This week, workers at Hartmarx Factory won a major victory against Wells Fargo, as Wells Fargo agreed to keep their factory open. The story of the Hartmarx workers had drawn national attention as they threatened to occupy their factory if Wells Fargo closed it. Their victory yesterday represents a major triumph in the growing trend of factory sit ins that started last December when workers, members of United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE) occupied the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago
Last January, Hartmarx, the maker of men’s apparel and an employer of nearly 4,000 people, filed for bankruptcy after Wells Fargo refused to extend them a line of credit. Wells Fargo then pushed for the company to be liquidated in order to increase their short term profits. They favored liquidating the factory and laying off the 4,000 workers despite the fact that there were proposals by several groups to purchase the company and keep it running.
The workers, members of SEIU, refused to accept the bank’s ruling and decided to do something about it. The workers said they were inspired after having gone to see a speaking tour of members of who had occupied Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago. They then decided that perhaps they should consider threatening to occupy their plant in order to force the bank to keep it open. The workers then voted to sit-in to occupy that plant if Wells Fargo decided to liquidate it and drew national media attention to their story.
As a result of the worker’s resolve to fight the company, they received a large degree of political and community support. Over 43 members of Congress signed a letter calling on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to investigate Wells Fargo’s use of bailout money. Congressman Phil Hare, a former worker at Harmarx, promised to be Wells Fargo’s “worst nightmare” if they closed the plant. Finally, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias brought Wells Fargo to their knees when he threatened to cut off $8 billion dollars worth of business that the state does with Wells Fargo if they closed the plant
As a result of the union members’ activism, community pressure and politicians’ threat to take action against Wells Fargo, the union was able to force the bank to accept a bid from another company to keep the plant open. The final decision represents a major victory in the worker sit-in movement against the banks. The victory at Hartmarx confirms the growing trend that I wrote about last week that whenever these banks are challenged through direct action in a visible, public way that they always fold to demands.
Now the fight moves onto a plant across town from Hartmarx in Moline, Illinois. Wells Fargo has cut off credit to Quad City Die Casting factory. Workers at the plant, who are members of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE), the same union that occupied Republic Windows and Doors last summer, are engaging in direct action against Wells Fargo as they call for Wells Fargo to keep the plant open. So far, Wells Fargo has refused to even sit down with the union and negotiate. The union though has not been dissuaded and promises to continuing fighting the banksters of Wells Fargo.
Last week, UE held protests at over 20 cities throughout the country to protest Wells Fargo. In addition, a delegation from their union visited over 100 congressional offices last week to call for an investigation into how Wells Fargo is using its bailout money. The union charges that after having received $25 billion in bailout money that Wells Fargo has an obligation to look to promote economic recovery by keeping the plant open. Speaking at the protest in Davenport, Iowa, UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley said, “We can’t let this giant bank default on its obligation to the American people and the people of the Quad Cities. Wells Fargo is a roadblock to economic recovery.”
Now the question is whether we as the progressive movement will join them in solidarity to support keeping factories open. Please go to UE’s website and send a letter to your congressman calling on them to investigate how Wells Fargo has refused to spend its $25 billion in bailout money to support economic recovery. Our resolve as a movement to support the struggle of workers at Quad City Die Casting will determine our ability to support this growing worker uprising to fight banks that have destroyed our economy. Keeping good American manufacturing jobs such as the union jobs at Quad City Die Casting in this country is key to creating a successful economic revival not built on the speculative bubbles of the past. Its time that banks like Wells Fargo get out of the way on the road to economic recovery.
Mike Elk: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer and worked previously for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE). He works currently as an editor at AlterNet.
This article originally appeared on AlterNet on July 2, 2009. It is reprinted here with permission from the author.