Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chicago Workers Open New Cooperatively Owned Factory Five Years After Republic Windows Occupation

[The occupation by UE members at Republic Windows was one of the first things I wrote about when I established this blog. Five years on - they set up a cooperative to run their old workplace. This story is from Democracy Now!]

Workers at the New Era Windows Cooperative are celebrating the grand opening of their new unionized, worker-owned and -operated business. Almost a year to the day after their window factory closed, a group of former workers have launched their own window business without bosses. They successfully raised money to buy the factory collectively and run it democratically. In 2008, some of the workers were involved in a famous six-day sit-in after Republic Windows and Doors gave workers just three days’ notice before closing the factory. The sit-in drew national attention and union workers reached a settlement where they each received $6,000 each. About 65 workers occupied the factory after their jobs came under threat again in 2012. We speak to two worker-owners of the just-opened New Era Windows Cooperative and a labor organizer who helped with their fight.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In labor news, we go now to Chicago. Workers at the New Era Windows Cooperative are celebrating the grand opening of their unionized, 100 percent worker-owned and -operated business. Almost a year to the day after their window factory closed, a group of former workers have launched their own window business without bosses. They successfully raised money to buy the factory collectively and run it democratically.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2008, some of the workers were involved in a famous six-day sit-in after Republic Windows and Doors gave workers just three days’ notice before closing the factory. The sit-in drew national attention. Union workers reached a settlement where they each received $6,000. The Goose Island plant, run by Serious Energy, faced a second occupation in 2012. About 65 workers occupied the factory in an attempt to save their jobs again. This is an excerpt of a documentary produced by the workers’ union, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.

ROCIO PEREZ: [translated] They gave us like an hour, more or less. They came and said, "OK, you have your papers. Now go." That is when we said, "No, we’re not leaving. This is where we’re staying."

RON BENDER: So we decided—we just said, "Hey, we’re going to stay here until, you know, you all give us some better answers than this."

FACTORY WORKERS: ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede!

CBS NEWS: This is a group ready for a fight.

MARK MEINSTER: We put it to a vote, and workers decided that they will be staying in the plant for the remainder of the weekend.

CBS NEWS: More than 200 of Republic Windows and Doors’ 300 union workers are staging a sit-in of sorts until they get what is legally owed to them. The union says company officials told employees they were closing shop because Bank of America would no longer extend Republic a line of credit. Bank of America wouldn’t confirm that, due to confidentiality concerns. Workers say the fact that Bank of America received $25 billion in the federal bailout makes this even more unacceptable.

ARMANDO ROBLES: I’m going to stay until the end. If they tell me I have to leave, well, they have to arrest me.

REPORTER: You’re prepared to be arrested?

ARMANDO ROBLES: I’m prepared to be arrested, if it’s necessary.

FACTORY WORKERS: ¡Y no nos vamos! ¡Aquí estamos y no nos vamos!

CBS NEWS: Translation: "We are here, and we are not going anywhere."

MELVIN MACLIN: We have been here overnight. We’ve been here since yesterday, and we aren’t going anywhere. We are committed to this.

CBS NEWS: Melvin Maclin is one of dozens of Republic Windows and Doors workers who is staying put in the company’s cafeteria until he gets his remaining vacation, healthcare and severance pay.

FACTORY WORKERS: You got bailed out! We got sold out!

PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: These workers, if they have earned these benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Workers all around the nation who are now facing massive layoffs, it’s your job, it’s your plant. Stay there and fight for them ’til justice comes. And justice will come.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, Jesse Jackson, Reverend Jesse Jackson. Excerpts from a video produced by the workers’ union, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. We’re joined now by two of the workers featured in that video, Armando Robles and Melvin "Ricky" Maclin. They join us now from Chicago, Illinois, along with the Brendan Martin, president and founder of The Working World.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Armando Robles worked at Republic Windows and Doors for eight years. He then worked at the successor, Serious company, for another three years. He is one of 20 workers at New Era Windows Cooperative, a worker-owned company. Armando is also president of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America in Chicago, a maintenance worker at the former Republic Windows and Doors factory. And Melvin "Ricky" Maclin worked at Republic Windows and Doors for almost a decade. He then worked at the successor, Serious company, for three years. He’s also one of the workers at the newly opened cooperative. Welcome, all of you, to Democracy Now!




