FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A New Era for Labor?

by LAURA FLANDERS

What a difference five years make! In 2008, when a few hundred union workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago voted to occupy their plant instead of submitting meekly to being laid off, theirs was a rare act of courage in a cold winter of crisis for organized labor. Five years on, as some of those same workers cut the ribbon on their own cooperatively-run business last week, it was yet another bold step by innovative workers in a season of daring by labor.

It’s no easy thing to sign a lease, buy equipment and open a business with a group. Starting a coop is risky, just like walking off a low wage job. Asked why he and his fellows had decided to start a co-op,  veteran window maker “Ricky” Maclin told me it was because they were tired of their lives being in someone else’s hands. In the last five years, two different owners for two different sets of reasons had tried to lay them off.  Now Maclin and his partners are owner/operators of a cooperative company called New Era and a similar sort of determination and defiance is being seen in city after city, from fed up workers who are taking to the streets.

Fast food workers went on strike in Milwaukee this week, the fifth city to see low wage workers walk out in one-day protests.  Before Milwaukee it was New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit.

There’s plenty to be fed up about. The same people slashing services are talking about an economic recovery, but if this is the economy in recovery, workers  seem to have no place in it. Politicians and pundits are doing ok – in fact, for anyone with a stock portfolio, the economy’s in the pink. But that old supposed pact between Big Labor and the Democrats is clearly broken. Labor unions invested millions in helping Democrats win the last election but they’re getting nothing back – at least nothing that helps working people live and rear families and eat.

Wages remain rock bottom, millions are more or less permanently out of work and those that are working are working harder, for more bosses, in less secure workplaces, with nothing in the way of benefits.

No wonder people are embracing new tactics.  And surprise surprise, those tactics work.

By occupying their plant the first time, the New Era workers won back pay and time for a  new owner to be found. By occupying a second time (in February 2012), when those new owners threatened to liquidate, they won a chance to form a cooperative and make a bid on equipment.

Now their company’s name is seeming especially apt: New Era Windows. Are we entering a New Era for labor, in fact? The last time the labor movement embraced sit-down strikes and worker occupations it was the 1930s. For most of the last century, industrial unions viewed autonomous worker co-ops as a threat. Today the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) will be representing the New Era workers and The United Steelworkers of America is working with the Basque co-ops of Mondragon to open industrial size co-ops in the US.

Likewise, until recently, trade unions refused to support ambitious strikes by low-wage workers in predominantly non union industries, especially strikes led by women, and immigrants and community organizations. The one-day stoppages around the country by retail and fast wood workers this season are targeting non union chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and TJ Maxx. Community groups are leading the way (although many are funded by the SEIU). They’re demanding a meaningful raise – to $15 and hour– and the real right to organize a union without attack.  So far, they’re succeeding in staging one day walk outs without dire reprisals from management. That’s a jaw-dropping thing, helped by visible community and church group support.  And while the one day strikes may be involving only a minority of workers so far, they are clearly building support as the wave of actions shows.

What happens next? Strikes and co-ops are two different ways to respond to the finance-driven crisis of job losses and low wages. The first aims to build power at the bargaining table, the second to compete in the market.  The outcome’s unsure, but just like that first occupation at Republic, the experiments themselves have unleashed new potential.

It just goes to show what can happen when workers lead the way, and when, as Jim Hightower would say, those who say it can’t be done, get out of the way of those who are doing  it.

LAURA FLANDERS is the host of The Laura Flanders Show coming to public television stations later this year. She was the host and founder of GRITtv.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GRITlaura. 

Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv now seen on the new, news channel TeleSUR English – for a new perspective. 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail