Workers self-organizing at Amazon

May 20, 2022

From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters

On April 1 workers at Amazon’s JFK8 facility on Staten Island voted in the first ever union shop in Amazon’s history. Amazon Labor Union (ALU), joined by thousands of workers, is led by Christian Smalls. He thought Amazon was not taking seriously precautions against COVID. Amazon fired him.

Some of the demonstrators in front of an Amazon-owned Whole Foods store in Oakland on Feb. 20, part of a national day of solidarity to support Amazon workers struggling for union recognition in Bessemer, Alabama. Photo by Urszula Wislanka for News & Letters.

In a typically racist rant, Amazon’s General Counsel David Zapolsky wrote about Smalls: “He’s not smart, or articulate….” When Amazon owner Jeff Bezos went to space, he said, “This would not be possible without Amazon workers.” Smalls said in response, “Our organizing would not be possible without Bezos.”

Bezos assures workers that they don’t need a union, they can talk to their managers directly. But when they do, they get fired. Official unions have not been able to address the real aspirations of Amazon workers.

Smalls’ action was self-organized. He said that they were able to unionize in three months, while other union organizers tried for ten years and failed. ALU represents the sentiment among workers against the official unions, which keep saying, “wait.” Older unions only fight for higher pay, and don’t expand to non-unionized people. Workers now want to be independent of the AFL-CIO and other traditional unions. The workers are able to organize, because it is a necessity for them. They don’t want to be the robots Amazon wants them to be.

By talking to and supporting each other, the workers were able to stand up to union-busters in captive audience meetings mandated by Amazon. They did not follow the “standard” union organizing practice of gathering a supermajority of workers to sign union cards. They got the minimum 30% to force an election and depended on one-on-one discussions between workers.

—H.S. Student

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