How we won a union at Amazon
Staten Island-based Amazon distribution center union organizers celebrate after getting the voting results at the Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, N.Y., Friday, April 1, 2022. Los organizadores sindicales del centro de distribución de Amazon con sede en Staten Island celebran después de recibir los resultados de la votación en el almacén de Amazon en Staten Island, Nueva York. | Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AP

My quick-and-dirty analysis of the Amazon Labor Union’s successes so far is pretty simple. We just did the thing you’re supposed to do: Organize a worker-led movement.

We studied the history of how the first major unions were built. We learned from the Industrial Workers of the World, and even more from the building of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. We read William Z. Foster’s Organizing Methods in the Steel Industry (a must-read, seriously).

But here’s the basic thing: You need to have an actual worker-led project—a Black- and Brown-led, multiracial, multinational, multigender, multiability organizing team. You get some salts with some organizing experience, but make sure they’re prepared to put in the work and to follow the lead of workers who have been around the shop longer. You get the Communists involved, you get some socialists and anarcho-syndicalists, you bring together a broad progressive coalition. You bring in sympathetic comrades from other unions, in a supporting role.

Really, you just follow the classic playbook. Do not be afraid to fight, to get as dirty as the bosses will, to match or beat the energy they’re bringing. Do not be afraid to agitate and antagonize the bosses, as a union should. Use every tool in your toolbox. File those unfair labor practice charges, every chance you get. Protest and do collective action. Keep building.

It’s the hard work, every day: workers talking to workers. Not just media games, but solidarity, daily analysis, and adjusting as needed. It’s working as a collective, learning together, and teaching each other. Get back to fighting form. That’s how we won.

What I’m describing wasn’t my plan, but the efforts of Amazon workers who got fed up with their mistreatment. I was lucky to be recruited into this effort as a salt by the organizing committee because of my organizing experience with the Young Communist League. I was welcomed with open arms, and it has changed the path of my life completely, but I’ve always understood my role to be following the lead of the workers who were there before me.

Read William Z. Foster’s American Trade Unionism, available from International Publishers.

This was a truly collective effort, led by some brilliant Amazon workers thrust into organizing by the pandemic and the conditions of their lives; Chris Smalls and Derrick Palmer in particular have been tremendous leaders. I think this union shows the true possibility of what is before us, as a labor movement—if we just remember how to do it.

Justine Medina is a member of the ALU organizing committee and a packer at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse.

Reprinted with permission of the author. Previously posted in Labor Notes and at CPUSA.org.


CONTRIBUTOR

Justine Medina
Justine Medina

Justine Medina is a co-chair of the New York Young Communist League and a member of the Amazon Labor Union organizing committee. Justine Medina es copresidenta de la Liga de Jóvenes Comunistas de Nueva York y miembro del comité organizador del Sindicato de Trabajadores de Amazon.

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