By Sarah Ahmed
Today, workers at the Amazon Bessemer warehouse BHM1 begin voting in their second union election after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled to overturn last year’s union vote due to Amazon’s concentrated union-busting campaign. The workers are seeking to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union (RWDSU), a yellow union tied to the imperialist Democratic Party. While exposing Amazon for their union-busting is useful, ultimately the NLRB, as part of the federal government, cannot fight for the working class and instead works with the union bureaucracy to confine workers’ struggles to the rules of the imperialist system.
In April of last year, following several months of organizing efforts, workers at the Bessemer Amazon facility voted against forming a union with RWDSU, by a 2-1 margin. Workers told monopoly media outlet NBC News that Amazon required employees to attend meetings where company representatives told them why they should not join a union, posted anti-union signs in the bathroom, and distributed buttons and stickers opposing the union drive and monitored which workers wore or displayed these stickers. Amazon also had a mailbox installed in the employee parking lot of the Bessemer warehouse in view of security cameras, allowing them to monitor workers mailing their union votes.
The RWDSU challenged the election results and the NLRB chose to overturn the results last November. The NLRB’s decision mainly focused on Amazon’s installation of a mailbox, stating that it undermined the agency’s authority in holding the election.
While overseeing the union election, the NLRB makes no effort to restrain Amazon’s massive surveillance network which tracks warehouse workers’ every move to increase their exploitation. It also imposes stringent restrictions on what constitutes “legal” worker protest, for example disallowing workers from participating in “sitdown” strikes, where workers simply stay in the plant and refuse to work.
In a press conference held by Bessemer Amazon workers in January, workers stated that Amazon did not remove the mailbox after the NLRB decided that it broke the law. Amazon began the anti-union meetings in January, but stopped requiring workers to attend the anti-union meetings after workers used them to agitate in support of unions.
“We got more employees standing up and speaking out,” said Daryll Richardson, an Amazon warehouse worker in Bessemer, speaking to the Vice press monopoly, “Every meeting lately we have employees shutting [Amazon] down, so it’s looking really good now.”
Two Amazon warehouses in Staten Island have filed petitions to form a union with Amazon Labor Union (ALU), the independent union formed by Chris Smalls, a former Amazon worker who led a walkout last year over Amazon’s COVID policies. In November, Chris Smalls and an Amazon worker, Brett Daniels, were harassed by NYPD in their organizing tent across the street from Amazon facility JFK8. Both received court summons and Daniels was arrested and taken to a holding cell.
In December, workers at four Staten Island facilities organized a walkout as part of their union drive, in protest of the company’s union-busting and stringent conditions during the holiday season. In late January, workers at the JFK8 warehouse collected enough signatures to hold a union election vote on February 16.
The union drive in Bessemer has attracted the attention of numerous opportunistic politicians, including President Joe Biden, who publicly voiced support for the RWDSU union bureaucracy last year. The president of the RWDSU is Stuart Applebaum, who drew a salary of $344,464 last year, and is a member of the Democratic National Committee. Biden’s support for yellow unions highlights the role they play in preserving US imperialism, pacifying workers so that they do not demand more.
An Amazon worker at the PIT5 facility in Pittsburgh commented on the ongoing union drive in Alabama: “What we really need is some sort of organization beyond a union. Peaceful hasn’t worked […] What we really need is an organization that can get us close to power in society and in the workplace.”
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