CHICAGO — Leah Fried had seen this movie before.
In fact, she’d appeared in it. Fried is the union representative for workers at the former Republic Windows and Doors plant, site of the 2008 factory occupation in Chicago that captured national attention and appeared in Michael Moore’s ”Capitalism, A Love Story.”
“It feels like déjà vu,” she said on Thursday night, standing at the again-occupied factory’s entrance.
She was in the same doorway she and factory workers had stood in three years earlier, when workers occupied the plant for six days demanding legally owed severance, accrued vacation time, and temporary health benefits. In 2012, the company logo on the door had changed, now reading “Serious Energy,” but the desolate industrial backdrop, the roar of passing semis, the miserable winter weather and the dramatic 1930s-era tactic of physically occupying a factory remained the same.
And, like in 2008, the occupying workers got what they demanded, raising the question of whether similar tactics will spread to other parts of the progressive movement in the near future. Such questions were raised after the Republic occupation, but further radical actions didn’t materialize. Now, however, in the wake of the national political shift engendered by the Occupy movement, the time might be right for progressives to engage in bolder actions.
The 2008 Republic Windows and Doors occupation captured national headlines, as it seemed to be a perfect parable of all that was wrong with the financial crisis: Just a few days after receiving $25 billion in bailout funds from the federal government, Bank of America cut off the company’s credit line, leading Republic’s management to immediately and unceremoniously fire all 250 workers without providing the 60 days’ notice or 60 days’ pay required of them by the federal WARN Act.
Rather than resigning themselves to their fate as a few of the many victims of a devastated economy, workers and their union, the small, fiercely left-wing United Electrical Workers, decided to do something bold: occupy the plant until the company agreed to pay them their severance.