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Chicago Workers Beat Back the Bankers' Attempt to Hold on to Bailout Cash

Can direct action on the part of workers overturn American corporatism?

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Flores certainly hopes that those whose livelihoods are in peril will rediscover the tactic. "This is the start of something," he urges. "Don't let it die. Learn something from it." And the sit-down was successful. After a thousand people rallied in front of Bank of America at the end of the day on Dec. 10, the bank announced it would put up $2 million in loans to meet the money owed the workers. Flores and his co-workers then voted to end the occupation.

Fran Tobin, Midwest organizer for Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor and community groups with chapters around the country, shares Flores' optimism. "I think this is not the last time we're going to see American workers occupying American plants as part of a move to save jobs and turn things around," he says. Organizers for Jobs with Justice are fanning out with a program they call a "Peoples' Bailout." Tobin emphasizes that, "We need to ask, 'What kind of an economy and recovery do we want?' " He lists funds for a jobs program, rather than huge loans to banks, a moratorium on home foreclosures, investment in infrastructure repair, and helping local and state governments (and public workers) survive the crisis without massive budget cuts.

Flores, Tobin and Fried all agree that none of those demands can be won without unions and workers willing to fight for them. That makes the Republic plant occupation more than just a local confrontation. "This might not be the right tactic in every situation, but people know we need to be fighting back," Fried says.

Will the unions in auto plants and other workplaces hit by layoffs take up the challenge of the Republic workers? To Flores, they have to do something more than just watch the elimination of their jobs.

"We've got to fight for our rights," he emphasizes. "It's not fair that they just kick us out on the street with nothing. Somebody has to respond."

David Bacon is the author of several books, the most recent of which is Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants .

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