by Betsey Piette, published on Workers World, February 24, 2021
As Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala., vote to unionize, they are gaining support. On Feb. 20, demonstrations took place in solidarity with BAmazon workers in 50+ U.S. cities in 30 states, including several in the South.
The National Day of Solidarity with BAmazon was called by the Southern Workers Assembly, backed by the Support Alabama Amazon Union Campaign and many others. Demonstrations were encouraged at Amazon’s warehouses, distribution centers and Whole Foods locations. Some protests targeted the union-busting Morgan Lewis law firm used by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
The majority Black workforce in Bessemer is challenging the world’s richest human, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in their fight to be recognized by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Bezos is so desperate to bust the union drive, he is illegally offering workers $2,000 to $3,000 “resignation bonuses.”
Speaking in East New York, part of Brooklyn, N.Y., outside an Amazon fulfillment center, Omowale Clay from the D12 Movement said:
“A yes vote for the union will be a mighty blow against Amazon. A win in Bessemer will be a shot in the arm to organized labor, which will be heard around the world!”
In Boston, 100 community leaders, students, gig and grocery workers, teachers, librarians and school bus drivers picketed Jamaica Plain’s Whole Foods, where angry neighborhood demonstrations opposed the corporation’s hostile, racist takeover of a Latinx grocer a decade ago.
Kristin Turgeon of Workers World Party and the tuba-led, 10-piece Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians fired up the crowd with Florence Reece’s “Which Side Are You On?” The crowd shouted, “We’re on the Workers’ Side!” Amazon Prime drivers, bus drivers and others passing by blared horns. Picketers filled the Whole Foods’ entrance to express their disgust with Bezos’ greed and their enthusiasm for Alabama’s history-making BAmazon workers.
John Buonopane, International Steelworkers (USW), and Bishop Filipe Teixeira kicked off a powerful program, organized by the Boston School Bus Drivers Union. Speakers included Jamie Wallace, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU); Felipe Martinez, Boston Independent Drivers Guild; Munim Khan, a leader of Rideshare “Bill of Rights”; and Andira Alves, a former Amazon worker with Party for Socialism and Liberation; plus speakers representing WWP, Pride at Work, MA Coalition for Safety and Health, UNITE HERE Local 26 and Dorchester for Peace & Justice.
New York City: Demonstrators rallied in Manhattan’s Union Square near Whole Foods, then marched against Broadway traffic 12 blocks to Jeff Bezos’ posh apartment. Workers Assembly Against Racism leader Joan Hwang stated:
“Black workers in Alabama are making history right now! They are taking on the world’s biggest corporate monster.”
The favorite chant at Bezos’ residence was: “How do you spell liar? B-E–Z-O-S! How do you spell capitalist? B-E-Z-O-S! How do you spell parasite? B-E-Z-O-S!” On the march people chanted: “Down with Bezos’ greed! A union is what Amazon workers need!” “Overworked and underpaid, Amazon workers are unafraid” — and other chants including many in Spanish.
The youthful, militant crowd of around 175 people included Chris Silvera, Sec.-Treas. of Teamsters Local 808; Eliana Jaramillo from the Street Vendors Project; Terrea Mitchell from Peoples’ Power Assembly-NYC; Lorraine Liriano from A Call to Action on Puerto Rico; and members of WAAR, the Laundry Workers Center, UAW, Veterans for Peace, Congress of Essential Workers, Gabriela, PSL and WWP.
Philadelphia: Accompanied by an 8-foot Jeff Bezos puppet labeled “Union-buster in chief,” 100 people gathered outside Morgan Lewis, Amazon’s union-busting law firm. The rally began with a picket line and spirited chants led by Ted Kelly from WWP and Megan Murray, a former Whole Foods worker fired for organizing.
Monica Robinson, a leader in the Coalition of Labor Union Women stated: “Every worker has the right to a union.” She suggested Amazon’s “Time off Tasks” — punitive measures, used to control workers — be renamed “Terrible Operating Tactics.”
Workers from the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, the University of the Arts and a U.S. Post Office retiree all described fighting Morgan Lewis’ attempts to crush their union drives or efforts to strengthen existing union contracts. Members of Teamsters Local 623, PASNAP and Philadelphia Teachers Federation spoke.
Pam Africa, with MOVE, pointed to the vital role Amazon workers play globally. Letters from two incarcerated workers in solidarity with Bessemer were read. The event was endorsed by a number of labor and community groups. Spiral Q donated the Bezos puppet.
In Durham, N.C., 50 workers and community members gathered at RDU5 Amazon Fulfillment Center to leaflet workers during shift change. Several participated in a caravan of cars, decorated with pro-union signs and honking horns, that circled the parking lot. Southern Workers Assembly leaflets were distributed. Fearful of their presence, Amazon changed workers’ shift times to avoid their receiving information on the union efforts.
Organized by the Durham Workers Assembly, the event was endorsed by the National Domestic Workers Alliance-We Dream in Black, Raise Up/Fight for $15 and a Union, Durham Association of Educators, Bull City Democratic Socialists (DSA) and Smash Racism Raleigh.
Atlanta: The newly formed ATL Amazon Workers Solidarity Network in cooperation with the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council organized an event in a busy shopping area in support of the BAmazon union drive. Over 70 union workers, youth and social justice activists lined the sidewalk on heavily trafficked Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, chanting demands for workers’ rights and denouncing Amazon’s working conditions and repressive anti-union policies.