BRENDAN MARTIN: Thanks for having us.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Armando, if we could start with you, the road you’ve traveled now, from the second closing now to reopening this cooperative, how did that come about?

ARMANDO ROBLES: It comes from an idea. The last time when I be on Democracy Now! in 2009, the first time, even though—I met Brendan Martin, which is on my left side. And then, after, we talked about creating a new—why we don’t make a cooperative? And it comes to—it sounds to me a great and a brilliant idea. But in that point, somebody was buying the Republic Windows and Doors machinery and—Serious Energy. But I was—in my mind, that, so when—and I told him, "You know what? Owners are owners, and they close factories. And we never know when this person is going to close the factory." This guy close, and we never [inaudible] to call Brendan Martin, take the offer and put the project in process. And at this point, it’s a great day for us. We’re going to open our cooperative. It’s called New Era Windows. And I’m really, really happy. It’s a lot of work we made. It’s a lot of learning process. But at this point, we have the factory now open.

AMY GOODMAN: Brendan Martin, talk about exactly what you did, how this new cooperative got organized.

BRENDAN MARTIN: Well, I came off of working in Argentina for about nine years with factories in a similar situation. They were closed down, and workers took them over and began running them. So then I met Armando Robles in New York in 2009 and mentioned this history to him. And he thought, "Wow! That seems kind of—that would be good." And then, three years later, in 2012, he and some of the other workers called up and said, "OK, remember that co-op idea? What if we—can we really make that happen?" And I said, "I’ve seen it happen before. Why not?" So I flew out to Chicago. We began talking about what it would mean to form a cooperative. And we began raising the money for the workers to buy the plant for themselves.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ricky Maclin, after the first protest—and I remember being there in 2008 covering that when you all sat in—and then the second—the reopening and then the second closing—how did you feel in terms of the prospects for this factory being able to continue?

MELVIN MACLIN: After Serious had bought the old Republic plant?


BRENDAN MARTIN: After they closed down the second time.

MELVIN MACLIN: After they closed down the second time, then Armando and I, we had been having a conversation, and we were discussing the possibility. And that’s where that it really started for me. I thought that it may could work. And we both said, "Well, we have to give it a shot." I mean, because at that time, I believe, I was like 58 years old. So, at 58, I can’t just roll up into a ball and die, so I have to do something. And so, we decided to fight, what we do best. And I remember the slogan, "We win what we fight for." So, we have been fighting for this plant, and today is really a beautiful day. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Armando Robles, talk about what you’re going to make there. Talk about New Era, this New Era Windows Cooperative.

ARMANDO ROBLES: Could you repeat the question for me?

AMY GOODMAN: What are you making at the New Era Windows Cooperative? I mean, how do people get involved? What are the products you’re making?

ARMANDO ROBLES: We’re going to start making replacement windows, vinyl windows and commercial windows—it’s our goal—and for affordable price and a good-quality product for the workers. At the beginning of this, I think we, us, know how to make windows. But after all work done we have at this point, I learned so much in this year. We put a factory in place in all the right spots. Yesterday, we have our check from the city. They checked—the inspector, they inspect the whole building, and they approve us our job. So, not even do just windows, but we would like to make a New Era for the United States, helping people creating cooperatives and create our good-quality and affordable windows for the region and for the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Brendan Martin, I would have to assume that the labor unions alone and labor union members could provide a steady demand for the products of the factory. Have you gotten any—any bites or orders yet from—pressed by other unions or other—or unionized workers?

BRENDAN MARTIN: We have actually gotten early interest in the windows from people in unions, from housing cooperatives, and just from people across the United States and in the Chicago area who support jobs being saved by their workers rather than destroyed by their owners. But without a doubt, we still need more support to come in. So, anybody out there—these are residential windows. Anyone who’s listening can buy them. They fit in anyone’s home. They’ll save you money on your energy bill and pay for themselves in a few years. So, please come to our website,, participate in this project by buying some windows, and then go out and start your own cooperative. We do have a lot of interest from the community, but we need more of the community to pile in and make this happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you very much for being with us, and congratulations on opening day, Armando Robles and Ricky Maclin, workers at New Era Windows Cooperative, and Brendan Martin, president and founder of The Working World. As we move to our last segment—

BRENDAN MARTIN: Thank you, Amy.

ARMANDO ROBLES: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks so much.


