American Secretariat of the LCFI
Amazon is the largest online retailer on the planet. The company currently employs about 1.3 million people worldwide, placing it among the top 10 employers in the world, along with the US Department of Defense, the Chinese Army, the UK National Health Service, and private corporations like MacDonald’s and Walmart.
Amazon is a U.S. multinational company that focuses its business on a global e-commerce-based postal service and secondarily in cloud-computing, streaming and artificial intelligence. It is considered one of the five major global technology companies that control almost everything that is digital, commerce, internet searches, information about all users and even more their employees.
Amazon composes the acronym “FAGA”, along with Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. These trusts are responsible for technological imperialism, based on the exploitation of labor, obviously information control, fake news, trade wars, dumping, currency evasion for tax havens and scheduled obsolescence.
The largest contemporary capitalist private company
During the pandemic, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos increased his fortune by nearly 30 percent, adding $34 billion since January 2020. Bezos began the year 2020 owner of “modest” US$ 115 billion. But with the pandemic and increased sales during social isolation, the company’s revenue and shares skyrocketed.
The company’s slogan is “work hard, have fun, make history.” In fact, Amazon’s 1.3 million employees took the hard, hard work, while Bezos has fun and makes history and could become the first trillion-dollar employer on the planet, achieving a dizzying social ascent with a company founded in 1994. His net worth has grown 34 percent on average over the past five years. In 2012, Amazon bought Kiva Systems to automate its inventory management business. In 2017, Amazon bought Whole Foods Market, a multinational natural products supermarket. The acquisition cost $13.4 billion, expanding Amazon’s physical retail. Amazon Prime is a 48-hour delivery service that has surpassed 100 million subscribers worldwide in 2018. In addition to Whole, Amazon’s trust groups Alexa, CreateSpace, Kindle, Audible, Audible.com, DPReview, Box Office Mojo, Goodreads, Twitch.tv and AbeBooks, among many other companies and technologies. In 2019, Amazon became the most valuable company in the world, surpassing Microsoft.
Intense exploitation of work and anti-unionism
The untheoretical growth of Amazon’s largest retail e-commerce network relies on a really hard work regime. To this end, it dismantled all attempts to form trade unions in the U.S. or to unionize their workers into existing unions, with persecution and layoffs, terror and blackmail, meetings, and anti-union training courses. However, Amazon has not been able to prevent strikes, including savage strikes in both the US and the European Union. At the plants of Germany and Italy the workers have carried out powerful strikes and plucked conquests.
The company establishes journeys of up to 36 hours in a row, shifts from 10h-12h, during which, the selectors are practically all the time working standing; 30-minute intervals between shifts, restriction and monitoring of bathroom use, drinking water and changing work gloves and paying $15.30 per hour. Many workers have been dying because they have been forced to work under these massing rhythms and unhealthy conditions at Amazon’s facilities during the Pandemic.
In early 2020, Amazon fired JFK8 shed manager Christian Smalls because he was organizing workers not to contract coronavirus in the shed after seven confirmed cases, he claimed to close the shed for 2 weeks and establish paid sick leave during that period. After his resignation, the company’s executives immediately began a secret plan to turn him into a villain, accused him of the opposite of what he claimed, to put his co-workers in danger upon returning to the building and possibly exposing them to Covid-19.
The union defeat in the battle of Bessemer
One of the first struggles for the right to unionization at Amazon took place in Minnesota in 2010. However, this struggle failed to boost an internal vote for unionization. In 2014, it was the turn of the workers of the sheds of Delaware. This fight was stronger, managed to impose a vote for unionization but was defeated. In November 2020, workers at the Bessemer Distribution Center, in a poor suburb north of Birmingham, Alabama, where about 6,000 people work, filed a lawsuit with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a unionization vote.
In one of the U.S. states with the largest anti-union tradition, Republican-controlled Alabama was where one of the largest recent battles for the unionization of Amazon workers developed. The battle took place through a vote among workers who will decide whether or not to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents 100,000 members across the United States.
“Alabama is one of 27 ‘right-to-work states’ where workers don’t have to pay fees to unions that represent them because employer’s legislation ‘freed’ workers from the union tax. In fact, the state is home to the only Mercedes-Benz factory in the world that is not unionized.”(Amazon faces biggest union push in its history, https://apnews.com/article/amazon-workers-union-c8493c24dabe7609de8fec8716460737)
In 2019, Bessemer with a poverty rate of 30% of the population was named “The worst city to live in” in the State of Alabama, (https://247wallst.com/special-report/2019/07/22/worst-cities-to-live-in-every-state-4/2/)
Alabama was one of the largest slave states in the Southern Confederacy. Today, blacks make up 25% of the population, while the national average is 13%. More than 70% of the city’s population is black. In the Bessemer shed 85% of workers are black, much more than the 22% for workers in other distribution centers in the country. Then, after the year 2020, marked by the largest wave of protests against racism in U.S. history, the union struggle united with the struggle for dignity and respect of black workers in opposition to the racism contained in capitalist exploitation.
However, in the vote inside the factory, the struggle for unionization to the RWDSU was defeated by a ratio of 2 votes to 1. Only 738 of the factory’s 5,800 workers voted in favor of the union within a total of 3,215 voters, 1,798 voted against, not counting spoiled and disputed ballots. The fact that less than 13% of workers voted for unionization at RWDSU is a defeat that needs to be explained.
