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When I first reported outside the Amazon Staten Island warehouse nearly a year ago interviewing a small band of workers trying to win the first unionized Amazon in America, I genuinely wasn’t sure if it was possible for a historic, game-changing worker victory in the face of the worst union buster in America Jeff Bezos.
Like many progressives, I felt dejected after two failed Bernie campaigns; especially the 2020 whirlwind that quickly evaporated from a progressive about to clinch the Democratic nomination to an Obama-engineered Biden victory in the matter of a week. The disappointment with victory seemingly stolen only hardened when Biden won and we entered the new Neoliberal empire strikes back era.
But as a journalist, speaking with Christian Smalls and other Amazon workers outside the JFK8 Staten Island warehouse—which Status Coup would report on-the-ground from nearly 10 times in a year—was different than other experiences I had interviewing workers and activists.
It was immediately clear to me that Smalls, who was shamefully fired by Amazon at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020 for the crime of trying to organize workers to demand safer conditions inside the warehouse, understood that the only way to defeat the Amazon machine’s rampant union-busting efforts to be pounding the pavement outside the warehouse every single day.
Rain or shine, frigid or sweltering, Smalls and other workers that became Amazon Labor Union [ALU], knew if they stationed their union tent next to the bus drop dropping off thousands of Amazon workers a day, they could connect with more workers every day and hear their concerns while selling them on why forming a union would benefit them.
And it would be a David vs several Goliaths battle with the first major hurdle in front of the ALU being getting enough signatures from workers expressing support for a union to get the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] to greenlight an election.
The game seemed rig: the massive Staten Island warehouse, the size of 15 football fields, also had a massive 150 percent turnover rate. Basically, Amazon hired and fired workers at a dizzying rate every six months. So, as ALU got enough pro-union signatures, by the time they delivered over 2,000 signatures to the NLRB, half of the workers who signed in favor of the union were already ex-Amazon employees.
Undeterred, Smalls and current workers with ALU manned their union tent, continued to use donations from the people to distribute free food to Amazon workers nearly every day, and finally got enough pro-union signatures to win the right to hold an election.
And in the final weeks, Bezos and his corporate gang put their foot on the gas to unleash a union-busting bonanza. Union-busting signage all over the warehouse, mailers to workers home urging them to vote no, calling workers urging them to vote no, texts to workers urging them to vote no, and worst of all repeated mandatory daily union-busting meetings with workers—including overnight workers who had to sit through half-hour propaganda sessions while half asleep.
Ultimately, workers told Status Coup it was the daily mandatory union busting sessions—which Status Coup obtained leaked video from—that ultimately backfired on Amazon as, instead of growing wary of the potential union, workers forced to sit through meeting after meeting became convinced there was actually a need for further protection for themselves in the face of Amazon’s rampant union-busting (which included suggesting to workers they would need to cut hours if the union was formed).
All of this led to a historic victory for Amazon workers on Friday, where what started as a small band of workers at a nearly 6000 worker warehouse were able to win the first unionized Amazon in America.
In my view, this victory—which Status Coup COVERED EVERY STEP OF THE WAY FOR NEARLY A YEAR—is bigger than the few progressive political victories in recent years.
Look no further than the coming tidal wave of Amazon warehouses in America that will organize and declare intention to form a union. Whether a blitz of warehouses successfully unionize or not, the momentum of more workers organizing for a union—at the trillion-dollar company destroying small businesses and endangering workers daily—will likely threaten Amazon enough to make concessions on safety, pay, and benefits (if you doubt me, please see Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz now beefing up benefits to try and stop the union momentum at the coffee giant).
BREAKING: Insiders at Starbucks tell us Howard Schultz plans to announce new benefits in an attempt to slow the momentum of our union campaign. We know that this is a response to our efforts, and without a union these benefits can be taken away as easily as they can be granted.
— SBWorkersUnited (@SBWorkersUnited) March 31, 2022
Most of all, the Amazon workers union victory matters because in an era that has become a new Gilded Age, where workers were crushed and left mostly high and dry during a deadly pandemic, cynicism and hopeless further cements among workers and one-time activists when no matter what they do the rigged system keeps delivering them blows and losses.
After awhile, loss after loss and capitalist injury after capitalist injury drives people to quit trying.
That is the significance of what Cristian Smalls and the organizers with Amazon Labor Union accomplished. They didn’t succumb cynicism, or hopelessness, and instead opted to show up every day to connect with and convince their fellow workers. And if they can successfully beat a corporate villain like Jeff Bezos and one of the largest employers in America, there is hope for us all to do the same by doing the work just like the ALU did.
Ultimately, in the United Corporations of America, the only way to put a dent in the well-oiled corporate machine is with an equally organized and tenacious organizing of workers—not on Twitter but outside warehouses, banks, offices, fast-food restaurants, corporate headquarters…hell even Jeff Bezos billion-dollar space shuttle.
It’s in our hands and doesn’t require political saviors—just a will for workers to find a way.
Status Coup was ON-THE-GROUND covering Amazon Labor Union workers’ union drive organizing for nearly a year–reporting outside the warehouse in frigid cold, sweltering heat, and even rain storms. These are not the sexy stories that go viral but the important ones that can actually change the country and world. SUPPORT our ON-THE-GROUND reporting for $5-10 bucks a month: it’s the only way we can continue and thrive for more.