The Labor Beat video group is putting together a documentary about the victorious occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago. The filmmakers were—unless I’m mistaken—the only media group given constant access to the inside of the factory during this action. They’ve put up a ten minute selection of footage on YouTube:
The reinvention of this tactic after more than half a century probably owes less to the historical memory of the union (considerable though that is in the case of UE) than to the example of actions in Brazil and Argentina that followed the slogan “Occupy, Resist, Produce.”
Either way, it’s an instance of moral economy reasserting itself amidst crisis. I see that interpretation comes up in the short article that Nelson Lichtenstein (author of a biography of Walter Reuther) and Christopher Phelps (now working on a book about strikes and social thought) wrote earlier this week for the CNN website:
Factory occupations are rare because they violate the everyday laws of property, and for the most part American workers are law-abiding people. They occur only when workers feel morally aggrieved, when they sense that ownership has itself violated the law, when the boss has become the outlaw in their eyes and in that of the community as well….
It is hardly surprising that Republic’s workers have laid temporary claim to the factory in which some have given decades of their lives. Its owners and creditors have forfeited their own claims, both moral and legal, to rightful stewardship.
As Sen. Robert Wagner said in response to the 1937 sit-downs, “The uprising of the common people has come, as always, only because of a breakdown in the ability of the law and our economic system to protect their rights.”