The Republic Windows and Doors strike captured the attention and imagination of people around the world.
Coming after Barack Obama’s election and just before former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s federal indictment on corruption charges, the factory takeover by about 250 workers came at a time when the economic downturn was just starting to gather steam and when public revulsion at bank CEOs’ more than generous share of government largesse was hitting its peak.
In short, the timing was auspicious for the wider public to be sympathetic to workers refusing to be shown the door on essentially no notice.
The ultimate meaning of the event is less clear, and will be borne out in the months and years to come.
Her coverage of the events through a “live book” -this was essentially two months of extensive blogging-has led to the publication this month by Melville House Publishing of Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What It Says About the Economic Crisis.
This is Lydersen’s third book, and each has been different from the other. Out of the Sea and Into the Fire was a collection of dispatches that looked at the intersection of environmental, immigration and social justice issues in the United States as well as Central and South America. Shoot an Iraqi, which she co-authored with Wafaa Bilal, covered the month long experience of the artist Bilal as he did a performance installation that fused technology, art and memory.
Revolt on Goose Island is a more straightforward expository account of the strike, its multi-level background, the action itself, and subsequent reverberations. Impressive not only for the sheer fact of having been reported, written, edited and published just about half a year after the strike transpired, the work provides useful context and is a helpful tool to put the strike in a broader understanding of the current moment.
Lydersen’s pro-worker sympathies-her final acknowledgment goes to “Chicago’s countless labor and immigrant rights activists who have taught us so much and continued the city’s proud history of struggle”-do not stop her from either from trying to contact management or from explaining the immediate and longer-term build up to the strike.
In turn, she looks at the history of Goose Island itself, Chicago’s history of labor action, the role of immigrants in the current labor movement, the company’s moves to liquidate its holdings on Goose Island, the bank’s history and role in the bailout and the workers’ decision to do something about it.
Lydersen notes the open discussion about whether the strike was a spontaneous product of workers’ being frustrated with this final indignity-an analysis that is similar to the “Rosa Parks was tired” way of thinking-or whether it was the result of careful planning, and chronicles both the same type of actions Republic owners took with other companies it bought and the ripple effect the strike had on workers in the Colibri Group in Rhode Island when faced with similar circumstances.
In short, Revolt on Goose Island is a highly useful primer on what some say could be the spark to revive a moribund labor movement that has been on its heels for nearly three decades or just a blip on the global capitalist scene. To her credit, Lydersen does mark the distinction between the Republic workers’ action and the automotive workers’ sit-down strikes more than 70 years ago. The former was fighting essentially for a severance package guaranteed by law, while the latter was striking for a reasonable wage and benefits package.
Revolt on Goose Island is not without some minor flaws.
Some of the statements Lydersen makes do not seem supported by the fact; she says Cleveland has a “relatively healthy rate of unionization” when it is not even 2 percent above the national norm 12.4 percent, for example. Although generally cleanly written and containing lots of physical description, the book at times contains too many colloquial expressions and the insertion of detail feels a bit deliberate.
On the whole, though, these problems are far less significant than the thoughtful and detailed book Lydersen has generated in remarkably short time. While the ultimate meaning of the strike on Goose Island has yet to be determined, Lydersen has already provided useful with a work that both documents the events and gives us a helpful tool for that assessment process.