Friday, May 10, 2013

France: The vote on gay marriage

Gabriel Girard

Originally published in International Viewpoint
April 2013

On 23 April the second vote in the National Assembly passed this proposal into law. The radicalisation of the opponents to “Marriage for all” had continued apace since the article below was written. Demonstrations saw the “parliamentary right” alongside leading members of the far-right National Front, although not Marine Le Pen herself. Homophobia became frighteningly visible, including in attacks on people leaving gay bars in a number of cities. The demonstrations by partisans of the draft law, although supported by the Socialist Party and the other parties to its left (Front de Gauche including the Parti de Gauche and Communist Party, the NPA...), did not mobilise as broadly. This is no doubt due to the general disillusion with the Socialist Party government. International Viewpoint will publish more in the future on the polarisation around this question. [International Viewpoint]

On Tuesday 12 February, a little before 5pm, the French National Assembly voted by a large majority for the so-called “marriage for all” law, which gives same sex couples the right to civil marriage and to adopt children. Although this is a first reading, with the law yet having to be examined and voted on by the Senate, there is no doubt that the text will be definitively adopted before the summer, since the left holds the majority in both chambers.

This vote comes after several months of intense debates within French society between supports and opponents of equal rights. The satisfaction of an old demand of the LGBT movement is an undeniable success. However, the formal equality thus acquired does not end the fight against homophobia and transphobia. The adoption of the law, an indispensable stage on the road to equality, could however accentuate the process of differentiation developing among gays and lesbians. For the better off, a homosexual lifestyle is becoming increasingly one option among others. A banalisation barely detectable in the more precarious fringes of the community (youth, transgender, women, ethnic minorities, the HIV positive and so on), while the economic crisis strengthens dependency on the family, undermining the material conditions of emancipation. Awkwardly, some critical actors in “homo-nationalism” have in recent weeks wished to stress the existence of these fractures, in particular in the popular neighbourhoods and among young people of immigrant origin. [1] Some dangerous positions which have revived controversies on racism and imperialism in the LGBT communities, which run through the movement at an international level. Not a very good climate for a constructive debate on these issues.
Developing an approach of critical emancipation of hetero-normality, which is however attentive to the rhythms of mobilisation and politicisation of the majority of LGBT persons is the challenge for radical activists and the left of the LGBT movement.

The context

Contained in the manifesto of the candidate of the Parti Socialiste, François Hollande, during the presidential campaign of 2012, the demand for the right to same sex marriage has been raised for 15 years by the French LGBT movements.

In 1999, the left government had established the PaCS, a contract of civil union offering a legal framework to same sex couples, but without granting them all the associated rights of marriage. At the time, this first advance, however timid, had raised heated debates on the left, some fearing that the recognition of same sex unions threatened the “symbolic order” of the family. As an illustration of this, the adoption of the PaCS had been delayed for several months by the weak mobilisation of left deputies, who were in the minority in the Assembly during the first vote on the text. For the LGBT movements, the PaCS was a protective gain notably for couples including an HIV positive partner. But it was immediately challenged as a discriminatory law, because it established a legal inequality between homosexuals and heterosexuals.

From 2000 onwards, in a context where the right was in power, equality of rights rapidly became the main demand of the LGBT movements. In 2004, as Spain legalised the right to same sex marriage, a Green deputy, N. Mamère, participated in a marriage between two men, taking advantage of a loophole in the law: the sex of the married couple was not specified in the Civil Code. This symbolic action of disobedience had a high media profile, but remained isolated, with no other elected representative following. In subsequent years, the demand for marriage remained a priority on the agenda of LGBT struggles. But the perception that a victory would not be possible while the right was in power led most organisations to await a left electoral victory. Hence, while equality remained the main theme of Gay Pride Marches, no significant political campaign was waged on the subject.

The weakening of a perspective in terms of construction of a relationship of forces on these issues explains to a great extent the relative disorganisation of activist groups at the time where the right and Catholic Church entered the debate in September 2012.

The forces on the ground

During the debate on the PaCS in the late 1990s, the right and its fringes close to the Catholic Church had already led a heated opposition to the project, organising a demonstration of nearly 100,000 persons in Paris. The emblem of this anti-PaCS right, the deputy Christine Boutin, had not hesitated to brandish the Bible in the National Assembly to support her arguments. In a general manner, debate gave way to a deluge of homophobia. Meanwhile the left and the LGBT movements remained barely audible, and the Socialist Party was divided on the subject.

