It is useless to procrastinate, the process of organizing Amazon workers at the Bessmer plant in Alabama was clearly defeated by the objective strength of the relations between capital and workers, which corporate Amazon was able to capitalize on.
Submitted to Enough 14. Originally published by Noi non abbiamo patria. Image above: Rome, 10th april 2021 – Original writing in italian
The magazine “The Nation” on April 9th headlines “blowout in Bessmer: a post mortem on the Amazon Campaign”
Left-wing newspapers around the world headline with similar and frustrating ways: “Amazon, workers vote no on union entry.” The electoral result for unionization was a flop: out of 5,800 workers, only 55% voted, 1,798 votes against the union, 738 those in favor.
The newspapers of the Italian bourgeoisie and finance (Sole 24 ore and Corriere della Sera) note that the value of the vote of Bessmer’s workers will have repercussions in the context of trade union relations throughout the United States. This blog, joining the more intelligent comments of these two newspapers, notes that the main loser is the model of corporative union and subject to the rules and limits of collaborative social consultation. The US democratic left of the Bernie Sanders is defeated as well as the flattery of President Biden who had publicly sided in favor of unionization in Amazon. And finally, Bessmer’s workers are defeated, with possible repercussions on the whole of the immediate proletarian struggle recovery.
We do not hide that this is a hard defeat for that new mestizo proletariat that tries to emerge from the real contradictions that the capitalist system provokes in the throes of an anarchic precipice towards its crack. In the immediate future, the backlash will be felt, especially in the workers ‘avant-gardes of North America and of old Europe, who equally schizophrenically try to re-edit a workers’ resistance but with strategies and forms of the past that Amazon is sweeping away, that is properly the precipitate of a capitalist model of the commodity workforce relations is wiping them out.
The immediate opportunist whining of the corporate lobby of the RWDSU which is preparing to appeal to the NLRB complaining the anti-union attitudes, retaliation and threats against the workers made by the Jeff Bezos’ corporate managers, therefore goes in the direction of requesting protection by of the democratic institutions of the state. This response strategy – which is joined by the political and trade union left of half the world that recriminates against the bad guy Amazon – can only help to further disperse the minority energies that have expressed themselves in the Bessmer plant by voting yes to have a union to protect their working conditions in their workplace.
While the national campaign for Amazon unionization proceeded frenzied, enthusiastic in the United States but also in Italy and Europe, this blog wrote “The dark lights on the struggle of Amazon workers in the United States“. Yes, because nothing relevant could emerge if this initial push was then oriented within corporativism and union collaborationism with the state and the capital. Biden’s stances, the greetings from RWDSU president Stuart Applbaum told nothing good was boiling in Bessmer’s pot.
Even more clear-cut than this blog were the comments of those in Amazon in the United States that work and fight there without waiting for a union to be formalized from the outside and without requiring formal recognition from the state to act and feel like a self-organized force of workers. . The Amazon workers of Chicago, who three days ago stopped working against the grueling shifts of the megacycle, thanks to their experience, were easy prophets of a resounding defeat already foretold: “I’m in complete solidarity with our coworkers there, but the union, RWDSU, fucked up from the beginning. It’s a shame that RWDSU is running a campaign whose only outcome can be failure” (Zamo, activist of the workers’ committees of Amazonians United Chicagoland).
So what allowed Jeff Bezos to defeat the demands of unionization in his Alabama plant, despite the fact that he faced one of the national and international campaigns so widespread that it has been even lined up by Biden alongside the need for a corporative union in the workplaces capable of hiring, orienting and recomposing the needs of workers, without these clashing with capitalist interests?
Because are workers fools, because are they severely threatened by repression in the workplace, spied on, frightened by the boss’ retaliation or ultimately deluded by union bureaucratic representatives?
Essentially these reasons are stupid, an explanation that shuns reality.
It happened because, unlike the union opportunists and democratic snakes, Amazon has been able to demonstrate that the boss’s strategy has clearer what are the needs and problems that afflict the workers. Amazon has been able to claim to have applied for its workers the increase in hourly wages of around $ 15 per hour in the last year – albeit, not a small thing, tripling the loads and the exploitation of labor -, while the Democrats promises are wrecked in the vote count at the Congress. Amazon pointed out that while its corporate was improving wages, 40 million American workers are stuck around the federal minimum hourly wage of $ 7.25.
Because Jeff Bezos used the harsh reality towards workers that the restructuring of workloads and rhythms and super-exploitation is necessary for the Amazon expansion forced by fierce Chinese competition (the Chinese Alibaba), in essence he was able to highlight that the needs of the boss are those that can best protect the worker who has been dragged against his will in the storm of global competition. The chatter of RWDSU, the Sanders (with its “make Amazon pay” campaigns to the citizen) and the Bidens of an upcoming idyllic New Green Deal for employers and workers has not caught on. And it did not take hold because the corporative and collaborative habit with the forces of capital typical of today’s trade unions, nor did it bother to campaign and organize Bessmer’s workers inside the workplace. In essence, the campaign for unionization in Amazon was all directed towards the outside and towards the national consociative and corporative framework, truly demonstrating how far the union lobbies are from the sentiment of workers who are beginning to have a feeling of intolerability of the general conditions of life, inside and outside the workplace.
