I find the story of the 250 Republic Windows and Doors workers occupying their factory inspiring. In case you haven't heard, they were laid-off without a minimum 60 days notice after a huge drop in sales. The workers are demanding the vacation pay and severance pay they are entitled to in addition to their final paychecks. While they have been occupying the factory, they have been busying themselves with cleaning it and shoveling snow. If you would like to read more you can check out this Boston Globe story, or this Sun-Times one.
Is greed good? Capitalism assures us that it is, and I think that resonates deeply with a lot of, well greedy people. All too often the "greed is good" mantra is used to justify the US's pseudo-free market economic policies. The same policies that have seen income disparity grow dramatically in the last 3 decades. Maybe that's why the greedy banks were so quick to secure their bailouts after they greeded the country to its knees. They were the greediest and thus most deserving of the bailout money. Greed is good. Unfortunately, they aren't doing much with our money now that we have given it to them. This brings us back to the workers at Republic, they were laid-off because Republic's creditor, Bank of America, wont let Republic pay its workers. From the Globe:
I feel like we, as Americans have been complacent for too long. It's good to see people taking action in attempt to right the economic injustices that have been done to them. Things are not OK, so we shouldn't act like they are. Maybe the Republic workers should take a page from the democratic factories in Argentina. In the wake of its 2001 economic collapse, workers have begun forming democratic collectives and reclaiming closed factories. Their motto: "Occupy, Resist, Produce." From an article in New Statesman:
[Union organizer] Fried said the company can't pay its 300 employees because its creditor, Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, won't let them. Crain's Chicago Business reported that Republic Windows' monthly sales had fallen to $2.9 million from $4 million during the past month. In a memo to the union, obtained by the business journal, Republic CEO Rich Gillman said the company had "no choice but to shut our doors."
Bank of America received $25 billion from the government's financial bailout package. The company said in a statement Saturday that it isn't responsible for Republic's financial obligations to its employees.
"Across cultures, religions, union and nonunion, we all say this bailout was a shame," said Richard Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743. "If this bailout should go to anything, it should go to the workers of this country."
Outside the plant, protesters wore stickers and carried signs that said, "You got bailed out, we got sold out."
Almost entirely under the media radar, workers in Argentina have been responding to rampant unemployment and capital flight by taking over businesses that have gone bankrupt and reopening them under democratic worker management. It is an old idea reclaimed and retrofitted for a brutal new time. The principles are so simple, so elementally fair, that they seem more self-evident than radical when articulated by one of the workers: "We formed the co-operative with the criteria of equal wages and making basic decisions by assembly; we are against the separation of manual and intellectual work; we want a rotation of positions and, above all, the ability to recall our elected leaders."
The movement of recovered companies is not epic in scale - some 170 companies, around 10,000 workers in Argentina. But six years on, and unlike some of the country's other new movements, it has survived and continues to build quiet strength in the midst of the country's deeply unequal "recovery". Its tenacity is a function of its pragmatism: this is a movement that is based on action, not talk. And its defining action, reawakening the means of production under worker control, while loaded with potent symbolism, is anything but symbolic. It is feeding families, rebuilding shattered pride, and opening a window of powerful possibility.
Clearly I have socialist leanings, but wouldn't it be inspiring to see similar actions in the US? Maybe, in the wake of our economic meltdown, we should reconsider our faith in greed.