Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover and What It Says About the Economic Crisis
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Revised and updated, with a new afterword by the author
“There is much talk about ‘audacity’ these days, but true chutzpah is when the workers take over the factory and take on the bank. Kari Lydersen’s invaluable account of the Republic sit-down strike is an instruction manual for worker dignity.”
—Mike Davis, author of Buda’s Wagon and City of Quartz
December 5, 2008: It wasn’t supposed to work like this. Days after getting a $45 billion bailout from the U.S. government, Bank of America shut down a line of credit that kept Chicago’s Republic Windows & Doors factory operating. The bosses, who knew what was coming, had been sneaking machinery out in the middle of the night. They closed the factory and sent the workers home.
Then something surprising happened: Republic’s workers occupied the factory and refused to leave.
Kari Lydersen, an award-winning reporter, tells the story of the factory takeover, elegantly transforming the workers’ story into a parable of labor activism for the twenty-first century, one that concludes with a surprising and little-reported victory.
leadership stopping them. That’s not the case within our organizational structure. We don’t have union bosses who have the power to stop the workers. We try to figure out, if there’s motivation to fight, how do we become successful rather than telling them no. The UE was among the first unions to place its member organizing in a larger political context, opposing the Vietnam War and fighting for women’s rights and an end to racial discrimination. It was also one of the first unions to embrace
Republic, earning decent enough wages to bring their families to the United States and also send money to relatives back in Mexico. Many immigrants work at temporary jobs, waiting on streetcorners on blazing summer days or in the freezing winter to be picked up for construction or transient factory work. Those who land steady union jobs like the ones at Republic, with health benefits and paid vacations, would not give them up easily. The news of the suspicious night quickly spread to other
of the occupation was still ahead of them. WILD WEDNESDAY Bomb-sniffing dogs and Secret Service agents were stationed in the alley next to the Bank of America building, inspecting the engines of mail trucks heading to the post office across the street and frisking journalists piling into a white minibus. Police cordons lined the sidewalk, and several squad cars were stationed at each end of the block. All this security had nothing to do with the meeting going on inside Bank of America’s
behind the other two in line. “It isn’t uncommon to see secured lenders take a haircut” he said. But this was more of a buzz cut. Brian Shaw, Republic’s attorney, still seemed shocked by the whole situation. He said it might be precedent-setting. “This could completely change the future of lending, completely! You hear about this happening in other countries, but not in the United States, at least not in the last few decades.” If a public campaign can force a bank to lend—or essentially give,
thought it was being poorly managed, or perhaps intentionally run in a way not conducive to long term survival. “They were highly respected in the industry, but whether it was bad business decisions or corruption they certainly didn’t do what they needed to keep the business going well,” said UE organizer Mark Meinster. In May 2004 Republic began supplying windows to Pacesetter, an Omaha-based home improvement company that had recently closed its own window factory, laying off seventy union