By ERNIE GOTTA
As the grind of peak season in the hub’s of shipping facilities proceeds at a blinding pace, Socialist Resurgence wants to send a message of solidarity to Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Ala., who are fighting for a union.
On November 20, workers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election. The potential bargaining unit of 1500 would exclude temporary and seasonal workers organizing to become members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
Despite a starting wage of $15 per hour, nearly double the minimum wage in Alabama, the working conditions at Amazon are terrible. There are always new reports coming out about workers suffering from the cold or heat. Last year, after a worker died of a heart attack on the shop floor, everyone was ordered back to work at the threat of losing their jobs.
The deplorable work conditions since the start of the pandemic were brought into the open as unorganized workers through groups like Amazonians United held a series of small walkouts and wildcat strikes. The firing of Chris Smalls from the Amazon hub on Staten Island became national news. Since then, Smalls has organized The Congress of Essential Workers.
The Congress of Essential Workers (TCOEW) is a collective of essential workers (servers, warehouse workers, teachers, etc.) and allies across the United States, coming together under a common goal: to support each other in a fight for better working conditions, better wages, and a better world. On Dec. 23, TCOEW led an action outside Jeff Bezos’s New York City apartment to demand safer working conditions.
Prospect.org reports, “Byron Tollison, another former stower at Amazon BHM1 from August to October 2020, said the starting wage of $15 an hour was enticing, but the work environment was awful.”
“It was almost set up like a sweatshop,” Tollison said. “Turnover rate is extremely high, where they would have at least 50 new people coming through every two weeks.”
Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, Jeff Bezos has established a massive apparatus to thwart any and all organizing attempts. Unlike the Grinch, Bezos’s heart will not grow and he will not realize the error of his ways. Why? It’s because a super-billionaire like Jeff Bezos—the richest man in the world—is driven by profit, and his decisions are made by what increases his profit margins. Right now, while his profits have soared during the COVID crisis, he is sparing no expense in assembling professionals whose only purpose day and night is to prevent workers from bettering their lives.
The captive audience meetings that these workers are enduring, likely at this very moment, are relentless and should be criminal. They can wear workers down for two or three hours at a time, day after day over the course of a month or more. Highly paid consultants who specialize in tricking workers will lie, bribe, and badger until the day of the vote. The bosses can utilize these dirty tactics under the terms of the National Labor Relations Act—which, while supposedly protecting workers from intimidation, threats, and punishment, in actuality protects the “free speech” of the bosses.
The laws favor the employers, and in many cases, local government even pitches in to help. Many organizing drives have failed because the workers are completely unprepared to go into battle against the combined attack of their bosses and the state. Autoworkers in Tennessee last year learned that lesson for a second time when they narrowly lost a vote to join the UAW. The company even brought in Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to lead anti-union meetings.
Workers have to understand in their bones that we can’t rely on laws and the politicians to protect us. We have to learn that everything in this economic system is set up to maintain the profits of our bosses. The bosses will throw millions of dollars away to stop a union drive because they know how much it will cost them in the long run once workers vote yes and can collectively bargain.
As Amazon expands and grows its workforce, the question before unorganized workers is to organize. And for the labor movement, the only way forward is to build solidarity across union locals and international unions to deliver victories. The collective force of the workers in the shop, combined with the support of their families and union workers across Alabama and the U.S., can push back on Jeff Bezos’ anti-union attack dogs. Extending the organizing drive to different cities and states, with solidarity from all corners of the map, could overwhelm even the economic might of Jeff Bezos.
This holiday season, Socialist Resurgence sends our solidarity to workers fighting to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. A successful fight can become an example for unorganized workers everywhere.