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After Layoffs, Workers Stay at a Factory in Protest

Scores of workers laid off from a factory here that makes windows and doors have refused to leave, deciding to stage a “peaceful occupation” of the plant around the clock this weekend as they demand pay they say is owed them.

Workers at Republic Windows and Doors, which laid off about 250 people, said they were notified Tuesday that the plant, more than four decades old, would close Friday. They said they were given insufficient notice and were never paid for vacation days or severance.

The workers, many of whom were sitting on fold-up chairs on the factory floor Saturday afternoon, said they would not leave.
(6 December 2008)

Making a new New Deal: Sitdown Strike in Chicago

John Nichols, The Nation
Much has been made about the prospect that Barack Obama’s presidency might, due to economic necessity and the president-elect’s interventionist inclinations, be a reprise of the New Deal era.

But there will be no “new New Deal” if Americans simply look to Obama to lead them out of the domestic quagmire into which Bill Clinton
and George Bush led the country with a toxic blend of free-trade absolutism, banking deregulation and disdain for industrial policy. Just as Roosevelt needed mass movements and militancy as an excuse to talk Washington stalwarts into accepting radical shifts in the economic order, so Obama will need to be able to point to some turbulence at the grassroots.

And so he may have it.

After the Bank of America — a $25-billion recipient of Bailout Czar Hank Paulson’s “Wall Street First” largesse — cut off operating
credit to the Republic Windows and Doors company, executives of the firm announced Friday that they were shutting its factory in Chicago.

Instead of going home to a dismal Holiday season like hundreds of thousands of other working Americans who have fallen victim to the corporate “reduction-in-force” frenzy of recent weeks — which has seen suddenly-secure banks pocket federal dollars rather than loosen
up credit — the Republic workers occupied the factory where many of them had worked for decades.

Members of United Electrical Workers Local 1110, which represents 260 Republic workers, are conducting the contemporary equivalent of the 1930s sit-down strikes that led to the rapid expansion of union recognition nationwide and empowered the Roosevelt administration to enact more equitable labor laws. And, just as in the thirties, they are objecting to policies that put banks ahead of workers; stickers worn by the UE sit-down strikers read: “You got bailed out, we got sold out.
(7 December 2008)

Can Obama Really Afford His Infrastructure Program?

Bill Paul, Energy Tech Stocks
Price of Asphalt, CO2 Cost From Cement, Raise Doubts

On Saturday President-elect Obama pledged the biggest road and bridge construction program since the 1950s. But has anyone in Washington asked Wilson County, Tennessee road superintendent Steve Armistead about the price of asphalt these days? For that matter, has anyone thought about how much more cement is likely to cost when that industry has to pass through costs associated with its carbon dioxide emissions?

Bottom line: the two most essential materials of an infrastructure rebuilding program – asphalt and cement – could be so expensive that
Obama won’t be able to fix nearly as many roads, bridges and buildings as he wants to, and thus fewer jobs will be created. Armistead told The Tennessean newspaper earlier this month that, notwithstanding crude oil’s precipitous price decline, in November the
price of asphalt, which is made from crude, was more than double what it was last January. Rodney Carmichael, head of the Tennessee County Highways Officials Association, told the newspaper asphalt prices will remain high because, when crude prices shot up, oil refiners tweaked their equipment to refine more gasoline, leaving less feedstock available to make asphalt. “The newer technology has backfired,” Carmichael said.

Speaking of backfires, the Obama administration’s plan to force CO2-emitting manufacturers to have to pay for their emissions appears likely to cause cement prices to surge.

The cement industry is one of the world’s worst CO2 emitters. To exempt cement manufacturers from CO2 emissions reductions would make the entire program Obama wants to impose a joke. And yet, if Canada is any example, forcing cement manufacturers to have to pay extra to offset the CO2 emissions they generate could cause cement prices to skyrocket.
(8 December 2008)