Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Echoes of Flint in Chicago Factory

Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy, and Christopher Phelps, who teaches at Ohio State University at Mansfield, compare the Flint Sit-Down Strike with the current takeover of the Republic window factory in Chicago:

Just as FDR once told reporters, "If I worked in a factory, the first thing I would do is join a union," so too has President-elect Barack Obama declared the Republic workers "absolutely right" in their quest for remuneration. More importantly, Obama observed that the Republic factory closure "is reflective of what's happening across this economy."

Indeed, it is not just that workers are suffering during a severe recession, but that the owners of capital, both large and small, are morally compromised in the crisis that besets the nation.

Bank of America, the giant lender, played a large role in the Republic factory closure when the bank, noting a decline in Republic's sales, cut off the company's line of credit. In normal times, this would have been considered prudent banking practice, but just last month Bank of America received $25 billion in a financial bailout meant to keep loans and credit flowing.

But Main Street managers have dirty hands as well. According to the union, the owners of Republic Windows and Doors failed to give their workers a legally required 60-day notice that they would close. And the Chicago Tribune reports that in the weeks before the factory shutdown, people with apparent ties to Republic formed a corporation that bought a similar plant in western Iowa.

It is hardly surprising that Republic's workers have laid temporary claim to the factory in which some have given decades of their lives. Its owners and creditors have forfeited their own claims, both moral and legal, to rightful stewardship.

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Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at