A weak labor union for Amazon workers?

An organizing drive for Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, may amount to less than it’s cracked up to be.

More than 3,000 out of 5,800 warehouse workers have signed cards in favor of a vote for representation by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWReDSU).  Workers have until March 29 to send in ballots.

But when reporters for the World Socialist Web Site asked the RWDSU what the union’s demands will be, spokesmen said that will have to wait until negotiations begin.  Serious unions always organize around a set of demands.

There is broad support among Amazon workers to abolish the oppressive rate system, which requires workers to perform a task as often as every six to nine seconds. The constant pressure to “make rate” is not only unsafe and physically exhausting. It is also degrading, demeaning, and injurious to workers’ mental health and well-being.

A popular phrase among Amazon workers is, “We are not robots!”

There is also powerful support for higher wages, the changes necessary to reduce injuries, adequate compensation for injured workers, and an end to the tyrannical surveillance regime that records and logs every second of a worker’s day.

During the pandemic, Amazon workers staged walkouts and demonstrations to demand countermeasures against the spread of the virus.  Workers demanded up-to-the-minute information on infections in their workplaces.  When management refused to provide that information, they organized on social media and collected it themselves.

When Amazon workers formed an independent rank-and-file committee in Baltimore in December … … workers demanded an end to the abusive management speed-ups and the regime of harassment around so-called “time off task” (TOT).  Workers also demanded the reinstatement of hazard pay, real scientific contact tracing, paid time off for sick workers, accessible coronavirus tests, and the closure of facilities for necessary cleaning.

Last week the RSDWU even disavowed a call for a one-week boycott of Amazon, the WSWS reported.

When a union contract is in force, union members renounce their right to strike or take job actions.  A weak contract with a weak union would benefit Amazon more than its employees.

So maybe there’s less to President Biden’s and Senator Marco Rubio’s support for Amazon unionization than meets the eye.


The unionization campaign at Amazon: A top-down operation, with no program for workers by Tom Carter and Jerry White for the World Socialist Web Site.

Radical Anti-Racist Unionism Has a History in Bessemer, Alabama by Willem Morris for Jacobin.  [Added 3/18/2021]

RWDSU Disavows Boycott Amazon by Kris LaGrange for ucommblog.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey) There are tactical and legal reasons why the union does not support the boycott, but there’s no reason why others can’t.  As for myself, I already avoid patronizing Amazon.  [Added 3/19/2021]

Amazon Workers Consider Unionizing at Several More U.S. Sites by Spencer Soper and Josh Edelson for Bloomberg.  [Added 3/21/2021]

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3 Responses to “A weak labor union for Amazon workers?”

  1. Bill Harvey Says:

    Phil, I’m not close enough to the situation in Bessemer to say much about WSWS’s take- no doubt there’s something to some of it, but I don’t know that the situation warrants this kind of report. What I do know is that WSWS is invariably unrealistic about the possibilities in these workplace battles. I used to read a lot of things at WSWS, but over time I got fed up with such reports that can only lead to complete political isolation. I have zero confidence in their political judgment. Can you or I go to Bessemer, look the workers there in the eye, and say “Stick with WSWS- They’re going places you need to go”? I cannot.

    The example of the prospects of a boycott of Amazon is apt. Can we realistically expect that a boycott at this point in time could be effective? Again, I cannot, tho the only reason I can think of that the union would disavow it might be legal, regarding prohibitions of secondary boycotts, especially under certain conditions.

    Nor can I agree that “A weak contract with a weak union would benefit Amazon more than its employees.” We can’t even be certain that it’ll be a weak contract with a weak union, can we?

    To me WSWS is nothing but a bunch of “revolutionary” puddin’ pullers. I invite them to politics. See several reports on Bessemer at paydayreport.com, a reliable labor source.



  2. Bill Harvey Says:


    I’ll be at the Baltimore demo tomorrow.



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