By DAVID A. COOK
By the time you read this, we may know the outcome of the massive organizing effort at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, where thousands of workers are mailing in ballots to decide their union election. The effort represents the largest formal push to organize workers at Amazon in the company’s history and will be a historic moment regardless of the outcome.
Even if those efforts fall short, it is clear that the winds are shifting in favor of workers at companies like Amazon, despite the vast and ever-present union-busting across corporate America. What many ordinary Americans do not realize is how suffocating these union-busting efforts are, how common they are, and how far they can go.
HORRIBLE WORK CONDITIONS, SURVEILLANCE AND BRIBERY
As the Alabama campaign heated up over the past few weeks and months, more and more stories about horrific worker treatment emerged, and even more emerged detailing the lengths that Amazon will go to stop workers from organizing.
We learned in a lengthy article by The Intercept that Amazon has hired former FBI agents to focus on surveillance, specifically to compile lengthy documents on workers’ personal lives to gauge their likelihood of supporting a union.
In recent years, they’ve sought to hire “intelligence analysts” to monitor and counter potential union activity.
They are even offering thousands of dollars to employees that support the union in an attempt to bribe them into quitting before they vote.
We’ve learned that while driving, Amazon drivers sometimes pee in bottles because of the high pressure to make delivery quotas, and that Amazon denied this practice publicly while privately acknowledging it in internal memos and documents.
In short, a company that is one of the largest and wealthiest in the world is doing precisely what companies do: ruthlessly exploiting workers for higher profits.
TOUGH TO BOYCOTT
I wish I could tell you that one of the solutions was to not shop at Amazon, but that option isn’t practical for everyone. During a pandemic, online shopping soared as customers had fewer options.
Even as we emerge from COVID-19 into a safer world, it will be challenging to get the public to give up the convenience they have gotten used to. Shopping habits are like concrete; once they harden, they are very difficult to change. While I do urge you to shop at local businesses whenever possible, I also acknowledge the reality that cost and convenience often win the day for many customers.
WORKERS HAVE POWER, BUT THEY HAVE TO USE IT
While we always welcome the support of the public, the real key to unlocking a future where unions can grow and help workers reclaim their power is by reminding workers that they have power in the first place.
Too many workers today have been successfully brainwashed in this country and are told they should be grateful to even have a job, that they should shut up, keep their head down, and do their work like a good little worker bee. Too often workers defeat themselves before they even try, believing efforts to improve their workplace to be hopeless before they even begin.
‘GREAT MEN’ ARE MADE BY THE WORKERS
America loves a “great man” story. We love to tell the story of the manufacturing revolution as the story of Henry Ford, and not as the story of his tens of thousands of employees who helped change the world along with him. Yes, give Henry Ford his due, but don’t forget that he is simply a man with an idea and without hard-working men and women to do the real work we would never have heard of him.
The “great man” version of America sees a handful of powerful and wealthy men hoisted up as heroes while ignoring or actively hiding the work of the forgotten masses of workers that made their so-called greatness possible.
Elon Musk is one of the richest men on the planet. His company, Tesla, has become widely known as they attempt to revolutionize the auto industry. His other company, SpaceX, recently sent astronauts into space and regularly makes the news with their new and exciting rocket launches.
Musk has developed an almost cult-like following, particularly among younger people on the internet. His “great man” story is being told already. I’m sure you can guess what happens next: just days ago the National Labor Relations Board issued a broad ruling that found Musk and Tesla guilty of a number of union-busting tactics. Tesla has been ordered to offer a worker his job back and provide for his lost wages, post notices explaining to their employees what their rights are, hold meetings detailing that workers will not face retaliation for union activity, and make a number of changes to their company policies on workers speaking to the media.
It was major ruling that affirmed what workers have said for years now: that Musk and his company regularly beat back union efforts by often engaging in tactics not legal under current Labor law. It also affirmed what we’ve known in the Labor Movement for a long time: “great men” are also flawed men who value their own wealth and greatness over the men and women who helped build them up.
WORKERS HAVE TO VALUE THEMSELVES
America may love a “great man” story, but the real story of America isn’t the story of a few great men making the nation a better place.
The story of America — the thing many of us agree to in theory but fail to apply to our lives — is the story of the average man or woman finding success. We believe that everyone in America that works hard should have a shot at a comfortable life, because that’s the American Dream.
We can’t achieve that dream if we surrender to “great men” and their self-aggrandizing stories. We can’t achieve that dream if we let companies treat us or our fellow Americans like dirt. We can’t achieve that dream without strong unions, and workers who value themselves.