Amazon Labor Union (ALU). victory on Staten IslandThis has led to a revolution in the U.S. labor system and has inspired millions of workers. On Monday, a second unionization vote will begin at another Amazon warehouse of 1,500 workers just across the street, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If the second victory at warehouse LDJ5 is successful, it will further consolidate and prove the ALU’s power. A second successful unionization vote would also confirm the importance of the ALU’s grassroots organizing model and hasten what seems like an already inevitable wave of organizing efforts at other Amazon warehouses across the country. Amazon is using every opportunity to intimidate, lie, and cheat workers to try to undermine the unionization effort. Working people and unions everywhere must come out in full support of the ALU’s ongoing unionization efforts on Staten Island and beyond.
Madeline Wesley, a worker at LDJ5 Amazon warehouse, talked about the upcoming election at that building: “All those union busters that were there to union bust 8,000 workers in JFK8 have walked across the street and are in our little building of 1,600 people.” @amazonlabor pic.twitter.com/5mQMmJ9VrX
— Left Voice (@left_voice) April 14, 2022
Like cogs in a Machine
Amazon, which raked record profits last year, has built its entire business model around exploiting a low-paid, overworked and precarious workforce. The average starting salary for full-time warehouse workers is below $30,000 per year. The turnover rate is also low. The New York Times reportedIn June, the rate was 150 percent. This means that most workers don’t make it past their first year of employment. Because the company treats its workers as cogs in a machine, monitoring their every move and measuring them in order to deliver its products cheaply and quickly around the world, this is why it is so successful. And it is this exploitative business model that makes Amazon so incredibly hostile to any organizing efforts that might threaten its profits, or its ability to totally control every minute of their employees’ work life. The company has spent millions of dollarsto defeat unionization efforts at its warehouses, including filing more then 25 objections against the original vote at JFK8 warehouse.
As Labor Notes reportedAmazon used a variety of illegal and dirty tactics earlier this month to persuade employees at the LDJ5 warehouse not to join the union. Managers and company representatives have used racist and sexist language against union organizers to pit workers against each other. They have repeatedly torn down and illegally destroyed union literature in warehouse break areas. They have also continued to make employees attend mandatory anti-union meetings. smeared the ALU, questioned the union’s ability to manage a budget or negotiate a contract, and lied to workers, claiming that a union could actually lead to lower wages and fewer benefits. Although these meetings are technically legal, it’s illegal to threaten workers by threatening lower wages if they vote in favor of a union.
LDJ5 organizer @AstuaryPrinceThe building was plowed over by pigs. It was quite a surprise.
— Amazon Labor Union—DYY6 (@ALU_DYY6) April 19, 2022
To persuade employees not to vote for the union, the company has hired high-cost, undercover consultants. These independent contractors can be found here reportedly being paid in excess of $3,000 a dayWorkers were dissuaded from voting yes even though the company continues paying its warehouse workers less than a daily wage. In fact, LDJ could pay more than 25 workers with just one of these consultants. Worst of all is that the company harasses workers who support the union and attempts to intimidate them. At least one employee, a member of the ALU, was reprimanded and written up for “soliciting” her fellow employees about the union while on the clock. This type of harassment and intimidation are clearly illegal. As the NLRB explains: “your employer cannot prohibit you from talking about the union during working time if it permits you to talk about other non-work-related matters.”
While Amazon and other corporations like it have largely been successful in staving off such organizing efforts in the past — the defeat of the RWDSU’s attempts to organize the Bessemer warehouse is perhaps the most salient recent example — the ALU managed to break that pattern. This is in large part because of the ALU’s bottom-up organizing model. At the JFK8 warehouse for example, workers didn’t sit and wait for management to tell them to vote no. Instead, they used mandatory captive audience meetings as a platform to organize other workers to vote Yes, knowing that they were supported by their coworkers. But ultimately the success of these tactics, which are hardly new or original, is about much more than strategy — it’s about politics.
While it’s tempting for labor activists to focus exclusively on the strategy behind the ALU’s victory, that’s only a part of the story. This struggle takes place in the larger context of the ongoing economic, political, and social crises that capitalism has created. Many of the workers at Amazon are part of what is now being called “Generation U,” for “Union.” They have spent their entire adult lives living and working under a political and economic regime of austerity and economic precarity that has radicalized them and increased their willingness to organize. The rank-and-file activists who are mostly Black, Brown, and immigrant workers in the Staten Island warehouses represent a new generation. In the crucibles of the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter uprisings of 2020These workers have brought that spirit of rebellion to their workplaces. making connectionsBetween the exploitation they endure on the job, and the oppression that they face on the streets. Chris Smalls said it. Jacobin in July:
We knew there was racism within the company. Just look at the smear campaign that they wanted to wage against me last year, calling me “not smart or articulate.” This is why I have to continue to fight. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, they’re not going to do it for us. They’re not going to stand in solidarity with the black community. We’re going to have to expose all of these things and hold them accountable. That’s what we’re trying to do as well as unionizing these facilities.
These workers know how important their labor is and are able to understand the power they have as employees of one the most profitable and powerful corporations in America, partly due to the many crises caused by the pandemic. The ALU campaign’s success in places where big unions failed also shows the power and potential of grassroots unionism. no substituteFor the collective self-organization of the working class.
That success has been met by wide support throughout the country. More Perfect Union conducted a recent poll and found that more than 75 percent of Americans support the Amazon Labor UnionBoth sides agree that unionization is necessary to secure better wages and safer working conditions. The figure was 84% for those between 18 and 34. The overall approval rating for unions, according to Gallup, is the highest it’s been in almost sixty years. The total approval rating for labor unions was 68 percent, compared with just 28 percent who disapproved. For 18- to 34 year-olds, these approval numbers increased by 77 percent. During this time, petitions were filed with the NLRB to hold new union elections. have increased by 57 percentSince January, the ALU was contacted by hundreds of Amazon workersAsking at warehouses all over the country how they can organize a union in your facility is a great way to get involved.
As encouraging as the victory on Staten Island is, it comes after decades of declining unionization and strike activity. Despite recent high-profile labor actions in the United States, such as the wave of strikes in October 2018 and the massive teachers strikes in many red states in 2018, and 2019, the labor movement has struggled with the myriad crises of last decade.
This trend is changing, and the ALU may just be one part of a new labor movement poised to reverse decades of decline. While JFK8 workers were still organizing for a vote in the United States, the first ever Starbucks workers in Buffalo formed the first ever union. Starbucks unionDecember In the five months that have passed since then, 24 Starbucks locationsThere were two union votes. And, despite a shock and aweNew stores are holding union votes almost every single day despite the company’s anti-union campaign. While the numbers of workers in these branches is certainly small — sometimes just one or two dozen workers — these victories have shown that workers everywhere can and must organize for the interests of the entire class.
ALU and Starbucks Workers United now have a callTo defend the right to organize, they are calling for mass rallies to be held on May 1. They are asking “the whole working class” to “join together in solidarity this May Day 2022 and mobilize against the union busting of Starbucks, Amazon, and every other company engaged in repressing its workers.” This collective action across unions is an extremely positive sign and an important step in building a renewed and fighting labor movement. Left VoiceSolidarity with the workers of LDJ5/the ALU in their struggle for self-organization and against union busting. We must follow the example of Amazon and Starbucks workers and make 2022 the year of labor strikes back.