Workers in the US are facing mounting attacks on their pay, jobs, pensions and services as the recession grows ever deeper.
But one group has seized the initiative and shown the potential to fight back.
Around 250 mainly Latino workers are occupying the Republic Windows and Doors plant in Chicago after they were abruptly fired last week.
The workers received just three days notice of the closure, instead of the 60 days legally required. Management refused to turn up to explain why this was happening and the workers discovered they would not be paid severance pay or Christmas holiday pay.
The occupation has won widespread support, with even president-elect Barack Obama cutting into a press conference this week to declare, “I think they’re absolutely right and understand that what’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.”
The company claims it has been forced into receivership after Bank of America refused to give it credit. This same bank recently received a government bailout to the tune of $25 billion.
At a solidarity rally last Sunday workers carried signs reading, “You got bailed out. We got sold out.”
The workers believe the company plans to switch production to a non-union plant. They are refusing to leave until they are guaranteed their severance and holiday pay.
“They want the poor person to stay down,” said Silvia Mazon, who has worked at the plant for 13 years. “We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere until we get what’s fair and what’s ours. They thought they would get rid of us easily, but if we have to be here for Christmas, it doesn’t matter.”
This attack on jobs is just one of many as unemployment in the US, the world’s biggest economy, continues to spiral.
Over half a million workers in the US lost their jobs in November. Obama has pledged to introduce a public works programme designed to create 2.5 million jobs.
But the rate at which unemployment is increasing threatens to eclipse that. As economist Graham Turner notes, “The rate of deterioration in the economy is running ahead of Obama’s plans.
“Even if the plan is implemented, 2.5 million new jobs are not enough.”
Last Friday’s unemployment figures suggest that the recession will be the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, outstripping those of the 1970s and 80s.
Graham Turner predicts that, by early next year, over a million US jobs will be lost every month.
Soaring unemployment is creating human tragedies that echo those of the Depression.
Millions of US workers receive their health care through company health schemes. When they lose their job, they lose their healthcare.
Starla Darling was heavily pregnant when she learnt that her employer, the Archway cookie plant in northern Ohio, was
closing. Losing her job meant losing her company healthcare.
Two days before her insurance ran out she rushed to the hospital to have her labour induced in the hope her insurance would pay for the delivery. She then had to have an emergency Caesarean section.
Losing healthcare also has a wider impact – on average workers with company healthcare also have one other family member covered on the scheme.
Unemployment is also feeding into the escalating crisis in the US housing market.
One in ten mortgage holders are behind in their payments or are facing the repossession of their homes.
California and Florida have the highest rates of repossession – with 93,000 and 90,300 homeowners in each state respectively facing court action over repossessions in the last four months.
These are also the two states that have seen the highest numbers of job losses.
For all the financial bailouts and talk of public works programmes, it is becoming clearer by the day that the recession is deepening.
Workers will face more attacks and will only stop their living standards being slashed by fighting back.
The Chicago occupation has become a rallying point for all those in the US who have either lost their jobs or fear unemployment.
The workers are drawing on a fine US tradition – in the 1930s massive factory occupations won union recognition at General Motors and other corporations.
It is this kind of action that will be needed to defend their livelihoods.
Send messages of support for the occupation to firstname.lastname@example.org