Mar 29, 2021
The following is the editorial from SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of March 22, 2021.
Workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama are right now voting whether they want a union. If the result depended on what workers had already declared, they would today have their union. Almost a half year ago, 3,000 workers signed cards indicating they wanted a union. That’s 3,000 out of the total 5,800 people working at the warehouse. A clear majority signed for the union.
But this country has long been a bastion of anti-union activity and well-financed barriers to union organizing. It’s not enough to make it emphatically clear what workers want. Not enough to show with their signature they want a union. They have to get the government to “authorize” their union, go through a convoluted mess of legal steps, just to get an NLRB election scheduled. Then, they have to wait on the election while the company tries to tie up the process in the courts.
You wait, while some union supporters are ridden out of the plant, their livelihood taken from them. You wait, while the company schedules mandatory meetings, where it tells one lie after another. If you speak up, it can cost you your job. Then, there are all the little things: the indignity of sitting on the toilet, having to face anti-union slogans plastered inside every stall, every day, for months on end. And there are the big ones: your co-worker who collapsed on the floor from Covid.
Amazon brags that it pays $15 an hour. That’s not even true, given how Amazon schemes to shave down wages. But even if it were true, $15 an hour comes to only a little more than $30,000 a year for full time work. Amazon’s top executive, Jeff Bezos, increased his wealth by 63 billion dollars last year alone. One greedy, useless man grabbed more wealth than the total wages of all Amazon’s workers put together—not only its 500,000 workers in this country, but also its million and a half workers on the scale of the planet.
Bezos’ wealth came from the blood, sweat and tears—and broken bones—of Amazon workers.
Amazon brags that it organizes its work “aggressively.” That’s true. Amazon is aggressive. It times every task, records every move a worker makes. Any extra time gets marked down. Too much “extra” time taken to grab the items needed, stuff them into packages or send the packages on their way costs someone their job.
All this “aggression” is what poured billions of dollars into the bank accounts of all the Jeff Bezoses in this capitalist world.
Workers throughout Amazon’s empire this year walked out—over heat, over attempts by managers to push up speed, over the rapid spread of Covid, which Amazon tried to keep hidden.
Workers had already attempted at other Amazon facilities to organize a union. They may not have succeeded. But this didn’t keep workers at Bessemer from trying.
Will workers at Bessemer get their union? It’s clear they want it. But the real question is, what will they have to do to get it—and keep it—even if the union wins this vote.
Amazon, which viciously stomped on every attempt to organize, is as bad as any shark from the 1930s who fought to stop workers from organizing.
Workers in that period finally did manage to get their unions. They did it by carrying out the kinds of struggles that anti-union laws prohibited. They ignored the courts. They faced down the police and won over the National Guard. They organized sitdowns, occupied the plants, spread their strikes from one company to the next, from one city to the next. The capitalists thought they owned the plants. The workers showed who controlled them.
Just to get their unions, they practically had to make a revolution.
The same is true today. However the vote in Bessemer turns out, if workers want to keep and build their union, they will need a revolutionary spirit and goal.
And maybe we need to think about this: if you have to make a revolution just to get a union, why not carry out each struggle as far as it will go, with the aim of taking over and running the whole society?