Amazon, southern Black labor and the future of union organizing.

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.

5 thoughts on “Amazon, southern Black labor and the future of union organizing.

  1. What would also help is if consumers NOT purchase anything from Amazon until the company allows workers to vote without penalty as to whether or not they want a union. It would also help if we didn’t outsource so much but unfortunately neither is going to happen anytime soon.

  2. There’s also Amazon’s megacycle – a 10 hour overnight shift.

    *On January 25, hundreds of workers at an Amazon warehouse in Chicago were presented with a baffling choice: sign up for a ten-and-a-half-hour graveyard shift, or lose your job.*

    *Management informed workers that their warehouse, known as DCH1, would be shut down, and they were being offered a shift that runs from 1:20am to 11:50am, which is known as “megacycle,” at a new Chicago warehouse.*

  3. This is the third time I’ve tried to post a comment put out by the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune. It keeps disappearing. Does WordPress have a problem today?
    Editorial: Former House Speaker Michael Madigan’s pension illustrates the broken system

    FEB 26, 2021 AT 3:35 PM
    ..Instead, state government is largely dedicated to propping up a broken retirement system, forcing dollars for the needy to compete with dollars for pensioners. The benefits promised are too expensive. They’re more than what taxpayers are willing to prop up, which is why you saw the crash of the Pritzker tax amendment and an exodus of residents tired of being saddled with the state’s debts.

    House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch indicated recently he’d like a do-over of that graduated tax amendment, this time dedicating new revenue to the pension system.

    But that’s more of the same, shoveling more tax revenue to an unsustainable benefits program — and sticking the wealthy with the bill. There’s only so much taxation Illinoisans are willing to absorb…

  4. Gotta say, this is way more than I ever expected from Joe Biden!

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