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Amazon workers organize and win!

Carolyn Egan

April 5, 2022
The upsurge in labour activism that we have seen in both the United States and Canada is  continuing with the successful organizing drive at JFK8, the Amazon logistics facility in Staten Island, a borough of New York City. Another smaller facility nearby is expected to follow suit shortly. 
This is a huge breakthrough showing that workers are sick and tired of being treated like cogs in a machine, and are willing to fight for their rights. They took on one of the largest multinational corporations in the world employing over 1.6million workers, and won. The vote was 2,654 to 2,137 and showed the results of the hard work that went into the two year campaign. It also gave confidence to other workers that these huge facilities can be unionized.
An independent union, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), was formed after Christian Smalls was fired for leading a walk out in March 2020 protesting unsafe working conditions during the Covid pandemic. He had worked at the facility for four years and garnered a lot of support from fellow workers. It’s an independent union which was formed by Smalls and others who were employed at the warehouse. 
They were fully aware of the tremendous profits being made and the conditions under which they were working. The huge gap between the 1% and the other 99 was obvious everyday when they walked through the doors. Covid exacerbated these conditions, and when the virus spread at the workplace it was obvious that all that mattered to the employer was the profits being made on their backs.
This spurred the drive and involved a diverse group of workers who felt that this was the moment to make their stand. Many of them were young from different races and backgrounds. They used social media and crowd funding to finance the campaign, but it was the one on one conversations, pulling workers together in meetings, discussions in break rooms, and engaging as many as possible in the activities of the campaign that brought success. They also learned from history examining the methods of much earlier union drives by the Industrial Workers of the World, the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the nineteen thirties, and read William Z.  Foster’s “Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry”. He was a leader in the Communist Party involved in organizing the 1919 steel strike. An ALU organizer said that it was a must read! 
The company also underestimated the commitment of the workers, and frankly had contempt for the organizers. A leaked memo from the company stated that Chris Small the young, Black man who had been fired and is now president of the union, “was not smart or articulate”.  The disrespect is reprehensible. This didn’t stop Amazon from spending millions to stop the union,  and yet in spite of the money spent, and because of its disdain for the capacity of a racially diverse workforce to organize successfully in their own defense, company management and lawyers were forced to eat crow with 55% voting yes to the union.
These logistics centre are the huge workplaces of today located all across globe which have the capacity to shut down the economy if workers withdraw their labour. These workers are low waged, often racialized, and are understanding that they have real collective power.
In the 1930s it was the steel mills, the auto and rubber plant that employed thousands in massive workplaces. Union activists joined with their fellow workers building broad working class unity taking on the bosses in successful union drives. This working class upsurge surprised the wealthy owners, and sparked a massive increase in unionization across the US and Canada winning real gains. We have no crystal ball that will predict the future, but the victory of workers in Staten Island is a shot across the bow of employers everywhere, and hopefully will give confidence to others to follow in their path.
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