In 2012, the context was very different. The Socialists had just won the elections; the right was defeated, weakened by an internal leadership race and electorally rivalled by the Front National. The UMP leaders thus sought subjects to oppose the left, since the austerity policies pursued by Hollande left it with little room to differentiate itself. The draft law on “marriage for all” gave it an opportunity. In contrast to the debate on the PaCS, opponents advanced an apparently more “subtle” approach.

Openly homophobic discourse was abandoned, at least publicly, and the arguments centred above all on issues of parenting (adoption, medically assisted procreation, surrogate parenting). The figureheads of the “anti-equality” movement – two gays against marriage and a second rate singer/humorist – sought to offer a less political face to this combat. The critique of the “right to the child” and the defence of family values provided the rhetorical framework for the right. However, without surprise, opposition to the draft law rested on a highly reactionary movement very much anchored to the right and the Catholic networks. And during the demonstrations, homophobic slogans dominated. Two big demonstrations were organised, on November 17, 2012 and January 13, 2013, which attracted hundreds of thousands of people, supported by the UMP and the Front National, as well as the main representatives of Catholicism and other monotheistic religions. The Catholic Church put all its strength into the battle, massively organising the transport of demonstrators to Paris.

Occupying the media terrain, the anti equality forces adopted an essentialist and sexist discourse on gender and the heterosexual family order. They succeeded in polarising the debate around parenting and mobilised deputies opposed to the draft. The confusion reached its target, when Hollande wobbled, evoking a “conscience clause” for mayors hostile to the law. This, coupled with the massive demonstration of November 17, had the effect of an electric shock for LGBT activists and their supports. All the more in that the discourse of the right gave new life to everyday homophobia. On December 16, at the call of associations, trade unions and left political parties, nearly 150,000 people demonstrated throughout France in support of equal rights. The political left as a whole (NPA, Front de Gauche, Socialist Party, Greens) gave its support to the draft law. This demonstration, followed by a new, still bigger, march on January 27, was an unexpected event. They marked the most significant mobilisation for the LGBT movement in the past 40 years, apart from the Gay Pride Marches (which in recent years have attracted nearly 500,000 people in Paris).

However the government continued to send contradictory signals. While stating its determination, it retreated on the issues of parenting, explaining that access to assisted fertilisation for female couples would not be part of the draft law. Meanwhile Hollande personally received the organisers of the anti-marriage demonstrations, and the government unambiguously denounced surrogacy. The law voted for on February 12 satisfied some of the major demands of the LGBT movement but remained short of hopes.

Even if it is still too soon to draw the balance sheet, the mobilisation in favour of equal rights in autumn and winter constituted an important vector of politicisation in the LGBT communities. During these demonstrations, poles of radicalism appeared: the Pink block, articulating anti-capitalism, anti-racism and the fight against hetro normality; or the collective “Oui, oui, oui”, notably around the Panthères Roses, defending a clear demand for equality faced with the hesitations of the socialist government. More broadly, hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians have gone onto the street, taken part in social networks, in their places of study or work, expressing the force of a daily resistance to the homophobic discourse of the right.

The strategic issues for the LGBT movement

The limits to this mobilisation should be noted however. Strategically, it has at first rapidly appeared indispensable to agree on unifying demands. But with the pro equality movement being established above all in reaction to the right wing mobilisation, and according to the legislative calendar, demobilisation could be strong once the law is definitively adopted. The institutional bodies of the movement (the inter-LGBT in particular) bear a great share of the responsibility for this. At a time when the recrudescence of homophobic discourse and acts observed during recent months has cruelly underlined the need to continue a basic struggle on this terrain.

On the “content” of equality, the recent mobilisation has not allowed deeper debates to emerge. Hence, the feminist critiques of the institution of marriage or the necessary debates on surrogacy have been inaudible. For the left activists of the LGBT movement, a “progressive” strategy has been imposed: to win first on marriage and adoption so as then to push forward debates on family and conjugal norms. However, in the absence of democratic structuring, the potential political space for these debates could be significantly reduced in the coming weeks.


[1] Houria Bouteldja, “Universalisme gay, homoracialisme et ‘mariage pour tous’”, February 12, 2012,.


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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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