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In Illinois, Another Workers' Rebellion Flares Up Against 'Banksters' Greed

In Illinois, a dozen union members blocked a road outside Wells Fargo’s local headquarters -- the latest in a wave of direct actions by workers.

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Meanwhile, Quad City Die Casting workers aren't the only ones who have threatened Wells Fargo with civil disobedience inspired by the Republic Windows struggle. 

In January, Hartmarx, the 122-year-old high-end men's garment company that supplied Barack Obama's inauguration tuxedo, declared bankruptcy. By spring the major secured creditor, Wells Fargo, was reportedly favoring a buyer who planned to liquidate the company or close multiple factories.

Employees of the Hartmarx factory in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines, represented by the union Workers United (formerly part of UNITE HERE!), in May voted to occupy the factory if need be. 

Hartmarx's closing would have meant the loss of almost 4,000 jobs nationwide. The workers gained the support of politicians, including Rep. Frank, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., who for 13 years worked in a Hartmarx plant in the Quad Cities.

Hare and other politicians explicitly said Wells Fargo's receipt of bailout money meant it had a responsibility to keep Hartmarx operating. Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a supporter of the Republic Windows workers, threatened to pull state business from Wells Fargo if it did not help keep the factory open.

On June 23, Jobs with Justice and multiple labor unions sponsored a national day of action targeting Wells Fargo, with protests or events in about 20 cities, including Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, the Quad Cities and Portland, Ore.

The actions also addressed Wells Fargo's mortgage-lending practices, highlighting a federal lawsuit filed by Baltimore last year alleging the company aggressively steered African American buyers toward subprime loans. A bank loan officer testified that his colleagues used racist language, including "mud people" and "ghetto loans." 

On June 29, Hartmarx announced a sale had been worked out that is keeping the factories open. Politicians, labor leaders and workers celebrated the outcome as a major victory and attributed it to the intensive public campaign.  

Johann and her co-workers say the July 9 action is just the start of doing what it takes to keep their factory open, and they hope they will soon be having a victory celebration of their own.

Kari Lydersen , a regular contributor to AlterNet, also writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago. She recently published a book about the Republic Windows struggle: Revolt on Goose Island (Melville House Press)

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