There’s a union vote taking place in Bessemer, Alabama right now.
The Amazon distribution center in Bessemer is over 85% Black and female.
The mail-in union vote will determine if Bessemer warehouse workers will be represented in collective bargaining by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
Amazon is worried. Mail-in voting began on Monday, Feb. 8. It’s a seven-week process in which ballots will be sent to the 5,805 people who are part of the bargaining unit that the NLRB determined. And they have seven weeks to return those ballots.
Black Alabama has a long and radical labor history connected at the hip to the long fight for racial equality.
NY Tiimes African American columnist Jamelle Bouie reminds us of that history.
That radicalism was at its strongest within the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. “Originally an outgrowth of the Western Federation of Miners, a militant union that helped launch the I.W.W. in 1905, Mine Mill developed a national reputation as a radical, left-wing union during the 1930s,” the historian Robin D.G. Kelley writes in “Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression.” Most members of the union — like most iron ore miners in Birmingham, where the state’s steel industry was headquartered — were Black, and while its high-ranking officials were white, Black workers held the majority of middle- and low-level leadership positions within the union. Included among them were Communists, who helped spearhead Mine Mill’s organizing drive in the wake of the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act, which had opened the door to unionization in large swaths of the economy.
You can bet that if Amazon workers vote union in Alabama, Amazon workers all over the country will know and will be encouraged to do the same.
Alabama is a right-to-work state and Amazon pats itself on the back for paying more that the minimum wage.
In a December 2020 article, Bloomberg reported on how new Amazon warehouses drag down wages in the local area, even though the company is paying more than minimum wage. In New Jersey, for example, warehouse workers were making $24 an hour before Amazon moved in, paying $15 an hour. In 2019, warehouse workers in New Jersey earned about $17.50 per hour.
African American voters in the South were key to taking back the Congress and the White House in 2020.
But justice is more than an electoral map.
It is not an overstatement to say that a victory against Amazon led by Black workers in Bessemer, Alabama can transform the progressive and labor movements in the entire country.