Two months ago, the workers at Republic Windows and Doors went from regular people to national stars and started a conversation about the economic crisis with a six-day sit-in protesting the closing of their plant.
Now the workers are taking the stage again, speaking in Chicago this week and beginning a national tour, talking about their own struggle and what it might mean for other workers in tough times.
The workers, along with their representatives from the United Electrical Workers Union, will speak this evening at an event at the University of Illinois in Chicago. The group also began a two and half week national tour, with stops along the East Coast and through the Midwest.
Over 300 people packed their first event on Saturday at Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan. Mark Meinster, international representative with UE, says they had to turn many people away at the door.
“People came out because they were really excited by the Republic story,” says Meinster. “We really hope this is the beginning of a new movement.”
Workers Melvin Maclin, Raul Flores and Armando Robles told their story at the event and will also meet with various local unions along the way, encouraging them to continue the fight for worker justice, says Meinster.
“It has been amazing for the workers to get out of Chicago and see what a huge national impact the Republic struggle really had,” says Meinster.
Several organizations and publications are sponsoring the tour, including Labor Notes, Monthly Review Magazine and Jobs with Justice.
Fran Tobin, organizer for Jobs with Justice, will be moderating the question and answer period of tonight’s event in Chicago. Tobin says he hopes the event will celebrate the Republic victory and also inspire new labor reform.
“This is not the end of the story,” says Tobin. “We need to help rally and motivate people to remake the economy.”
Tobin says one in five employees who try to form a union on the job are fired illegally. He and other labor advocates say having a union is the key organizing sit-ins like the one at Republic.
“If Republic’s workers hadn’t had a union, nothing would have happened,” says Leah Fried, one of the UE organizers who led Republic’s workers during the protest.
Fried says tonight’s talk will also touch on the importance of labor in the economic crisis and the future of labor law, including the Employee Free Choice Act, a law that would make it easier for workers to form unions. Fried says laws like the EFCA are imperative at a time where corporations are cutting jobs and laying off thousands.
“We want to caution people that throwing money at corporate America is not going to help the economy right now,” says Fried.
Tonight’s event at UIC takes place at the Jane Addams Hull House, 800 S. Halsted St., from 6 to 8 p.m. The workers will also be part of panel on Wed. Feb 4 at the University of Chicago at the School of Social Service Administration, 969 E. 60th street, at 7 p.m. A full list of national tour dates is available at the UE website.
Staff Writer Megan Cottrell can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12.