By CARL GREEN
Edwardsville, IL – Southwestern Illinois has its own “Mother Jones,” the actress Loretta Williams of Jerseyville, who took on the role years ago and has become an expert on the great Labor leader. She can answer questions as Mother Jones would and give whole speeches using both her brogue and her beliefs.
So it was only appropriate for our own Mother Jones to come to the site of the latest tragedy of working people in the region, the deaths of six Amazon warehouse and delivery workers in the Dec. 10 tornado.
Her message? Those workers need a union!
“We should have seen it coming, and we know it’s not the last time it’s going to happen,” “Mother” said in a visit on Dec. 23. “Look at all of these mausoleums they’ve built out here. There are people in there – thousands of them. There’s another storm brewing, and we’re all just sitting ducks with no protection at all.
“They need the union! They don’t need an Amazon gift card for Christmas, they need a union card! That’s what they need to keep them safe, to give them a future.”
AMAZON WORKERS FIGHTING BACK
In a year marked by strikes and union activism, Amazon is being called to task for its union-busting and indifference to workers’ safety and well-being.
Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala., are preparing for a second vote on unionization following a National Labor Relations Board finding that the tech giant interfered with and violated workers’ labor rights during a high-profile but unsuccessful union drive last year. The workers in Edwardsville will be carefully watching how that campaign goes.
“They need to have strength and courage and to realize that their grief is going to be changed into something productive,” ‘Mother Jones’ said. “They need to stand together and go to the unions. Ask how they can help and they’ll tell you.
“The unions want to help. They’re there for the laborers. It doesn’t matter what race, creed or political banner you’re standing under, the union is there for every laborer. Come to them, they’ll welcome you.”
Bringing unions to Amazon has been a major challenge to unions that take it on, said James Goltz of Bunker Hill, an organizer of the Mother Jones appearance. He said unions have tried but been met with such stiff resistance from the company that the efforts failed.
That may be changing, however. Workers at six separate Amazon facilities staged walkouts Dec. 22, calling for increased wages and safer working conditions.
UNION GAVE HER A SECOND CHANCE
Mother Jones would take on the challenge, according to her portrayer Williams, who described how Mother Jones at one time married a union man who died of yellow fever, and the union secured back pay that helped her start over again as a dressmaker in Chicago.
“Unions need to be able to go in and unionize these people,” she said. “The union can go in and make sure there are safe places and make sure they have safety precautions in place.
“So when something happens out here on the prairies, the people will be safe, and won’t have to depend on their bosses telling them to get back to work or they’ll lose their jobs – even when the great, dreadful tragedy is bearing down upon them.
“The union is not a politician, they are not lawyers, and they are not businessmen,” she added. “They are laborers. And the laborers stand together. They know where the problems are. They see them day in and day out.”