The nearly 6,000 workers at the
Amazon distribution center in Bessemer, Ala., who are voting this
month to join a union, are potentially leading the way for all Amazon
workers around the country to join a union, a most difficult task
anywhere in the South.
of the workers in Bessemer are black and in struggling for a voice in
the workplace (that’s what a union gives otherwise powerless
workers) are building on a long history of black struggle in the
South for dignity, equality, and justice. That’s what the
organizing drive is about and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department
Store Union is offering just that, as unions have done since they
were in effect decriminalized with passage of the National Labor
Relations Act in the mid-1930s.
never was easy for black workers, in the South or elsewhere. First,
they fought the racism in the period of Reconstruction, then jim
crow, then open segregation including in the union movement, right
into the mid-20th Century, when black workers who maintained railroad
locomotive engines had to sue the Brotherhood of Locomotive and
Enginemen all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to gain admission to
the union...in 1944. One of the leaders of that effort was one of the
bravest of union leaders, A. Philip Randolph, founder and president
of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a leader in the civil
rights movement. It wasn’t easy then and it’s not easy
today, as proven by the struggle at Amazon.
owned by Jeff Bezos, described by Wikipedia
as “an American internet entrepreneur, industrialist, media
proprietor, and investor. Bezos is the founder and CEO of the
multi-national technology company Amazon. He is the richest person in
the world according to the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires ranking.”
His net worth was estimated at $192.6 billion.
is reported by Truthout
as paying union-busting consultants some $10,000 a day, plus
expenses, to convince the Bessemer workers that the union is bad for
them and they can get the same pay and benefits without paying union
dues. This lie has been told by “union avoidance”
consultants for as long as there have been such entities. Usually,
they are law firms that specialize, but sometimes they are
incorporated within law firms, but their work is just as dirty, no
matter how they are formed.
specialty is captive audience meetings, so-called because the workers
are directed to attend these meetings to hear every negative thing
they can find (they have libraries of documents to pull from) and,
when they can’t find what they want, they make it up. It’s
all to convince workers that they “don’t need a third
party in our workplace” and “my door is always open”
for discussion of grievances. No worker ever should believe what they
hear in these meetings and it’s not likely that the Bessemer
Amazon workers will have been taken in by the slick presentations.
Because of labor laws, employers are not allowed to try to coerce,
cajole, threaten, or sweet-talk workers out of voting for the union.
As anyone who has ever tried to organize a union, the law is only
adhered to on occasion. Otherwise, the boss lets the consultant do
that work. The union, on the other hand, has very limited access to
the workers on the premises and the company makes it most difficult
to contact workers off the job.
the case of the Bessemer Amazon workers, there are three
“consultants” and they are treated by management like
visiting royalty since the defeat of the union organizing is in their
capable hands. In Bessemer, this is very much the case, because it is
not just the union that Bezos is trying to crush, but, as is the case
in every organizing drive, the employer needs to let workers know who
has the power.
workers in this particular organizing drive have a supporter that is
unique in that President Joe Biden has spoken forcefully in favor of
the union. He said recently: “Workers in Alabama - and all
across America - are voting on whether to organize a union in their
workplace. It’s a vitally important choice - one that should be
made without intimidation or threats by employers. Every worker
should have a free and fair choice to join a union.”
pointed out in an article in Truthout
(truthout.org), Biden’s statement on unions is arguably the
strongest statement about union organizing by a sitting president,
going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who may have been inclined to
want workers to join unions, but he never actually said the words.
Even with the support of President Biden, it is a difficult struggle
the Amazon workers are conducting, simply because of the history of
prejudice, racism, and hostility that existed for so long in the
nation, but especially throughout the South.
election at Amazon continues by mail through March 29. The National
Labor Relations Board, aware of the intimidation campaign conducted
by Bezos and his company, apparently decided to give the workers the
chance to vote without the threats and ever-present possibility of
surveillance by the company. All consultants at this time are pulling
out all the stops and using everything in their bag of tricks to try
to force workers to vote “no” in any union election.
Workers have told various news outlets that anti-union literature is
found throughout the plant, even in the washrooms, and “Vote
No” buttons have been evident. All of it is the product of the
of the main things that the consultants hammer home to workers is
that the union is a “third party” that will speak for the
workers, ignoring the reality that members of their own local are
among the negotiators and stewards, along with the local officers
elected by the rank-and-file. As in many elections, there are usually
three groups: Those who believe in the value of a union and fight for
it, a second that is apathetic, and a third that has swallowed the
company line and opposes unionization. The union is what gives
workers a voice in setting wages, benefits, and working conditions,
which have been described often at Amazon as inhumane. The pace is
relentless and workers are expected to keep up, just as they are in
chicken or other meat processing plants.
workers at Amazon and the area, in general, know that too many have
been left behind. The difference in wealth and income between white
families and black families is great, with black families having
about one-seventh that of white families. Unionization will not close
that gap, either in Bessemer or in the rest of the country, but it
will put a dent in the disparity and it will provide the Amazon
workers a measure of dignity and justice that is not possible now.
The record shows that unionization improves lives of families and
fourth richest man on earth, Warren Buffett, told The
New York Times in 2006,
“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my
class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re
winning.” And this is from a man who intends to give away much
of his wealth.
does Bezos, worth some $192 billion, want to crush any possibility of
a union at his plant in Alabama? Mainly, it’s because there is
class war, the poor are not budging from their poverty because of
that class war, and corporations will spend endless money to defeat
any sign of worker empowerment. The workers in Bessemer might see
that. Bezos, like many other corporate heads and owners, will spend
whatever it takes to beat back a unionization effort because it’s
what they do. And, when all else fails, they threaten to close up
shop if workers vote for a union. In this case, it’s not
likely, but he’s still spending freely to keep his workers
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John
Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who
lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor
work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the
land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land
Mr. Funiciello and BC.