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Amazon employees build new union in the United States

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Successful union organising at an Amazon warehouse in New York should be the start of a battle against bosses, reports Charlie Kimber
Issue 2799
American Labor Union protest

American Labor Union protesting against Amazon boss Jeff Bezos earlier this year (Picture: Flickr/ Joe Piette)

Workers at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York in the United States, have defeated a ­multimillion‑­dollar union-busting effort. They voted to form the Amazon Labor Union (ALU). “This is the catalyst for the ­revolution,” said Chris Smalls, the ALU organiser and president, while celebrating the vote. Amazon sacked Smalls in 2020 during the pandemic for organising a walkout over safety.

The vote—2,654 Yes to 2,131 No, covers over 8,000 workers at Amazon’s largest warehouse in the city. “We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space, because while he was up there we were organising a union,” said Smalls. The ALU is a more grassroots union than others that have tried to organise Amazon through ­endorsements from politicians. Before the vote count, most reporters had dismissed the union’s chances of beating the corporate giant. 

“I think we have been overlooked,” said ALU treasurer Madeline Wesley. Justine Medina, a member of the ALU organising committee and a packer at the JFK8 warehouse, spoke to the US website Labor Notes. “We studied the history of how the first major unions were built,” she said. “We learned from the Industrial Workers of the World, and even more from the building of the Congress of Industrial Organisations.

“But here’s the basic thing, you have an actual worker-led ­project—a black and brown-led, multi-racial, multi-national, multi-gender, multi‑ability organising team. You get the communists involved, you get some socialists and anarcho-syndicalists, you bring together a broad progressive coalition. Do not be afraid to fight, to get as dirty as the bosses. Do not be afraid to agitate and to antagonise the bosses, as a union should.” 

Another warehouse at the same complex on Staten Island, LDJ5, will begin a vote to unionise with the ALU on 25 April. The union also put forward specific ­campaigning demands including a pay rise to $30 (£23) an hour, more time off and more paid breaks. In contrast to the ALU’s success, a more traditional union—the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union—is narrowly behind in the vote at Amazon’s BHM1 fulfilment centre in Bessemer, Alabama. The No vote leads by 993 to 875, but over 400 ballots are contested by either bosses or the union.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is expected to announce a result soon. Workers there were said to have voted against unionising during their first election in March 2021. The NLRB ruled that Amazon bosses interfered and ordered a new vote. The victory at JFK8—and ­unionising successes at six branches of Starbucks in recent weeks—should encourage more militant organising. And where unions are formed, they have to immediately start fighting for real change.

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