Scott McLemee clued me in to the very cool documentaries being produced by the Labor Beat video group. Specifically, Scoot points to a ten-minute excerpt from their coverage of the successful occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago. As Scott points out, Labor Beat had exclusive access to the occupation unavailable to other filmmakers and broadcasters, making this footage important not only as a pedagogical tool but also as a potentially important document in telling the story of labor in the United States in an era of tremendous economic strain.
The excerpt is part of planned thirty-minute episode about the workers’ occupation of the Republic Windows factory in order to demand the severance they are entitled by law, and the video itself features some good old-fashioned labor politics mixed–as McLemee astutely observes–with more recent practices in Argentina and Brazil that operated under the slogan, “Occupy, Resist, Produce.” There are other videos as well, including one of a street protest at Bank of America, the bank that refused to extend a payroll loan to Republic. And while there is much to celebrate here in the Republic Windows story, I’m interested in how the workers explain and theorize their own roles in the production process, reminding us that without the workers, there are no windows and doors, that commodities are produced on the strength of human labor. What I like most about these documentaries, however, is that the workers are shown as active agents, taking control of their factory, of the streets, of the very economic discourse framing the factory’s closure.
Their story resonates with a number of news stories, both local to me here in North Carolina and nationwide. As Henry mentions at Crooked Timber, the workers at the Smithfield plant down the road won the right to unionize after over a decade of fighting. Meanwhile, the fighting over the bailout of the automobile industry seems to be linked to a fight over the role of organized labor, at least in the auto industry. Meanwhile, Marc Bousquet, in the context of linking to five key pieces of legislation made to support workers’ rights, points to a humorous Batgirl parody video promoting the Lily Ledbetter Act, which would guarantee equal pay for men and women for equal work. More than anything, I’m interested in the role of Labor Beat in documenting one small narrative within these labor struggles and in offering us, perhaps, a new language and new tactics for engaging in those struggles.