The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Amazon Workers Face Down the Giant!

Apr 11, 2022

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters, week of April 4, 2022.

Workers won an NLRB election to get their union recognized at an Amazon center in Staten Island, New York. Workers at an Amazon center in Bessemer, Alabama may also have won. The final result there hinges on 400 challenged ballots out of 2400 ballots cast.

Workers at Amazon have tried to organize a union before—many times. But the government procedures for union recognition are stacked against workers, even when an employer doesn’t play dirty. And Amazon plays dirty.

Amazon is the perfect symbol of American capitalism today. It is the second biggest employer in the country, and one of the most profitable. It had 55 billion dollars in net income over the last two years. Based on its own revenue, it was able to double its size in two years, with many more sorting centers, more delivery stations and more trucks.

Amazon’s fabulous wealth came from ferocious exploitation of more than a million workers. Working conditions are abominable: days are much longer than the standard eight-hour day. The speed of work is driven by impossible standards. Breaks are tiny, emergency breaks almost non-existent. Safety is nothing but a word: six workers were killed by a tornado that went through an Amazon facility because Amazon ignored the warnings—until it was too late. Wages may be more than the minimum, but they don’t pay for a decent life.

Ferocious exploitation of workers is what produced Amazon’s wealth. Ferocious exploitation enriched Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s executive chairman, making him the second wealthiest man in the world. Bezos used money coming from his Amazon holdings to buy the Washington Post newspaper and to found the space exploration company, Blue Origin. Amazon-derived money let Bezos set up several venture capital companies, whose aim in life is to invest in other companies—in order to make still more money. Along the way Bezos also contrived to buy up a share of Google, AirBnB and Uber—among dozens of other companies—using money which ultimately traces back to Amazon.

The workers at these two Amazon facilities faced down capitalism’s giant. Whatever comes out of the count at Bessemer, this is a real victory.

There have been other union-representation election wins recently in small workplaces like Starbucks. But these two Amazon facilities are the first such large workplaces which even came close to registering a union win: 8,000 workers in Staten Island and 6,000 in Bessemer—workplaces which are harder to organize.

What happened at Amazon is a victory, a big one. But it’s only a beginning. Amazon is still a giant; its other facilities are still untouched by union organization. There are all the other giants, equally untouched, including many companies where unions “officially” exist but do not represent the workers’ interests.

Beyond that lies the economic and political situation today. Think of what has been happening. In 2008, the economy almost collapsed. In 2020, it did collapse—facing the virus, the only thing government could find to do was to shut everything down. The inability of the government to stop the spread of the virus shows how decimated have been the public services on which the population depends. Money that should have gone to what we need went to war instead, and to increase the wealth of companies like Amazon.

The vast number of problems we confront won’t be addressed simply by setting up a union.

The problems we face today can be taken on by the working class organized as a class, that is politically. But the working class is not organized politically today. It doesn’t even have its own party.

But after the victory at Amazon, we have something important: the proof that workers can organize together, the proof we can get past our divisions and deal with our common problems. Amazon workers ignored the two big lies pushed on us: the lie that no one will ever do anything and the lie that we can’t depend on each other.

Amazon workers may have taken only a first step—but it was a necessary one. Bravo for them!