When I read Kari Lydersen’s first-rate “Revolt on Goose Island,” recently, it took me back to a talk, I’d attended, on May 1, 2008, at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, MD. One of the speakers at the spirited event, an “International Labor Day Celebration,” was Richard L. Trumka, now the head of the AFL-CIO. (1) Thinking back on Trumka’s cogent remarks, it was like he had a crystal ball in describing the ongoing baleful effects of globalization. It was as if he could see down the road to the dramatic events that were to unfold, in the state of Illinois, at “the Republic Windows & Doors” factory, in December, 2008. (2)
“Republic Windows,” located on “Goose Island,” in the Chicago River, decided to shut down its plant, move it to a nonunion shop in Iowa and lay off its 250 workers. The company blamed the Bank of America for cutting off its “line of credit,” but the truth, according to Ms. Lydersen, an award-winning reporter for the “Washington Post,” was “more complicated.” (2)
In her absorbing book, “Revolt on Goose Island,” Ms. Lydersen documents, in a step by step, gripping chronicle, how the members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, (UE), a progressive union, which represented the workers, refused to go gently into the cold night. The UE workers chose to resist! (3)
Instead of leaving the factory, the gutsy workers, most of them of Latino heritage, fought back. Eventually, they “occupied” the plant for five and one half days. Shades of the legendary Flint, MI “Sit-Down Strike” in the 1930s! (4) Lydersen wrote: “They refused to leave [the plant] until they were paid for accrued vacation time and 60 days of federally-mandated severance.” (2)
Getting back to Trumka. In his comments, he roundly denounced the policy of “Globalization,” and the massive havoc that it has been causing the working class. He carefully explained the difference between “free trade,” and “globalization.” Trumka then zeroed in on the “Banksters,” who are mainly responsible for the wrong of globalization, and for the nefarious practices that it has spawned, such as: deindustrialization, out sourcing of jobs, privatization of public assets, union-bashing and the curse of deregulation. He blamed both the Republican and Democratic administrations for enabling Wall Street’s predatory schemes. He also underscored that it didn’t have to be that way. (5)
Trumka charged, [and this was months before the fiscal meltdown of September 2008], that: “Wall Street hijacked the economy!” He suspected that the then-economic mess in the country was “hatched by [Bob] Rubin and...[Henry] Paulson and company.” (1) Of course, things have gotten a lot worse since that May Day, in 2008. Rubin and Paulson had previously served as the CEOs of Goldman Sachs--a Wall Street titan. Yes, the same Goldman Sachs that was recently sued by the federal government in a civil fraud case that has rocked the already shaky financial center to its rotten core. (6)
This brings me full circle to Ms. Lydersen’s important book. At the time of the “Republic Windows” occupation, the Bank of America had received about $45 billion in “federal bank bailout” funds. Consequently, it was a lot easier for Labor, the UE, and its political supporters, to lean on that institution in the crisis. The author, at a book reading in Baltimore, MD, on April 9, 2010, admitted that salient fact to the audience. She said: “I think it was all about that...the bailout. They [the Banksters] were getting hammered with respect to their public image.” (7)
It’s clear that the UE won the day at “Republic Windows.” Its demands were met. The company, however, was sold recently to another outfit, “Serious Materials.” The victory, Ms. Lydersen’s emphasized, did raise the “consciousness” of other blue-collar workers, and even also of “white-collar professionals” caught up in the same kind of painful economic squeeze play.
Will the “direct action” at the Goose Island factory become a “potential harbinger of a revitalized and reinvigorated labor movement in the U.S.?” It’s too early to say. However, if Trumka can’t galvanize the AFL-CIO to take on the Wall Street boy-ohs to reverse their disastrous policy of globalization, [via the Obama Administration], then it will not bode well for either the cause of Labor or the future of a vibrant American Republic.
Finally, read Ms. Lydersen’s book about a triumphant chapter in American Labor History and exactly how it was accomplished. It deserves to stand on its own as a beacon to the resilience and courage of working class people and to their union--the UE.
2. “The Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What It Says about the Economic Crisis,” by Kari Lydersen (Melvin House, $16, 176 pp, soft cover).
©2010, William Hughes, All Rights Reserved.
William Hughes is an author, commentator and videographer. His videos can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=liamh2
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