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Amazon's Union Drive: the Beast Can Bleed

Peter Kraljev

Apr 30, 2022

The multi-billion dollar company, Amazon, has long dominated the e-commerce market, becoming the go-to online shopping site and distribution center for any and all products. From books and hats to groceries and hatchets Amazon is where you go to get what you need. It has become part of nearly everyone’s daily lives, spurring demand for more warehouses and more workers.

The company makes between $14 billion and $20 billion a year while its founder, Jeff Bezos, is one of the richest men in the world. Amazon executives, despite being millionaires and billionaires, are not content to rest on their laurels. Instead, they want to squeeze every last drop of profit out of their workers. Both former and current employees have testified to grueling working conditions, 60-hour work weeks with mandatory overtime, demands and reprimands made of those who processed fewer than 700 items an hour. This rat-race attitude has led to many work-place injuries, as well as accidents.

Employees are also under constant surveillance: cameras, overseers, and sensors extend Amazon’s watchful eye throughout its warehouses, monitoring bathroom, cigarette, and water breaks to dock their pay accordingly. This surveillance was also used to nip workers’ discontent in the bud and prevent it from growing into a full-scale union drive.. In some cases, Amazon even hired spies to forward its anti-union agenda.

As Amazon rolled out plans to purchase land, as well as establish onsite employee housing and shopping centers, it seemed like the banished days of company towns were back on the horizon. However, the juggernaut of big business is not as infallible as previously thought.

Chris Smalls started working at Amazon in 2015 and was made assistant manager by 2018. Smalls said he liked working at the company, before he noticed what he called “deep systemic issues,” with regard to the company’s disregard for the safety and health of its employees. Chris Smalls organized a walk out on March 30th, 2020 with his fellow employees of Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse.. The walkout came after an extremely ill employee was allowed to come into work, while still awaiting COVID test results. Smalls was fired for standing up for his rights and those of his coworkers on the shop floor.

What happened next, however, is one of the greatest revenge stories of all time. After his dismissal, Smalls founded the Congress of Essential Workers (TCOEW) - a labor rights group that fought tooth and nail to unionize Small’s former workplace. Despite Amazon’s colossal efforts to sabotage workers’ action, the Staten Island warehouse was unionized!

Smalls started lit a spark of hope that could spread throughout Amazon’s warehouses across the nation. It could bring much needed protections and improvements of working conditions to people who desperately need it. This victory has reasserted the long-established truth that workers can only help themselves. No politician, NGO, or some wealthy philanthropist organized these workers; it was a former employee who had nothing to lose but his chains.

Politicians like AOC and Bernie Sanders began to support the union only after it succeeded. As the actual battle was being fought, they were nowhere to be found. They had only lip-service to contribute after the victory had already been won.

There are those who are slandering Smalls for making an appearance on Fox News Host Tucker Carlson’s show because of the reactionary conservative nature of the latter’s content, saying Smalls is endorsing him. Those who follow this line of thinking forget that Carlson’s Show is popular with millions of viewers - a platform on which people can get their message across. Smalls knows this and has proven himself as an organizer. To be a good organizer, you have to work with and persuade those who don’t agree with you. In fact, you need to reach out to them most of all,since there is no reason to persuade the people who already agree with you. Because of the sheer amount of views Smalls’ story received on Carlson’s show, there’s no telling how many anti-union-minded people may have had second thoughts about their preconceived notions.

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