conveniently-located, energy efficient window business.

Instead, quite possibly with supporters Van Jones and Michael Moore at their side, New Era workers and their friends will be marching on the Mayor’s pals at Mesirow at noon today, Thursday, July 5, asking why the well-off firm would rather make a quick mean buck than keep viable jobs in a low-income, high unemployment community.




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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 12 years ago

A Beacon of Hope in Chicago: A New Era for Worker Ownership

Thursday, 05 July 2012 14:37 By Gar Alperovitz, Counterpunch | Op-Ed


The workers of the just-formed New Era Windows cooperative in Chicago—the same workers who sat in and forced Serious Energy to back down on a hasty shutdown of their Goose Island plant a few months ago, and famously occupied the same factory for six days in December 2008—not only are putting together a bold plan for worker ownership, they are likely to move the entire subject into national attention, thereby spurring others to follow on. Though they have a powerful start, if the past is any guide, they will need all the help they can get—financial as well as political. I was one of the architects of an attempt to establish a worker-owned steel mill in Youngstown, Ohio in the late 1970s—a plan that began with powerful intentions, the financial support of the Carter administration, and the backing of religious and political leaders in the state of Ohio and nationally. The plan was on-track, including a promised $100 million in loan guarantees from the Carter Administration—until, somehow, those opposed to the plan sidetracked the effort, with the promised money disappearing conveniently just after the fall 1978 elections had passed. The Chicago workers have a much, much greater chance of success. They have the skills they need to run a manufacturing business. They have a good market—an energy efficient window is a good friend in a Chicago winter, after all—and heavy, fragile, made-to-order windows are much less vulnerable to global competition than other products. And, thanks to their inspiring struggle to keep their jobs, they can count on a significant amount of public support. They also have the backing of the United Electrical workers (UE): an independent and fiercely democratic union; and the support of the Working World, a non-profit that has helped make hundreds of loans to Argentina's thriving network of "recuperated" worker-owned businesses. Above all, their own track record of bold and brave action to defend their jobs is promising in itself, and stirring in terms of public response: many more people are rooting for this company than your average small manufacturing startup. The workers are taking this very seriously; after all, it's their livelihoods on the line. For the past few months, they have been engaged in intensive trainings in cooperative management, building the skills they'll need to not just make windows, but market their product and secure and fulfill contracts. They've been scraping together a thousand dollars apiece to buy into the newly formed cooperative. And they've been exploring city programs—like a Midway airport noise insulation project and a city-wide energy retrofit effort that could generate significant contracts. Still, this is a tough business. If there is one lesson from the early days of worker ownership attempts it is that building a powerful local and national support group of public figures, nonprofit organizations, national labor and religious leaders and others can be of great and unexpected importance. It can help keep the story alive at critical times, and also help create and sustain a market. (Churches, for instance, buy a lot of windows, as do many other nonprofit organizations.) As the workers in Chicago deal with the myriad of tasks involved in raising money, negotiating with their former employer, Serious Energy, to purchase the factory's equipment, and restarting production (not to mention learning how to democratically manage their own workplace!), building local and national alliances to support their work is a critical task that can be taken on by allies. What's happening in Chicago is part of a very important national trend; many parts of the country are looking towards worker ownership as a way to root jobs in the communities that need them. In Cleveland, for instance a community foundation, with the support of local universities and hospitals, is helping create a network of interlinked green worker cooperatives as part of an economic development strategy designed to help lift devastated neighborhoods out of poverty. With an industrial scale laundry and a solar installation and weatherization firm already operational, and a 3.5 acre urban greenhouse scheduled to launch in a few months, the Cleveland model is one that many other cities—including Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Washington D.C.—are actively exploring today. Crucially, the model developed in Cleveland looks beyond the individual worker-owned company to understand how a community can support the businesses and workers that in turn support it: in this case, the purchasing power of the city's largest so-called "anchor institutions" is mobilized to develop worker-owned jobs in the very neighborhoods these institutions call home. Moreover there is now a quiet trend in the union movement—away from disinterest in new forms of ownership and towards positive assistance. The United Steelworkers, working jointly with Mondragon (the 80-thousand member strong complex of cooperatives in the Basque country), have taken the lead in proposing and developing "union coops" which will combine worker ownership and the collective bargaining process. The Service Employees union (SEIU) has taken some interesting steps here as well, with a worker-owned and unionized laundry slated to launch in Pittsburgh this year, and a groundbreaking partnership with New York City's Cooperative Home Care Associates, the largest worker cooperative in the United States. Also notable is a growing sophistication among unions regarding a far more common form of U.S. worker ownership, the ESOP or Employee Stock Ownership Plan (which involve 10 million workers): unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) are taking a strong role in making sure workers' interests are protected as companies convert to worker ownership. The Chicago workers' effort is important, not only on its own terms, but as a beacon of hope and an opportunity for many others to learn about a direction building an economy that perhaps will one day take us past ownership by the 1% to a very different democratic model. It's time for others—individuals, groups, activists, churches, non-profit organizations—to do what we can to help make sure they succeed.

[-] 0 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 12 years ago

Anybody that can should try and support these workers. They need help bad