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Arguments for socialism :: Solidarity
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Deep in the heart of the American South, through the mire of anti-union repression, nearly 6,000 Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, are making a historic push to successfully organise the first Amazon warehouse in the United States.
They are now clearing one of the last obstacles to unionisation, voting for representation. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it immense levels of devastation for the working class. While working people suffer under the worst economic conditions in living memory, companies like Amazon - now the third largest corporation in the world - have experienced massive growth.
This growth has come at the cost of its employees' health, safety, and standard of living. During the pandemic Amazon's revenue has increased by over $100 billion, while Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos nearly doubled his personal net worth.
The last time Amazon workers voted on union representation, in 2014, it was a group of only 30 workers. Now, the push in Alabama comes from over 5,805 workers in a single location.
Coming just weeks after Teamsters in New York City successfully forced bosses to the negotiating table with a week-long strike, it shows that workers in the logistics industry are gathering their power.
Amazon is attacking workers, at the Bessemer distribution centre and across the country, with anti-union propaganda, declaring in leaked videos that unionisation could "hurt innovation" and "jeopardise everyone's job security."
The company also compels workers to attend "captive audience meetings" where corporate anti-union lies are forced on the workers. Amazon has even begun offering long-standing workers at the facility a $2,000 or more bonus if they quit, all in an effort to disrupt the union vote.
Amazon has long-standing anti-union policies. For example, in 2001, when the company was a fraction of the size it is now, it laid off 850 employees in a Seattle customer service centre after a union drive. Since then, Amazon has grown to over a million employees - only the second American company ever to reach this size - and its anti-union practices have only grown increasingly sophisticated and repressive.
If the majority of the workers vote 'yes' for the union - the voting lasts until 29 March - it would open a new chapter in union organising at Amazon, and a historic victory against Big Tech would be won that could set off a flurry of organising activity at other Amazon locations across the country.
Since the start of the Covid pandemic we have seen an increase in 'wildcat' strikes - strikes without official union approval. Just days into the Covid crisis in March, UAW members in a Michigan Fiat-Chrysler assembly plant, after hearing two of their co-workers had been quarantined for coronavirus, staged a wildcat work stoppage and forced management to close the plant in only three hours.
Actions such as these show that it's often the rank-and-file, rather than the union leadership, which initiates struggles against the bosses.
Unionised workers shouldn't have illusions in the often-conservative union bureaucracy. Workers can build the power of the membership within their union, through militant workplace action, and pull conservative bureaucrats into struggle.
The union drive in Bessemer highlights the golden opportunity that labour has: to fight and win better lives for working people during one of the most trying periods in US history.
If the labour movement is able to break away from the parasitic Democratic Party and the bureaucratic union leadership, both of which act as a brake on working-class struggle, we will be able to make serious gains for the working class and fight for a socialist society with a democratically planned economy, operated for the needs of all.
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Article dated 10 March 2021
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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