Afscme Local 444, retired
Despite a powerful frontal assault on Amazon by Bernie Sanders, “Worker Joe” Biden and a number of other celebrities, the workers at the Amazon plant in Bessemer Alabama voted against unionizing by 1,798 against compared to 738 for as of the count by yesterday morning.
This comes as no surprise. Amazon is a global giant with many options open to it and the workers at Bessemer know this. Even if they had voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the war doesn’t end there, it actually intensifies. Assuming Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and the world’s richest man, didn’t shut down the facility, the delaying tactics would have kicked in to high gear and the workplace violence in the form of coercion, threats, firings and so on would be used to hopefully defeat another vote even more significantly if that option arose. Workers know this, we understand through the education we get in the workplace, in the class battles on the shop floor if you like, what the boss can do.
Organized labor has suffered decades of defeat and setbacks due to the concessionary, pro-market policies of the trade union leadership at the highest levels and codified in the philosophy of partnership or the Team Concept; the argument that bosses and workers have the same interests. This has been a disaster for working people. The millions of non-union workers see this. We do not need Phd’s to understand this and recognize the consequences of challenging the boss.
The workers at Amazon voted with these attacks on organized labor and the trade union leadership’s pathetic responses to them in the background. In the case of a global giant like Amazon, trying to organize one small facility asking workers to put their material well being on the line promising that the union is “on your side” isn’t very inspiring. I am sure there were all the usual organizational failures that contributed to the defeat but the main problem is that the present heads of organized labor are incapable of winning such a struggle.
Workers’ organizations were not built by relying on friendly politicians, intellectuals or Harvard graduates who claim they have the skills to lead us to victory. The entire history of organized labor is based on the power of workers in the workplace and our communities; there are no saviors here.
There are 14 million workers organized in unions in the US. There are global organizations and regular meetings of unions in the various trades and professions. The Afl-CIO spends millions of dollars every election time throwing our hard earned money at Democratic Party politicians, a complete waste. Relying on our own strength both at home and internationally is what will win at Amazon, but the trade union hierarchy is terrified of this as it threatens the relationship they have with the bosses based on labor peace and partnership. Increasing union membership is increased revenue for labor hierarchy who see the unions as employment agencies with them as the CEO’s. Yes, I’ve said that before.
I pointed out in an earlier piece on the Amazon organizing drive that Stuart Applebaum, the leading figure in the Bessemer drive , “….is a lawyer, a graduate of a fancy (Brandeis) university and has a resume that any head of a major corporation would be proud of. He’s deeply embedded in the anti-worker Democratic Party sitting on its Democratic National Committee, a friend of Barak Obama and NY Governor Cuomo and has been a member of the notoriously antidemocratic Electoral College. That’s the short list. You can check out this labor fighter’s resume here.
In the wake of the expected Amazon vote, the RWDSU response is the same old story. The union is going to “Hold Amazon Accountable For Their Actions” Sounds tough indeed but wait: “We demand a comprehensive investigation over Amazon's behavior in corrupting this election.”, the union’s website threatens., appealing to the employers’ agencies for justice and likely filing unfair labor charges with the NLRB. The union, “will request” a “hearing” on the unions’ objections, because, “….conduct by the employer created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees' freedom of choice. “
How dare Amazon do this! It’s
just not fair.
Stuart Applebaum, the RWDSU President and leader of the organizing drive, adds his own statement, “We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote.”, he writes. Jeff Bezos must be shaking in his boots.
Applebaum wraps up his analysis, “We won’t rest until workers' voices are heard fairly under the law. When they are, we believe they will be victorious in this historic and critical fight to unionize the first Amazon warehouse in the United States.”
This is how someone who has never risked their job fighting for workers’ rights in the workplace sees the world. His comments are an insult to working people. If you want to know why some workers voted Trump, here’s why. Did Trump give a damn about the law? Do bosses ever care about the law when they attack workers’ rights? The only force in society that has any respect for the law is the clique that sits atop organized labor except when it comes to betraying their own members.
The “experts”, on labor issues, many of them former union staffers, advisors and other functionaries who have at one time or another served the present union hierarchy with not hardly a public word of criticism, will be writing about this defeat at Amazon, offering themselves and their skills as the new wave of the future; the poor worker needs help look what they just did.
Jane McAlvey, one of the many experts on labor and our struggle against the bosses, is a former SEIU staffer with a Phd form Harvard. There is nothing innately wrong with a Phd, but the struggle against the bosses’ in the workplace is a great educator. Her attitude toward working class people and the rank and file worker is clear in this comment describing her thoughts on organizing workers:
“We need to have hard conversations with these people to help them come to understand that mass collective action is the only solution to any number of crisis in their lives.” She adds further, “We must identify them and then test or assess whether they are indeed organic leaders.”
Does she think workers don't know that our power or potential power lies in collective action, in working class unity and solidarity?
The leadership of DSA adopts and promotes this approach.
Working as part of the union bureaucracy, selected to do such work by the union bureaucracy, is not working on the shop floor. In fact it is a prerequisite to being selected for a job in the union bureaucracy by the union bureaucracy, not to have led movements on the shop floor, not to have built a fighting movement in the workplace or in the union rank and file.
The Wall Street Journal, no friend of organized labor, points out in an article on the vote today that less than 16% of the plants total workforce voted to join the union. It added that, workers were “wary” and, “….that the union would be able to add significantly to their pay or improve benefits.”.
The Wall Street Journal would not even hint that Amazon used terror tactics, but workers know that already and so does the RWDSU leadership and Stuart Applebaum. To call foul is dishonest and ultimately an attack on a workers’ intelligence. The Wall Street Journal is right in that statement. Given the failures of union organizing drives including by the UAW in neighboring states, and the passive whining of the labor hierarchy in the face of defeat due to the strategy and. tactics of Applebaum and the RWDSU, the workers protected what they have in the moment.
Workers have achieved the greatest successes not appealing to so called friendly politicians or relying on the government or the courts but relying on our own strength. The NLRB and government agencies of that kind, are just another hoop that is designed for us to jump through and glosses over the huge chasm that exists between the corporation and the worker. Much of the social legislation passed in the 1930’s that we benefit from today was simply codifying rights already won in the streets and workplaces of the US and it will be events like this that will change things, not professional organizers. It will be the rank and file of the unions that will change them, we are in a war on two fronts, the bosses is the easier one, the struggle against the present union hierarchy and their policies is more difficult but we cannot avoid that fight and we owe it to those who built unions to defend them form the class enemies within.
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