A clear and emotionally compelling account of the Chicago factory takeover that captivated national attention late last year, Kari Lydersen’s “Revolt on Goose Island” makes you root for the little guy as she tells a modern David-and-Goliath story. Laid off with only three days notice just before Christmas, Republic Doors and Windows workers were told their factory was closed, but—on their last day of work—they took over the factory and refused to leave until they were paid. Through extensive interviews, Lydersen’s book tells us the worker’s struggle from the workers’ point of view, and shows us how they got what they wanted—how they convinced Bank of America to pay them, successfully sued Republic owner Richard Gillman and got their jobs back when green businessman Kevin Surace bought their old factory. Union steward Melvin Maclin explained that, for him, the victory wasn’t just about the money, but about dignity. “They thought we were just a bunch of dumb plant workers. But we showed them we’re real living breathing human beings, with rights and families… and power.”
A seasoned Washington Post reporter, Lydersen brings the tale of Goose Island to life. Her comprehensive research paints a complete picture of the conflict, and her analysis distills this information into a gripping narrative. She includes fantastic quotes from her sources, including astonishingly thorough transcripts from meetings. She also gives engaging and interesting character sketches of the key players in the drama and gives concise, crisp summaries of history and law that give the reader the necessary context to understand what happened on Goose Island. Lydersen is a sensitive observer and her book manages to convey not only a sense of the facts of the situation, but also a sense of all that was at stake for the workers, their families, the bank and all the other parties involved.
Lydersen’s book is the tale of an unlikely triumph, a victory for workers that might not have happened in a different economic landscape, where people were not as sympathetic to laid-off employees. But, as it happened, it was a success story for workers and, as Congressman Luis Gutierrez rightly said, this is a story that needs to be told, “This was a story demanding a happy ending—people need the underdog to win every now and then. It was a Chicago Christmas Carol.” (Ilana Kowarski)
“Revolt on Goose Island”
By Kari Lydersen
Melville House Publishing, $16, 161 pages (paperback)