Certainly Amazon has activated an internal site entitled “do it without paying” (the union dues) with an exquisitely busting union flavor, describing for Amazon workers that they can appeal to company and plant managers to “improve” the processes but without paying a penny or a tax to the union. Bezos won because he was able to compare the harsh economic reality of capital’s needs with the idyllic nonsense of a democratic capitalism where profits and rights (and wages) grow hand in hand for everyone.
From the very beginning, the union appeared as an external and distant alien in the eyes of the majority of Bessmer’s workers. When about a hundred workers at the Bessmer plant approached the RWDSU, it did not even know or had clear knowledge of the number of employed workers. The union bonzes have started the preliminary operations to be authorized by the NLRB for the unionization referendum, signed the papers and collected the first signatures from the workers (which must be at least 33% of the employed workforce) to start the “referendum “. The union then formalized the request to create a bargaining unit for 1500 workers. But RWDSU had no idea that Bessmer’s workers are actually not 1500 but 5800: what a mean figure!
With this introduction it was easy for company managers to mock the union organization that came from outside, to demonstrate how these bureaucracies were unaware of the true situation of Amazon workers and on what basis they could improve their working conditions.
It should be added that since the months of June and July 2020, Amazon had to verify that many of its workers, once the shift was off, they participated convinced in the squares and in the streets in revolt for the killing of George Floyd, so Amazon temporarily suspended distribution of facial recognition software to various police departments and FBI agencies. Always with a view to a strategy with a careful eye on internal relations and possible external crises, Amazon has increased the share of black consultants within its managerial lines, making offers for transversal and command positions to black middle class personnel.
This organizational process of the command lines was then strengthened up the evidence of the participation of logistics workers and of Amazon workers to the Juneteenth and July 20 call for a general strike in New York, Chicago and in the Bay Area of California. Currently, according to official Amazon data, in the United States about 42.8% of Seattle corporate managers are non-white (Black, Asian, Latino and others) while 56.4% are white. It goes without saying that racism in the Amazon warehouses of the United States and discrimination and exploitation along the lines of color has never diminished, but this process highlights the subsumption of the non-white middle classes (black and Latin first of all) to the interests of the private ownership of racialized capitalism and how this subsumption is functional to the anti-proletarian offensive.
In essence, the corporate has equipped itself not only to face the possible insurgence of the proletarian inside its warehouses, but also to articulate a response to the whole of capitalist relations, inside and outside the workplace, in which a black worker finds himself tightly subjected to the yoke of a racialized capitalism and in which sectors of new white youth proletarians begin to line up unconditionally on the side of the black struggle.
Bessmer’s workers faced with such a drastic choice, about to individually continue relations with the boss or delegate their defense to an external union, asks themselves different questions which traditional unionism, even the most genuine one, is not able to respond. The worker wonders how my life will change immediately, if this choice involves risks in the workplace, then how does it protect me outside of it, when I have to pay the rent, when I have to pay my bills? What food do I put on the table for me and my children? How does the union protect me from racial discrimination and the systemic racism of capitalism?
Today it is the general condition of the workers which is wavering and which forces this new mestizo proletariat to question itself. Traditional trade unionism believes that it is enough to strengthen the position of workers in the workplace, and it is unable to see that outside, beyond the line of trees, there is a forest that is on fire. The new proletariat feels the stench of burning, hesitates and temporarily prefers the “status quo” due to lack of strength and general mobilization.
Therefore, due to the premises of the campaign for organizing Amazon Bessemer and the way it has been set up, it could only be easily defeated, with a large margin and without too much forcing Amazon to obvious retaliatory union busting actions. Because this campaign has never been centered on force, on the direct initiative and on the self-organization of workers, but it has been all centered on an outward political action and alliance within lawmakers and for the democratization of trade union relations guaranteed by the protection of His Majesty the Democratic State of Capitalism.
The result with the right management and union strategy would have been no different in the absence of self-activity and collaboration between workers in the workplace. The workers of Smithfield, the largest meat-slaughtering industry in the United States, despite a long previous path of battles and grassroots initiatives, took 16 years and achieved the formal constitution of a Union only under Obama. In the year of the pandemic, however, the workers who fell ill and died by the hundreds, had to resort to their direct action, take the union into their hands, because the formal Union, for its part, did not take any initiative in defense of the health of the workers it represents.
If this is the case it is because the enthusiastic elements that left-wing syndicalism around the world were in fact unfounded. Basically from Bessmer came a whine, and not a first workers stand up.
The democratic campaign for unionization has portrayed Bessmer’s workers as victims, therefore unable to defend themselves except through external regulatory intervention.
In portraying them as victims, this campaign has also overemphasized the disadvantaged condition of Bessmer’s workers as blacks (that is very true), but using the stereotypes of democratic anti-racism of the white unionism (and all in all that protects white supremacy by imagining a possible capitalism without racism).
