Twelve workers in East Providence, Rhode Island, were arrested yesterday while protesting the auctioning off of their closed factory’s assets.
The factory, owned by the Colibri Group, manufactured jewelry and employed 280 people. On January 14, Colibri closed the factory without giving its workers sixty days notice as is required by the federal WARN Act. Today, machinery inside the plant was being auctioned off to the highest bidder as workers were still demanding two months of back pay. Over 200 people picketed outside during the auction chanting "We’ll go away when we get our pay." A dozen were arrested after laying down to block cars as buyers entered the premises to bid on the factory’s machinery.
This is the second time in the last several months laid-off workers have responded to a violation of the WARN Act by taking militant action. Workers in Chicago at the Republic Windows and Doors factory occupied their plant for six days when management closed the factory with only three days’ notice. The occupation received widespread support from a number of notable people and organizations including then-President-Elect Obama. Unlike Republic workers, however, who were members of United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, Colibri workers were not members of a union.
Ironically, the protest and arrests took place on the same day three million French workers took to the streets to protest French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s handling of the world financial meltdown in France. While workers in the US have not engaged anything close to such large-scale action since labor’s hayday, there is a long tradition of radical working-class activism in the United States.
From the massive public anger over publicly-bailed-out AIG’s massive bonuses to execs and other employees and the House of Representatives’ voting overwhelmingly to levy a 90 percent tax on those bonuses to the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart’s blistering criticism of CNBC for its financial coverage, the tide of public opinion and action has clearly shifted against corporate interests and in favor of workers.
Those of us in West Michigan working towards a more just and democratic world should capitalize on this opportunity and support organizing efforts of workers like the folks from Cobrini.