Wednesday, December 10, 2008
We've blogged a couple of times about the Republic Windows strike, but our posts are nothing compared to the press that this strike is getting elsewhere. A Google news search this morning showed roughly 3500 news items. In the latest news, JP Morgan Chase has pledged $400,000 toward the workers' $1.5 million in severance and vacation pay claims, according to the Chicago Sun Times. A subsidiary of Chase owns 40% of Republic Windows.
So why so much attention? Why did President-elect Obama support the strike so publicly? Why are so many other high-level politicians involved in negotiating, primarily on behalf of the workers? Why didn't the company ask the police to arrest the workers for trespassing when they refused to leave?
The consensus seems to be that this strike struck a nerve with the media and the public consciousness (see for example CNN, the Associated Press (hat tip Dennis Walsh), and Independent Street, a blog of the Wall Street Journal). It's too perfectly a symbol of popular sentiments about what's wrong with the economy and the bailout to be ignored by politicians or by regular folks. The company had lost business with the downturn in construction caused by the bursting of the housing bubble that came with the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, and then the bank, which had received billions in bailout money cut off the company's line of credit. Without cash flow, the company closed its doors--at least until it could reopen in a cheaper location in another state, where at least one of the owners has bought a window plant. The key concepts here sound like a list of top Google search queries for the last two months. And it certainly doesn't help that the closing happened during the holiday season.
It's too early to tell what the takeaways are going to be from the number of issues related to this strike and its resolution--Wall Street v. Main Street, banks forced to continue lending to poor credit risks, solvent but struggling companies forced into bankruptcy by the lack of credit available, national control of the economy, outsourcing, labor costs, the role of unions, etc. In the meantime we can watch it all play out in a sort of, "It's a Wonderful Life" meets "Norma Rae" daily drama.