How to Get a New New Deal (John Nichols)

by Chris Sturr | December 09, 2008

We noticed this in the Boston Metro, our subway paper (“world’s largest circulation global newspaper” or something–it really is worldwide), by John Nichols of the Nation. We include the article in full because the Metro doesn’t have permalinks (and it’s a characteristically tiny article).

Workers sit-down for a New Deal

Much has been made about the prospect that Barack Obama’s presidency might be a reprise of the New Deal era — due both to economic necessity and the President-elect’s interventionist inclinations.

But there will be no “new New Deal” if Americans simply look to Obama to lead them out of the domestic quagmire into which Bill Clinton and George Bush led the country —with a toxic blend of free-trade absolutism, banking deregulation and disdain for industrial policy.

Just as Roosevelt needed mass movements and militancy as an excuse to talk Washington stalwarts into accepting radical shifts in the economic order, so Obama will need to be able to point to some turbulence at the grassroots.

And so he may have it.

After Bank of America—a $25-billion recipient of Bailout Czar Hank Paulson’s “Wall Street First” largesse—cut off operating credit to Republic Windows and Doors, executives of the firm announced that they were shutting its factory in Chicago.

Instead of going home to a dismal holiday season like hundreds of thousands of other working Americans who have fallen victim to the corporate “reduction-in-force” frenzy of recent weeks—which has seen suddenly-secure banks pocket their federal dollars rather than loosen up their credit—the Republic workers occupied the factory where many of them had worked for decades.

Members of United Electrical Workers Local 1110, which represents 260 Republic workers, are conducting the contemporary equivalent of the 1930s sit-down strikes, which led to the rapid expansion of union recognition nationwide and empowered the Roosevelt administration to enact more equitable labor laws. And, just as in the thirties, they are objecting to policies that put banks ahead of workers; stickers worn by the UE sit-down strikers read: “You got bailed out, we got sold out.”

If the right history of this time is written, it will be said that the new New Deal began in Chicago—not just because of the city’s rich record of labor struggle (from the Haymarket martyrs in the 19th century to the steel industry organizing of the 1930s) or Obama’s Chicago ties—but because the workers there were the first to stand up by sitting down.

John Nichols is a Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine.

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