The sound of honking horns from approving passing motorists could be heard in Whole Foods in the adjacent mall. The event ended with a march into the mall past Whole Foods to ensure workers knew which side they were on — the union side.
Participating labor leaders and organizations included Edgar Fields, Southern Council of RWDSU; Eric Richardson, CBTU Metro Atlanta Chapter; Verdailla Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers; and activists representing DSA, WWP and several community organizations.
Buffalo, N.Y.: Members of WWP, the Queen City Workers’ Center, Young Democratic Socialists (YDSA), Erie County Green Party and People’s Party of WNY stood up to the ruling class and an icy winter wind in support of BAmazon’s national day of solidarity. They rallied, raised a banner and handed out flyers outside Whole Foods-Amherst. Flyers about the fight to save the people’s post office and fire the USPS Board of Governors were distributed.
In Cleveland — devastated by deindustrialization — over 30 people marched then rallied at the soon-to-open Amazon Hub. Built atop the bones of Midland Steel Corporation, a former union shop, the Bezos world of high–tech, low–wage work is engulfing the entire county, with over 7,000 workers at two Amazon Fulfillment Centers, Whole Foods and two Amazon Hubs.
Speakers at the rally included Camilo Jose Villa, SEIU Local 1; Akshai Singh, Democratic Socialist and Public Transit organizer; and Martha Grevatt, UAW Local 869 and a national organizer with Support Alabama Amazon Workers.
Houston: Drivers honked horns and waved for hours, as activists gathered outside Whole Foods near a busy intersection. Youth chanted “Amazon workers, Yes! Bezos, No!” Drummers kept up the beat. The dynamic action was a strong show of solidarity with the BAmazon workers.
“I support the workers’ rights to unionize and earn fair wages and treatment. When we all work together in solidarity, we win victories,”
exclaimed Frances Dee.
“Overworked and underpaid workers deserve our support,”
said Caleb Granger.
A member of the Austin Federation of Teachers who drove to Houston said:
“As a union member, I feel strongly that all workers must support the Amazon workers.”
Recent Morehouse College graduate Trey Legall said:
“This union will be historic, the first for mainly Black Amazon workers in the deep South. We stand with the workers in Alabama; we will fight for them, and we will build a workers world!”
Bay Area: Chanting “Union busting is disgusting,” over 80 people rallied at Whole Foods in Oakland to support the Amazon workers union drive. Participants included trade unionists, incarcerated workers, rank-and-file workers, international solidarity activists and groups fighting on behalf of the unhoused against gentrification.
Trent Willis, President of Local 10, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, expressed his union’s strong solidarity with Bessemer workers, who are organizing a union against all odds. ILWU Local 10 has a long history of fighting racism, war and gentrification.
Nube Brown, Managing Editor of the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper and a leader of California Prison Focus, compared the campaign for justice and a living wage by predominantly Black Alabama Amazon workers with the struggle of incarcerated workers fighting the same racist system. Two statements from incarcerated workers supporting the Bessemer union drive were read. Speakers included Kim Garcia of Gabriela and teacher Nick Parker, a member of the Oakland Education Association.
Portland, Ore.: Outside the Amazon Fulfilment Center, nearly 100 demonstrators from over 10 unions and community groups rallied in support of Amazon workers who were fired here for trying to organize a union. The massive facility located outside Portland employs 2,000 workers. Amazon workers described the dangerous, dehumanizing working conditions they face. A main organizer for the event, Brian Denning, one of those fired by Amazon, spoke and led chants supporting the power of the Bessemer Alabama Amazon workers’ fight.
The event was organized by the Portland Amazon Workers Solidarity Campaign. Philippine groups Gabriela, Migrante PDX and Anakbayan came in support of the many Asian workers at the plant. The Unemployed Workers Council PDX, Workers World, Jobs with Justice, DSA and Sunrise, a new national youth group fighting for climate change and union solidarity, attended.
Seattle is Amazon’s corporate headquarters, with over 75,000 workers in 55 tall buildings in the city center and 25 suburban warehouses. Year-round protests over the extreme gentrification crisis caused by Amazon’s takeover of this vast amount of real estate are widening to include solidarity for the union organizing drive at Bessemer. Two protests were held here Feb. 20.
A protest of 200 union supporters started at the Washington Multi-Family Association, a huge pro-landlord lobbying group. Called by DSA and supported by UNITE HERE Local 8, the rally included Amazon Employees for Climate Justice — tech workers in solidarity with the Bessemer workers. Demands include rent control, a ban on evictions and cancellation of back rent. The demonstrators marched to an Amazon warehouse along a high visibility route where passing drivers continuously honked support.
A second solidarity protest involved a car caravan, bike brigade and rally that surrounded the block around the Spheres Amazon headquarters. It was called by Socialist Alternative, Tax Amazon and Seattle Council member Kshama Savant, who condemned Democratic Party leaders for trying to take away an affordable housing initiative she had helped win that taxed Amazon and other rich corporations to fund housing and Green New Deal programs. (tinyurl.com/ya896fjh) Savant declared, “The workers of Seattle are rooting for you at Bessemer.”
*Featured Image: Outside union-busting law firm Morgan Lewis, Philadelphia, Feb. 20. (WW Photo: Joe Piette)
Learn more about these actions at Supportamazonworkers.org. Maureen Skehan, Tony Murphy, Dante Strabino, Dianne Mathiowetz, Hadley Willow, Susan Schnur, Gloria Rubac, Judy Greenspan, Lyn Neeley and Jim McMahan contributed to this article.