An Amazon warehouse is a state of the art union busting operation. Between the short, unstable shifts, the heavy reliance on temporary workers, the incessant micromanagement, the never ending evaluations, and the oppressive security culture , nothing seems quite so unlikely that me or my coworkers could show the discipline and solidarity necessary even to get to the point where we can apply to join the United Food and Commercial Workers or the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Nevertheless, according to the website Gizmodo, the management in Seattle seems to be worried. In a 45-minute-training video distributed to “Team Leaders” at the grocery store chain Whole Foods, recently purchased by Amazon, managers are taught how to recognize the signs of an union drive and given pointers on what they can and can’t do to help break it up.
“The training video then asks managers to listen to 10 hypothetical employees and select whether their remarks constitute a “warning sign” or “innocent interaction.” Workers loitering in the break room after their shift, asking for a list of the site’s roster, or complaining about the absence of a living wage fall into the “warning sign” category…..Throughout, managers are encouraged to express opinions against unions to their workers, and any of signs of potential organization are supposed to be escalated to human resources and general managers immediately.”
Even if I did have the time or energy, I would have no idea how to organize a union at Amazon. I am also well-aware of the tremendous political obstacles. Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, Jeff Bezos not only has powerful connections inside the Democratic Party, he owns the Washington Post. As a result, coverage in the mainstream media of a union drive at Amazon would probably make the coverage of Occupy Wall Street look positive by comparison. The professional organizers, legal advisors, labor journalists, and political activists it would take to guide me and my fellow Amazon Warehouse slaves from the hell of the casually employed precariat to the promised land of the middle class are probably just sitting this one out. At least I’ve never seen any of them. Nobody’s even handed me a pamphlet.
That Amazon would be so difficult to unionize, that so much of its workforce is recruited from a marginal, otherwise unemployable segment of the population, is, I think, also an opportunity. The main reason why organized labor in the United States has suffered such a precipitous decline is obviously political oppression. From the Taft Hartley Act to Ronald Reagan’s destruction of the air traffic controllers union, to Barack Obama’s refusal to honor his campaign promise to institute “card check,” the American ruling class has demonstrated that it will stop at nothing to prevent what happened in the 1930s from ever happening again. But political oppression is not the only reason Americans don’t join unions. If we really wanted them badly enough, we could get them. The problem is that ever since Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare in the 1950s, unions have become so conservative they barely seem worth joining. In 2016, SEIU almost tripped over itself in its rush to endorse Hillary Clinton over the far more worker friendly Bernie Sanders. Temporary warehouse workers at the fully unionized UPS actually make less money per hour than temporary warehouse workers at Amazon. The people who run the AFL-CIO aren’t workers. They’re lawyers and bureaucrats, Democratic Party operatives a lot more comfortable at a fund raiser on Martha’s Vineyard than on a picket line.
If we, the under employed, under socialized and uneducated warehouse slaves at Amazon could organize a union from the bottom up, and without any help from the AFL-CIO, it would probably be the most important, and ultimately the most radical political event since the Russian Revolution.