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

Workers at the New Era Windows Cooperative are celebrating the grand opening of their new unionized, worker-owned and -operated business.

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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.

REVJESSE 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: Thank you.

ARMANDO ROBLES: Thank you.

MELVIN MACLIN: Thank you.

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.