This campaign presented the Amazon workers to the rest of the proletarians as poor victims, and let it exposed easily at the mercy of the black middle class Amazon management inside the plant.
The witnesses and voices from the inside say that in the meetings organized by Amazon – certainly mandatory – the managers who explained to the workers the usefulness of voting no to the union enter, were precisely this new black managerial class, who came forward to the workers, wisely avoiding any attitude of hostility and acting “cool” and “friendly”, demonstrated on the basis of the numbers of the Amazon expansion, the nonsense of a union democracy that has no knowledge whatsoever knowledge of reality, easily managing to show that the lawmakers and the union bonzes outside the plant did not know the whole conditions of a male and female black worker.
The RWDSU behavior, combined with this schizophrenic democratic political campaign, has transformed what would have been a simple defeat of unionization like others, into a sort of “epochal” workers defeat.
There is no doubt that the defeat is real and should not be minimized. It is not only for the democratic union bonzes, for Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and associates, and for the Biden presidency project to renew a national unity of the United States of America at war on world markets and against China, by passively involving the new American proletariat. It is not only this project that finds it difficult to build its material foundations. And if on the one hand we are pleased by the disasters of the democratic snakes, on the other we cannot fail to notice that this passivation can transiently pass through other economic forms.
The defeat is also for the workers.
First of all for those 738 workers who did not have the strength to overcome the delegation relationship to an external corporative union entity and whose energies will surely be dispersed. It is a defeat that, even if it demoralizes the democratic unions corporative collaboration overseas and all over Europe, in the immediate future will thicken even more dark lights on the resumption of the new mestizo workers and proletarian movement, because they will respond to Bezos with more whining and with a stronger invocation of the intervention of the State of Capital to guarantee the “democratic” rules and the landscape of collaborative consultation with the corporations that the boss does not want to recognize, while the workers will be increasingly relegated and made to feel like defenseless victims and without any possibility for direct action on the field of the social conflict and struggle.
It is the same we hear from Filt-CGIL, FIt CISI and UILTrasporti in Italy about the Amazon workers conditions. They say the state, the government, the institutions should intervene to bring Amazon back to milder advice.
Unfortunately, this is not what even the most rebellious syndicalism sometimes believes, in the difficulty, isolation and repression, and in a deficit of general struggle power, to attempt the “tactical” card of the apparent contradiction between the bad boss State (Procura and Police Headquarters of Piacenza and Fedex) with its more democratic version represented by the Prefecture of Piacenza – which became the guarantor mediator of the negotiations between workers and boss – and the local administrators of Piacenza against the arrogance of the American Fedex corporate?
Here, in this sense it is not taken for granted that Bessmer’s defeat can immediately open to the prelude to the awareness of the true reasons for the defeat (which can only be secondarily explained by the anti-union action in the strict sense of Amazon), and to exploit the experience just ended. It will not be immediately that the workers will understand that it is not through delegation to some lobby union, or a sponsored unionization from the White House, that they will be able to usefully organize their immediate defense. And above all, this anti-proletarian whining adds fog and haze, preventing us from seeing clearly that beyond the trees, the forest of the whole of capitalist relations is on fire.
In this regard, the Chicago workers of Amazon, who suspended their work on April 7 during shifts with a spontaneous walkout, said something suggestive and interesting. Asked by the editorial collective of Rampant if the closure of the old warehouse of DCH1 in Chicago and the reorganization of work shift in the new hubs under the megacycle regime (i.e. the one that worked between two night shifts of 12 hours, now you work in a single 10 hours) is happening due to Amazon’s sense of revenge and retaliation for their past struggle and their gaining recognition of paid vacation days, then Zama a representative of the Amazonians United Chicagoland Self-Organized Workers’ Committee replies:
“I think that it plays some part, but the main reason for these changes is Amazon’s focus on expansion..” which means that the continuous labor process restructuring is needed to respond to Chinese competition from Alibaba is the objective determining factor of this change, which even a watered-down union but unable to passively involve workers in the war on the markets is purely an obstacle.
As the Chicagoland worker Zama and activist of Amazon’s Chicagoland notes “… Whereas when I started the majority of packages were delivered through USPS and UPS. It’s a major shift ..”, now less and less because the expansion of Amazon breaks the logistics chains previously contracted to USPS and UPS for last mile shipments. Now they are internalized to exercise greater control over the entire labor process of extracting surplus value and making profits: crumbs for others, whether small or large, are not there (and it is the same in the Italy logistic industry).
These days, every worker who fights to strengthen collaboration, trust, unity of workers and act as one entity, and to prevent events like Bessmer from weighing like lasting defeats, meditate, reflect, confront the their experience with that of workers in the United States and sharing them with their comrades and workmates, avoiding simplistic explanations (Amazon is oppressive and bonzes are increasingly bonzes), helps to understand the real difficulties of this initial phase of recovery of a new movement of proletarian struggles that in the USA it is impossible to contain for long under the hood of dark lights.