Thoughts Towards Strategic Organizing at Amazon

The U.S. labor movement has an unfortunate practice of failing to publicly draw lessons from our setbacks. Yet it’s important that labor and the left learn from the Bessemer Amazon experience. After all, we’ve seen a series of defeats in the South from Volkswagen to Nissan and now to Amazon. 

In this article we want to focus a bit on problems with the strategies and tactics used in the campaign by the organizers; and especially what we need to do differently to win.

One of the factors making organizing at Amazon so difficult is the estimated 100% turnover. Injuries in Amazon warehouses are more than double the industry average, and the company has a poor record of workplace derived COVID infections. Workplace surveillance has reached oppressive levels.  Many Amazon workers have to rely on food stamps to make ends meet. 

With conditions so bad, what explains the defeat in Bessemer?

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Amazon: Organizing After a Defeat

For the union to succeed in the historic drive to get recognition at Amazon’s facility in Bessemer, Alabama, USA, fifty-per cent plus one would have had to vote “yes”. Out of the 3,215 workers who voted over seven weeks up to 29 March, 1,798 “no” votes and 738 “yes” votes were recorded before voided and challenged ballots were counted. If the workers had won, they would have been the largest number of workers to certify a union in the private sector in three decades.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) is challenging the company for a variety of illegal intimidation tactics. Unfair labour practices charges could provide grounds to overturn the result, extending the battle over unionisation in Bessemer. It would probably be up to the RWDSU’s parent union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), to provide the necessary resources.

The logistics industry in general has grown immensely in recent decades. Amazon exploded under the pandemic as people were forced to rely more on their delivery services. It is the second-biggest employer in the US, with nearly one million workers to Walmart’s two million. The company added 500,000 employees to its payroll in 2020, bringing its total worldwide employment to 1.3 million workers.

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“Bigger than Bernie: How We Go From the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism”

Traven interviews Meagan Day about the updated edition to her book “Bigger than Bernie: How We Go From the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism”, co-authored by Micah Uetricht. Meagan is a staff writer for Jacobin Magazine.

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