By ERNIE GOTTA
Five thousands Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala., are commanding solidarity from the labor movement and the left. All are burning to see the results of this historic union vote after the March 29 voting deadline. The workers are seeking to affiliate with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
A victory would put a dent in the armor of the capitalists, who have maintained low wages and beat back recent union drives in the South, especially in relation to the empowerment of Black workers. The struggle in Bessemer has been marked by sharp union-busting tactics that are usually hidden from the public but are now exposed for all workers to see how far a company will go to prevent wage increases, better health care, and respect on the job.
You can hear more about the actual conditions at Amazon from worker Jennifer Bates, as she explains why they decided to form the union in this excellent Working People podcast.
Activities on March 20, following up on nationwide actions on February 20, marked an important day of solidarity. The 45 or more solidarity actions across the U.S. expressed a sense of urgency in their solidarity, which was reflected in the congressional testimony of Jennifer Bates. She said, “We’re already coming there [to Amazon] with commitment, but we would come to work understanding that they’re being fair with us. It would bring us respect. It would bring us a sense of empowerment.”
Bates continued, “We’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, trying to not just pay the rent or the mortgage, but we also have to live. I think the union coming to Bessemer, coming to Amazon, would open a lot of doors.”
Support Alabama Amazon Workers, the organization that called for the solidarity actions, reported on Facebook: “Two morning picketing events in SF and Brisbane at Amazon facilities and a more than 60 car caravan in Oakland (with 20 bicycle marshals) ending with a rally of more than 100 people at Oakland’s Snow Park. We stopped all traffic and held a rally in the street in front of Whole Foods! Victory to the Amazon workers!”
In Philadelphia, over 100 picketed the union-busting law firm Morgan & Lewis and then marched to a Whole Foods market, which is a subsidiary of Amazon. The action included a piñata figure of the former Amazon CEO, Jeff Besoz, that read “union buster-in-chief.” A child at the rally broke open the head, and chocolate coins in gold wrappers spilled out.
Socialist Resurgence members showed their support in Philadelphia with a banner that read, “Organize Amazon! Organize the South!” John K., a national organizer for Socialist Resurgence, spoke at the rally, stating, “Last year, the historic antiracist rebellion shook the foundations of this white supremacist system. For the past 40 plus years, working-class people in the United States and worldwide have been subjected to a one-sided class war against our unions and our living standards. The pandemic exposed the ruling class for what they really are! The rich and powerful do not care about the rest of us! Millions are unemployed, face food insecurity, and the threat of eviction, but the billionaires got bailed out!
“We need jobs at good wages, housing, and health care, but the bosses’ parties serve their masters on Wall Street—NOT US! We need to fight back against the looming climate crisis, and you know that the capitalists will try to make working people and the oppressed bear the burden. The Amazon workers in Alabama are showing us the way forward!
“It is time for the working class and oppressed to fight back and win! It is time to organize Amazon and the South! It is time to rebuild democratic fighting unions! It is time to build an independent working-class party that fights for all of the oppressed and exploited! WHEN WE FIGHT, WE WIN!”
Seattle Revolutionary Socialists, an affiliate of the Revolutionary Socialist Network, reported that 50 people gathered at the Amazon Seattle headquarters on March 20 to denounce Bezos’ union busting and offer solidarity to the workers in Bessemer. There was a speak-out from several organizations and individuals. A common theme was that a victory in Bessemer could be the start of a wave of unionization in the South and across Amazon, which now has close to a million employees. Speakers also denounced Amazon for opposing corporate taxes to provide housing for the homeless in Seattle. Speakers highlighted Bezos’ greed—he has made enough money in the last year ($65 billion) that he could pay each of his employees $150,000 and still be as rich as he was a year ago!
The success of the Seattle rally was a surprise since the organizers called it off at the request of the mayor just before it was to start. The excuse was that there was a vaccination site a block away, and the media would make the rally participants look callous! On the same day , another set of supporters held a rally in north Seattle. The postponed rally took place on Friday, March 26, at the center of Jeff Bezos’ empire—the Amazon Spheres in Seattle. After rallying for an hour, about 100 solidarity supporters marched through downtown Seattle.
The New Afrikan Workers Union reported on Facebook: “In a show of support and solidarity with the Amazon workers in Alabama, over forty people conducted a rally and informational picket in front of the Whole Foods store in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We support the right of Amazon workers to unionize and enjoy the benefits and advantages of unionization and collective bargaining. All Power to the Workers!”
Of course, the Democratic Party has not missed the opportunity to look like the champions of the working class. Delegations of politicians have greeted workers outside of work while President Biden publicly warned Amazon not to interfere or intimidate the organizing drive. This performative solidarity, however, has not been backed up by real relief for working people from the triple crisis of COVID-19, climate, and the economy. Democrats, holding a majority at all levels of the federal government, have also not passed the PRO Act in the Senate; the labor movement is hoping that the bill will help open the way to organizing the South and push back against so-called “right to work” laws, which are now on the books in 27 states.
Amazon workers are proving, though, that legislation is not the determining factor. Legislation won’t turn around the downward trend of union density in the U.S., where union membership in the private sector has fallen from 32% in 1960 to just 6% today. Militant and democratic organization and actions by workers boldly taking on economic giants like Amazon will be the driving force behind a revitalized labor movement.
On March 22, Amazon workers in Italy showed another way to fight by launching a first of its kind 24-hour strike to protest “pandemic driven delivery demands” that have seen e-commerce rise by 31%. Reuters reports that 70% to 75% of workers did not report to work. “We’re not asking for pay rises right now, but for a more humane working schedule,” FIT-CISL Secretary General Salvatore Pellecchia told Reuters.
The workers in Italy already have a union, and Amazon fears the power that workers in the U.S. will have when they are finally organized. Class-conscious workers, trade-union militants, and socialists have an important role to play. We need to be there to build solidarity and help expand the organizing drives across the country.
Photo: Amazon solidarity rally in Union Square, New York City, on Feb. 20. (Kena Betancur / AP / Getty Images)