Show time in Chicago!

Yesterday, the Tribune Company (the US’s second-largest newspaper publisher) filed for bankruptcy. This morning the Feds nabbed Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and his chief of staff in 6:15 raids at their respective homes. (Good morning!) And this all comes against a backdrop of the five-day standoff at Republic Windows and Doors, the new symbolic center of our national economic crisis. It’s a heavy news day in Chicago.

First, Blagojevich: They got him in the nick of time. That crook was (allegedly) selling favors, including the vacant Senate seat of Barack Obama. Who knows what else he might have done if he hadn’t been taken out of commission? Our cherished democratic system might have been compromised! Alas, it seems he can still appoint whomever he chooses to the Senate seat for as long as he is in office.

It sounds like they have a pretty solid case against him. On the other hand, the timing is fascinating. Maybe this is related to Gov. Blagojevich’s order yesterday that the state of Illinois should immediately abstain from all relations with Bank of America. Maybe he needed to be taken out of commission immediately—ideally incarcerated but at least neutralized by a court appearance photo-op, also known as a perp-walk.

Whoever and whatever inspired the timing, this is going to raise a lot of eyebrows, and maybe even a few fists. Blagojevich was already emerging as one of the public heroes of the Republic Windows and Doors saga, and this will immediately and permanently up the ante. Even without his saying so (which he probably will), many people are going to smell a rat, and this is going to turn up the heat around Republic.

This is not likely to help the spirit of the negotiations scheduled for this afternoon, and improves the odds that the standoff at Republic will end with force being used to remove the workers. I pray that it doesn’t come to that, but we sure can’t rule it out.

The events in Greece (which was going to be my topic du jour before Chicago grabbed the spotlight) show that polarization around these issues can get out of hand quickly. It is probably true that most of the rioters are motivated less by a reasoned understanding of anarchist theory and history (which happens to include Tolstoy and Jesus, as well as Goldman and Kropotkin) and more by anger and a chance to “fuck shit up” (pardon my language, but that’s the technical term in English for this particular anarchist tactic). For the record, I don’t have much patience for this approach because it mostly seems to break stuff and waste resources and trigger more repression, and also because I doubt that they have a plan for if they do achieve anarchy. Who knows how to run a sewage treatment plant? 

The authorities play rough in Chicago, and usually they get away with it (witness the police repression during the 1968 and 1996 political conventions). The trouble is that now the whole nation is watching, and the nation is a lot crankier than it was during the Clinton years of relatively competent and clean government, as well as relative prosperity. If the CPD cleans out Republic, I’m pretty sure that this same dynamic of worker occupations will pop up elsewhere, and not just at companies where the workers have a clear legal claim. For better or worse, it works: it gets sympathy and news coverage.

The other wild card (which was my other pre-arrest topic idea today) is the bankruptcy of the Tribune Corporation, which has an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) and is therefore an example of employee ownership not curing all ills. I’ll get back to that as soon as things quiet down a little, but suffice to say it brings up some significant challenges to my general line of reasoning in this blog, so I do need to address them. The short version is that there are a bunch of employee owners who are apparently losing everything while the investor who set up the ESOP is getting off relatively well. Business Week ran a pretty good article on this, to tide you over until then.

We’ll see how things go after the Blagojevich press conference, but I’m afraid that someone has just tossed a match on the brush pile at Republic. It will be too bad if this distracts from the worthy cause of the workers.  It is becoming more and more important that someone come up with a constructive way out of this mess. For example, the workers could take ownership of the company and use the existing assets to create more income, and avoid the whole need for severance pay. As I mentioned yesterday, everyone would win.

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