Ricky Maclin, Leader of Historic 2008 Republic Windows and Doors Factory Occupation, Dies at 61

Leah Fried

“If you don’t fight, you’ve already lost,” Maclin often told workers. “But if you do fight, you can win.” (Brendan Martin / The Working World)

Melvin Ricky” Mau­rice Maclin, Vice Pres­i­dent of Unit­ed Elec­tri­cal Work­ers Local 1110, leader of the his­toric six-day fac­to­ry occu­pa­tion of Repub­lic Win­dows and Doors in Decem­ber 2008 and found­ing mem­ber of New Era Win­dows Coop­er­a­tive, died on May 5, after being diag­nosed with stage four pan­cre­at­ic can­cer in ear­ly April. He was 61 years old and died sur­round­ed by fam­i­ly in his Chica­go home. The steady stream of vis­i­tors was a tes­ta­ment to the impact he had on so many lives and our move­ment for justice.

This is a huge loss for me and for our move­ment,” said his good friend, Local 1110 Pres­i­dent Arman­do Rob­les, who was also a leader in the Repub­lic occu­pa­tion. He leaves a huge hole in our lives. He was a great friend and a broth­er in struggle.”

Ricky was born on March 2, 1954, and spent his ear­ly years in Hay­wood Coun­ty, Ten­nessee, on his grand­par­ents’ farm, where they grew cot­ton and raised cows, chick­ens and pigs. He lived with his grand­par­ents, with whom he was very close, his moth­er and step­fa­ther, and his younger sis­ter Bren­da. His Aunt Helen, his mother’s sis­ter, described Ricky as a fast learn­er and very smart. He caught on to any­thing he want­ed to.” While his giv­en name is Melvin Mau­rice, his moth­er took to call­ing him Ricky because she was fond of that name and it stuck (though the fam­i­ly nick­name Gigi Pig Squeak” did not). His cousin May Car­olyn Reed said, Ricky was a real charmer. We called him Pret­ty Ricky,’ like the singer.”

His par­ents moved Ricky and his sis­ter to Chica­go when Ricky fin­ished ele­men­tary school. He attend­ed CVS High School in Chica­go. After grad­u­a­tion, Ricky entered into what fam­i­ly mem­bers called the street life,” but even­tu­al­ly became reli­gious and turned his life around.

Ricky worked for many years in the restau­rant indus­try before land­ing a job at Repub­lic Win­dows and Doors in 2002. A few years lat­er, he met Cyn­thia and mar­ried her. She recalled how I had decid­ed I didn’t want to get mar­ried. But an elder­ly lady who Ricky helped take care of set us up on a blind date. She called me and said I just had to meet this very nice man. From the moment we met nine years ago, we were inseparable.”

Repub­lic Win­dows and Doors work­ers orga­nized into UE Local 1110 in 2004 and Ricky became a shop stew­ard. In 2007, he was elect­ed vice pres­i­dent of the local. He helped lead the suc­cess­ful work­er occu­pa­tion of the Repub­lic fac­to­ry in 2008, chal­leng­ing Bank of Amer­i­ca to take respon­si­bil­i­ty after the bank received a $25 bil­lion fed­er­al gov­ern­ment bailout dur­ing that year’s Wall Street cri­sis, and then cut off cred­it to cred­it to the win­dow fac­to­ry, wip­ing out jobs. The UE mem­bers’ coura­geous action received mas­sive nation­al and inter­na­tion­al media atten­tion, mak­ing them work­ing-class heroes at a time of so much vil­lain­ous action by the 1 per­cent, and the occu­pa­tion end­ed when they won the back pay to which they were enti­tled. It also led to the plant reopen­ing under a new own­er, Seri­ous Ener­gy, and with the UE con­tract intact.

In ear­ly 2009, Ricky par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Repub­lic Work­ers Vic­to­ry Tour, speak­ing in sev­er­al cities around the coun­try to encour­age oth­er work­ers to take bold action to defend their rights. He loved to tell oth­er work­ers, If you don’t fight, you’ve already lost. But if you do fight, you can win.” 

In 2012, Maclin helped lead a sec­ond work­er occu­pa­tion of the win­dow fac­to­ry, when Seri­ous Ener­gy decid­ed to close the plant with lit­tle notice. Out of that occu­pa­tion came the idea of work­ers buy­ing the com­pa­ny and start­ing a work­er-owned coop­er­a­tive, and a com­mit­ment by Seri­ous to sell them the equip­ment they need­ed to make that hap­pen. Ricky was one of three of the orig­i­nal team that began the process of found­ing, with help from The Work­ing World, what is now New Era Win­dows Coop­er­a­tive.

Dur­ing the first plant occu­pa­tion, Maclin fre­quent­ly spoke to the news media on behalf of his fel­low work­ers. Cap­i­tal­ism: A Love Sto­ry, Michael Moore’s 2009 doc­u­men­tary about the finan­cial cri­sis and the injus­tice of the eco­nom­ic sys­tem, high­light­ed the Repub­lic work­ers’ action as one of the few sto­ries with a hap­py end­ing, and Ricky Maclin is fea­tured. He’s also shown and quot­ed exten­sive­ly in Work­ers’ Repub­lic, Andrew Friend’s excel­lent doc­u­men­tary film on the occu­pa­tion, and in UE’s own short video about the Repub­lic strug­gle pro­duced by Andrew Dinkelaker. 

UE Gen­er­al Pres­i­dent Bruce Klip­ple said, Ricky Maclin was amaz­ing. What he and his fel­low work­ers in Local 1110 did is unbe­liev­able, and made a huge con­tri­bu­tion to this union, the entire labor move­ment and the work­ing peo­ple of this country.”

Ricky was one of the most inspi­ra­tional rank and file lead­ers I have ever met,” says Carl Rosen, UE West­ern Region pres­i­dent. He had a knack with com­ing up with the most per­cep­tive com­ment for any sit­u­a­tion and say­ing it with a very dis­arm­ing smile. And he always knew which side he was on. UE and the whole labor move­ment have lost a great leader.”

Ricky Maclin is sur­vived by his wife Cyn­thia Maclin; three stepchil­dren, 14 grand­chil­dren and three great-grand­chil­dren; his sister’s two kids and 10 great-nieces and ‑nephews; and his cousin Shan­non, who he con­sid­ered a lit­tle sis­ter. He will be remem­bered by all who love jus­tice and strug­gle to build a fair and kinder world.

Funer­al ser­vices will be held on Fri­day, May 15 in Chica­go. The wake is from 10 am to 11 am at the Tay­lor Funer­al Home at 63 E 79th Street. The funer­al ser­vice will be held from 11 am to 12 pm at Carter Tem­ple CME Church locat­ed at 7841 S Wabash Ave. View­ing will take place Thurs­day May 14, 8 am to 8:30 pm at Tay­lor Funer­al Home.

Leah Fried is an orga­niz­er for the Unit­ed Elec­tri­cal, Radio and Machine Workers.
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