Thoughts on the Republic Window takeover

The factory takeover at Republic Windows has quickly generated huge media attention and widespread support. It's also become a rallying cry for assorted Leftist political groups, interpreting the action and its motivations to fit their agenda and program. In its least malicious guise is the suggestion that the action is the start of some sort of "new movement" (an exciting possibility, but a bit premature of a claim); at worst Leftists impose their own messaging over the workers' intentions and see the workers as a potential vanguard for whatever diabolical intention they have in mind.

I find the takeover extremely inspiring and thrilling, but I think it's also important to temper that excitement with the on-the-ground reality at the factory and make an attempt, at least, to take off my black-and-red ideological glasses while looking at the situation.

The action is not a "sit-down strike" -- thought it's an exciting term, the action is not a strike. Folks who use the term are either misinformed or imposing their own delusions over what the action is about. Moreover, it fits it into the category of acceptable labor actions, and doesn't recognize it for what it essentially is -- criminal action by workers stealing and trespassing on private property.

The quick intervention by liberal establishment folks like Jesse Jackson and Luis Gutierrez, and the brief verbal support by Obama in favor of payment, points to the degree -- or lack thereof -- to which the action contains the possibility of extending beyond the contained conflict. These personalities keep the emphasis on acceptable discourse by political actors and away from all the possibilities the workers hold. Their presence already brings with it obligations and responsibilities counterpoised to the desire of the workers to maintain the occupation under all circumstances until their demands are met. While the degree of conflict is currently minimal, a protracted struggle will only increase the political demand for compromise and restraint.

The limited demands made by the workers so far do not suggest a desire to exacerbate conflict. Some folks who have been to the factory report mention of discussions about restarting productions, but it's impossible at this point to decipher the extent to which those conversations are occurring. There's also been a couple mentions of the same in some reports from Leftist press, but the veracity of those are even more impossible to ascertain. Nor have the workers begun looting or destroying machines and office materials -- from the lobby one can see a plethora of untouched computers and fax machines ripe for the taking. The struggle is still fresh and new -- but at what point will material need outweigh image and respectability?

An interesting development that hasn't been too widely publicized yet is that the owners do seem to be moving the operation into another state. According to an investigation in this article by the Trib:
People who apparently have ties to the financially strapped Republic Windows formed a limited liability corporation in Illinois last month, Echo Windows & Doors, that has bought a similar plant in western Iowa.

Sharon Gillman, who shares an address with Republic President and CEO Rich Gillman, is listed as an officer of Echo Windows & Doors LLC, which was incorporated in Illinois on Nov. 18, according to secretary of state records.
How interesting.

The article says Echo recently purchased a pre-existing factory in Iowa; the address is 2400 N. Broadway, Red Oak, Iowa.

Unfortunately, capitalist law and logic make it pretty clear that it's the factory owner and not the bank that is responsible for paying the debt to the workers. But, if the owners close their company their pockets are technically empty. UE's putting pressure on Bank of America could have implications beyond simply paying owed wages and opens the door to struggle that can place the blame on the economic system itself.

The action does/will have implications for anarchists, but I think so far they are not the ones that folks have been bandying around. One message someone from the Four Star collective sent out suggests anarchists need to be more "structurally organized":

For us anarchists, this turn of events points to the serious need to become structurally organized, and that by working so decentralized from one another and other organizations, we were ineffectively unable to come out in a serious and cohesive body of support. Being a factory occupation, this is a moment in which anarchist politics are most important.

In fact, what's personally been so inspiring for me on 'our' end of things is that anarchist support developed extremely rapidly -- especially because of individual initiative and autonomy. Several delegations have brought food and other supplies to the factory, and news is being spread extremely quickly and widely. FNBs are organizing more food support, a movie showing is being set up, and a rapid-response phone tree is coming together.

At this point, what more could a formal organization do besides co-opt the struggle, like all the Leftist paper sellers flocking the site "like flies to honey"? Are we supposed to print copies of Rocker's Anarcho-Syndicalism to pass out to educate the workers? I'm sure they have enough shitty newspapers to read.

Certainly, anarchists can develop relationships, beyond slogans and press releases, to provide unqualified support for worker autonomy -- to ensure that if workers decide on the need to escalate their occupation or resist efforts by the law, political hacks and opportunists cannot strangle it. But there needs to be a clear delineation between supporting and spreading the struggle -- creating autonomous though complimentary situations -- and hijacking their action from outside

The negotiation between the bank, owners and union is set to begin in about an hour, so we'll see how that goes. Perhaps the action will lead to a quick settlement, and all these talks of preparations are unnecessary. The action seems to have sparked something nonetheless -- will victory here end the cries for worker power?

Success could inspire similar actions by those who find themselves in similar situations -- but it would also set a dangerous precedent for creditors like BofA who refuse to be held responsible for the debts of others. The failure to reach an agreement could lead to a protracted campaign, and from the looks of things I think the Left and others are ready for a fight.

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