Congratulations to the workers of the New Era Windows Cooperative, now open for business in Chicago! Their story is inspiring: two separate occupations of their factory in a day and age when such militancy in the labor movement is assumed to be a thing of the past, not to mention a long fight to get Serious Energy (the second employer to close down their workplace) to agree to sell them the equipment they’d need to restart production.
They had help from powerful allies in UE, the union that helped them organize the two occupations as well as the cooperative buyout—and from the Working World, an innovative lender supporting worker cooperatives both in the US and in Latin America, where a wave of factory “recuperations” erupted in the wake of Argentina’s financial collapse in 2001.
For me, the story of New Era is a dramatic symbol of a choice we face at this moment in history:
On the one hand; long running decay, with jobs continuing to leave communities as employers chase higher margins around the globe—and ongoing and persistent decaying crisis in a stagnant and unstable economy disproportionately played out on the backs of the poor, especially in communities of color.
On the other hand: the possibility of something else, of a movement to rebuild the economy with democracy—and democratized ownership—at its core, helping anchor jobs and workers to communities and vice versa, addressing at a structural level the rampant and corrosive inequality that pervades our contemporary society.
Such long term evolving systemic transformation is neither quick nor easy. The dedication of the New Era workers, their refusal to give up and “go quietly”, their willingness to stake their futures on a democratic workplace, points towards something important: if we are serious about building a “new economy,” we need to be prepared for a long fight. Not all of the quietly developing experiments with worker, community, and public ownership taking off around the country today are likely to encounter such dramatic tests of faith as those met—successfully—by the workers who today opened the New Era Windows cooperative. Their example, however, and their courage, are examples of the kind of thing we all need learn from as the developing trajectory of new economic democratization and change continues to evolve.