UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

May 18, 2009

WORKER TAKEOVERS INCREASE

Avi Lewis & Naomi Klein Huffington Post - Here's a quick roundup of recent developments in the world of worker control:

In Argentina, the direct inspiration for many current worker actions, there have been more takeovers in the past four months than in the previous four years. One example: Arrufat, a chocolate maker with a fifty-year history, was abruptly closed late last year. Thirty employees occupied the plant and, despite a huge utility debt left by the former owners, have been producing chocolates by the light of day, using generators. With a loan of less than $5,000 from The Working World, a capital fund/NGO started by a fan of The Take, they were able to produce 17,000 Easter eggs for their biggest weekend of the year. They made a profit of $75,000, taking home $1,000 each and saving the rest for future production.

The United Kingdom: Visteon is an auto-parts manufacturer that was spun off from Ford in 2000. Hundreds of workers were given six minutes' notice that their workplaces were closing. Two hundred workers in Belfast staged a sit-in on the roof of their factory; another 200 in Enfield followed suit the next day. In the next few weeks, Visteon increased the severance package to as much as ten times its initial offer. But the company is refusing to put the money in the workers' bank accounts until they leave the plants; and the workers are refusing to leave until they see the money.

A factory where workers make legendary Waterford Crystal was occupied for seven weeks this year when parent company Waterford Wedgewood went into receivership after being taken over by a US private equity firm.
The US company has now put 10 million euros in a severance fund, and negotiations are ongoing to keep some of the jobs.

Canada: As the Big Three automakers collapse, there have been four occupations by Canadian Auto Workers so far this year. . . The workers occupied the factories to stop the machines from being removed, using that as leverage to force the companies back to the table--the same dynamic that worker takeovers in Argentina have followed.

France: In France there's been a wave of "boss-nappings" this year, in which angry employees have detained their bosses in factories that are facing closure. Companies targeted so far include Caterpillar, 3M, Sony and Hewlett-Packard. . . And this week 1,000 steelworkers disrupted the annual shareholders' meeting of Arcelor Mittal, the world's largest steel company. They stormed the company's headquarters in Luxembourg, smashing gates, breaking windows and fighting with police.

The United States: And then there's the famous Republic Windows & Doors story: 260 workers occupied their plant for six world- shaking days in Chicago this past December. With a savvy campaign against the company's biggest creditor, Bank of America ("You got bailed out; we got sold out!") and massive international solidarity, they won the severance they were owed. And more--the plant is reopening under new ownership, making energy-efficient windows with all the workers hired back at their old wages.

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