Mobilize worker power for the Amazon union now! – The world of workers
April 9 was not a happy day for organized labor – or for anyone in the global working class. The National Labor Relations Board announced the results of a union representation election at Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama. The retail, wholesale and department store union lost the vote by a margin of 2-1.
But the organizers had a forward-looking vision. “I know the result is not what a lot of people wanted to hear,” RWDSU organizer Michael “Big Mike” Foster said at a press conference on April 9. “But I think that’s the basis of something big… It’s by no means the end. (The Verge, April 10)
Foster was right.
The fight to organize America’s second-largest employer took a big step forward at the Teamsters Union Convention (IBT) last week. On June 24, the 1,600+ delegates, representing over 500 locals, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a special resolution: “Building worker power at Amazon”.
The union accuses it: “Amazon exploits its employees, subcontractors and employees of subcontractors through: wage theft, fraudulent classification, intense production quotas, dehumanizing work environments, workplaces and dangerous production standards, low wages, high turnover, no voice at work, lack of job security and outsourced jobs. (teamster.org)
All these conditions motivated the union drive in Bessemer.
High turnover is an understatement. The rate is over 150% per year; after a few weeks, many workers quit, even though the job earns them double the federal minimum wage. Amazon has been willing to come to terms with not having a stable, long-term workforce – this helps control worker demands and makes it harder for unions to organize a transitional labor pool . But now the company is losing employees so quickly that Amazon worries it is running out of actionable workers. (Insider, June 15)
The resolution concludes, “Therefore, be it resolved, the IBT Convention recognizes Amazon’s existential threat to our members and commits all levels of the union to unite with core member engagement platforms, worker and community engagement, antitrust law enforcement and policy reform, and global solidarity;
“Be it more resolute, the commitment to the Amazon project requires a unified approach and regional partnerships with local unions, joint councils and international to deal with Amazon’s geographic impact on our industries;
“Finally be it resolved, that empowering workers at Amazon and helping those workers to conclude a union contract is a top priority for the Teamsters union, and the union is committed to fully funding and supporting the Amazon project. , to provide all the necessary resources and, ultimately, to create a special division of Amazon to help Amazon workers and defend and protect the standards of our industries against the existential threat that is Amazon. ”
In August 2020, the Teamsters appointed Randy Korgan, secretary-treasurer of Local 1932 in San Bernardino, Calif., As Amazon’s national director. Rather than relying strictly on the NLRB electoral process, the IBT “aims to bring the company to the negotiating table by organizing strikes, boycotts, protests and other actions.” (New York Times, June 22) So if the majority of workers in a factory sign union authorization cards, the Teamsters could bypass the NLRB and call a strike to demand recognition from the union.
This is all great news. In this classic “labor for capital” scenario, every member of the global working class has “their skin in the game”.
Organize on several fronts
In addition to the Teamsters initiative, serious efforts are underway by Amazon’s independent union to organize the installation of Staten Island, NY. Anger among workers has been high since Amazon fired process assistant Chris Smalls last year for staging a walkout over lack of COVID security. A large number of workers signed cards authorizing the ALU to represent them.
In the aftermath of Bessemer, the Southern Workers’ Assembly hosted four Southern Workers’ Schools and organized workers’ assemblies throughout the Sto support the self-organization of workers at Amazon.
The RWDSU has filed a number of charges of unfair labor practices with the NLRB; workers have testified to Amazon’s extreme anti-union tactics. If the NLRB cancels the representation election – which it should do – Bessemer workers could once again have the opportunity to vote in the union.
Even before COVID, Amazon workers took action to voice a range of concerns from working conditions and climate change to the right of Muslims to have time and space to pray. Amazonians United, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, and Whole Workers have engaged in workplace struggles.
Amazon unions in Italy, Germany, France and Spain have hit the company, and a union campaign is underway in Poland – where Amazon has moved work from unionized facilities to Germany.
As the momentum builds, a number of unions – such as the four U.S. Postal Service unions that face the same threat to their jobs as UPS Teamsters – may attempt to organize the Amazon workers.
What is absolutely essential is that all these unions behave in solidarity with each other. Competition between unions to represent the same groups of workers must end here and now. Otherwise, the job plays out according to Amazon’s agenda: to keep workers divided and defeated.
The situation is far more serious than any “existential threat” to union jobs or union living standards – however real and disturbing that threat is. Amazon’s organization must be part of a global revival of the class struggle against capitalist exploitation, linked to the social justice movements of the most oppressed workers.
Building solidarity across oppressions and across borders and oceans is the way to win.