January 30, 2009
Revolt on Goose Island: The Governor goes down
by Melville House
When he declared Illinois would stop doing business with the Bank of America, Governor Rod Blagojevich ratched up attention to the story of the Republic Windows and Doors takeover. When he was arrested the very next day, his own story almost blotted out that of the workers. In the latest installment of her ongoing Melville House “Live Book” project, Kari Lydersen takes a look back at Blogojevich’s role in the saga ….
Springfield, Illinois; January 29, 2009 — Governor Rod Blagojevich’s last public act before being arrested at dawn on Dec. 9 was his visit to the Republic Windows and Doors factory Monday morning, where he spoke eloquently about workers’ rights and brazenly demanded state agencies stop doing business with Bank of America until it came through with a loan to keep the factory open.
At the time, it seemed like a brave and populist thing to do. But once the criminal allegations and voluminous complaints of official misconduct against Blagojevich came to light, it became apparent that, public positions aside, the rights of regular people were far from his top priority.
State Senator Willie Delgado, who represents the Latino neighborhood of Humboldt Park in Chicago, told me many of his constituents used to support Blagojevich because of his health care programs and because he employed more Latinos than past governors. But Delgado long suspected, and recent investigations seemed to make clear, that such programs were at best largely bluster and in some cases did more harm than good. Delgado now says he felt like Blagojevich was “pimping” the neighborhood for political gain rather than really serving people.
Yesterday, Blagojevich was officially impeached, going out swinging, with an impassioned speech about growing up as the son of working class immigrants and being supposedly persecuted for his advocacy on behalf of working class people. As State Representative Susana Mendoza said, “He’s a great storyteller, but frankly we’re not buying the book anymore.”
Aside from being great political theater, the Blagojevich saga was a lesson to everyone to make sure that politicians and others who extol their commitment to workers’ rights and other progressive causes actually live up to their word and are not just using populist rhetoric for political gain. In the hours following Blagojevich’s arrest, some Chicagoans speculated the move was some kind of retribution for his advocacy of the Republic Windows workers. As the scope and extent of the charges against Blagojevich were revealed such ideas were blown out of the water, obviously, and it became clear that the inverse was true: Blagojevich was a corrupt politician concerned almost single-mindedly with his own financial and personal gain, and platforms like that provided by the factory occupation were part of his plan to advance those aims.
Luckily the Blagojevich debacle didn’t derail the workers’ struggle (if the arrest had come several days earlier, media attention to the factory occupation would likely have been only a fraction of what it was.)
Now Pat Quinn, the former lieutenant governor, has been sworn in as governor of Illinois, a state as famous for corruption as it is for labor struggles of the past. Quinn has been known as a friend of workers, immigrants and progressive causes in his own right, so whatever influence his office has on the Republic Windows situation or labor rights as a whole will be interesting to see.
But the larger reminder is that though the advocacy of politicians like those who swarmed to Republic Windows is important and helpful, it is the workers themselves who have the moral and social power, and as Blagojevich oh-so-cynically demonstrated, politicians ultimately need them moreso than the other way around.
- Click here for all posts in the series.