During the winter of 1978-1979, the suspension of the right to collective bargaining by British labor unions lead to what was called the Winter of Discontent. Gas deliveries ground to a halt leading to shortages, blackouts became common, and in London trash sat uncollected for months. The labor activism of that period ended with the election of Margaret Thatcher, and the hollowing out of trade union power. God forbid that labor, the working class, have even a half of the power granted to capital, the men and women who live by the labor of others. Adam Smith was right:
We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is everywhere a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things, which nobody ever hears of. Masters, too, sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy, till the moment of execution, and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do, without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people.
For the first 2/3rds of the 20th century, American working men and women fought a winning battle to have their rights protected, just the same as those of the wealthy and powerful. It was a triumph of democracy over the dictatorship of an "invisible hand" that always seemed to be servicing the men with the money over those who worked for a living. Ever since Reagan, the democratic rights of labor have been under threat by a cabal of capitalist, who believe themselves above the law.
One of the protections of the rights of labor that has not yet been taken away is the federal WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act which requires that:
....workers, their families and communities by requiring to provide notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs. This notice must be provided to either affected workers or their representatives (e.g., a labor union); to the State dislocated worker unit; and to the appropriate unit of local government.
This law has been being violated left and right during the current economic slowdown, and its been gamed by employers who've pushed pushed layoffs right to the limit required in the law and stopped right before they met the reporting requirement.
Right now, in the city of Chicago, a group of 200 workers represented by the United Electrical Workers union have sat down in a factory where a violation of the WARN law is said to have occurred.
Workers laid off from their jobs at a factory have occupied the building and are demanding assurances they'll get severance and vacation pay that they say they are owed.....
During the peaceful takeover, workers have been shoveling snow and cleaning the building....
This could be a limited event, or it could be the start of something much larger.
In times of crisis ordinary people are pushed to do extraordinary things that they would never do in ordinary times. Sit down strikes, forcing owners to pay up what's due by making very public statement in occupying their workplace for one.
This was how in started in Argentina. Factory owners, claiming that an economic crisis has wiped them out try to skip out on their obligations to workers, and ship the equipment out of country. Workers only wanted their what was owed them: backpay and severances. The company refused, and the workers sat down. It's been a possibility that what happened in Argentina was going to happen here for a while. The question is whether what's happening today in Chicago is limited, or whether its the start of something larger.
And more fundamentally, do we have a government (either the current administration, or the one coming in) that will deem it appropriate to hold all equal before the law?
I'm not holding my breath on that one.
It gets better. More is coming out on why the company, Republic Window, is going under. Hint. It involves the bank bailout.
Republic said it was closing its doors as a result of Bank of America cutting its credit line....
"It's completely shameless that Bank of America took billions in taxpayer dollars and cuts off credit to a company we believe could have stayed in business," United Electrical Workers union official Leah Fried said.
Un...fucking...believable. The reason that these poor guys (and gals) have to take a stand for their rights is because Bank of America (BOA) is cutting of lending at the same time that the US government is dumping billions of dollars into the bank.