The causes of defeat point to the conditions necessary for victory
Like almost everything in life, several contradictory determinations have combined for a phenomenon. One of the causes of the defeat was the fact that Amazon played hardball in its campaign, resorting to different forms of persuasion, from intimidation to conducting sympathetic anti-union indoctrination meetings, betting on different modes for different audiences, thus involving coertion, threats of layoffs, surveillance and also the appeal to individualism, the distrust of workers with the union that would only be interested in discounts on paychecks.
The company also distributed anti-union bottons “Vote No” and “asked” its employees to display them on the cords of their functional badges: “Almost everyone uses them,” said Daniel Tarvese, a 36-year-old Amazon worker. Many young workers were also seduced by the company’s demagoguery at anti-union meetings conducted entirely by gentle black instructors,
“They were nice, they were just telling us what the union was doing,” said Jeremiah Okai,19. It was the presentation on union contributions that helped persuade him to vote against the Amazon union in Alabama – The union] will take money from me – Okai said – I don’t want any money taken from me.”
As part of the arsenal of this corporate hybrid warfare, Amazon also appealed to the so-called Hawthorne Effect, developed in a light bulb factory in Australia a century ago. It is about instilling in workers the belief that they were valued, cared and that someone cared about their workplace, even when they are being subjected to the risk of dying by Covid (!). In addition, anti-union seminars were made a theater that workers were having the opportunity to discuss changes to increase productivity in the company, while collaborating with the denial of their elementary labor and union rights.
One of the main ballot boxes was installed in front of the company and managers insisted that workers fill out ballots and deposit them at the ballot box in front of them as an open vote.
But this was already expected by the bosses and it is only the purest fatalism justifying defeat just because the other side was stronger and used all its legal and illegal weapons to win, as they try to justify the union. Moreover, it is also not new that it was from corporate espionage against the political and trade union organization of workers, through Pinkerton detective agencies, that were born, in the early twentieth century, the powerful international spy agencies of the United States.
“Jeff Bezos would not be the richest man in the world if he were not versed in the fundamentals of maximizing profit – among them, the suppression of labor costs and the flight of regulations. Unionization is antithetical to this goal because unions exist to ensure better wages and safer and more comfortable working conditions, which raises labor costs and lowers profits. If Bezos gets what he wants, there will never be a shed with even unionized workers on Amazon.”(Companies like Amazon hire spies to crack down on union formation all the time, https://jacobin.com.br/2020/10/empresas-como-amazon-contratam-espioes-para-reprimir-formacao-de-sindicatos-o-tempo-todo/)
The problem is that if on the one hand it was the largest valuable of the world’s exploitative workers’ companies, on the other hand, a bourgeois and bureaucratic campaign was carried out by the leadership of the movement for unionization. This other side merely held an identity struggle against racism but did not establish a single concrete claim of workers against Amazon, which is an essential function of the union, “forgotten” by RWDSU and the arch-bureaucratic central trade union AFL-CIO. They also did not try to build a national movement and work with other unions to try to reach various Amazon facilities across the country at the same time.
The campaign for unionization was supported by the Democratic Party, including the explicit support of “Socialist” Senator Bernie Sanders, U.S. President Joe Biden and even Republican senators like Marco Rubio. But America’s working class is too disgusted with the politics of Democrats and all their traditional political representatives, including unions. Not by chance, Trump was elected in 2016 and was voted most in Alabama in 2020 because a part of the working-class electorate, historically voters of Democrats who protested in a reactionary way, seduced by Trump’s false “apolitical” appeal and rejecting traditional establishment politicians, including the AFL-CIO that integrates the regime and supported the spin on the financialization of the economy, industrial relocations, factory closures,wage reductions that have caused one-third of industrial jobs to be destroyed in the U.S. in the last 50 years.
One of the progressive reactions to this rejection of the establishment was the “socialist” wave unheard of in the US, headed by Bernie Sanders in 2018-19, which was also soon betrayed and buried by Bernie Sanders himself.
So, it is no wonder that, on the basis of the very alienation of labor, the individualism stimulated in bourgeois society, and especially in the decadent American society, Amazon’s campaigns against unionization have worked. Even so, from this filter of demoralization and employer indoctrination, 1/3 of the workers willing to face the consequences of corporate espionage and the risk of dismissal itself still escaped. And this 1/3 is due a lot to the organization of workers in the workplace:
“Without a strong organizing committee, already involving the boss in the factory floor action, the workers did not have the ability to see the potential positive side of the union because they never saw the union in action on the factory floor before being called to vote to join it. … the organizing committee already acts as a union, winning workplace campaigns to change things and defending co-workers who face unfair discipline. … In huge facilities with thousands of workers like Amazon, the process of building a strong organizing committee and trust in the organizing committee through combined actions can sometimes take years. RWDSU had begun its campaign last June when outrage over unsafe working conditions during COVID was high. Although they showed great momentum and initial interest, they never developed a strong organizing committee that was concerned with building trust through actions on the shop floor and organization against the boss. Instead, they precipitated a union election, or did what is known in the union organization as “hot shopping,” where union organizers hope to take advantage of an outburst of anger at a facility over things like poor COVID working conditions to force and win and a fast-track union election. However, initial support for union enthusiasm collapsed under the weight of Amazon’s sophisticated anti-union campaign, which combined threats of job loss with promises of improvement if workers rejected the union. Many workers in interviews who voted against the union admitted they knew little about unions. This allowed the company, through anti-union meetings, to create fear about the change that unions could bring about, warning workers that their wages may actually decline due to a contract or, worse, that their facilities may close.”(Flawed Approach Sunk Amazon Union Drive, But Birthed National Movement, https://paydayreport.com/flawed-approach-sunk-amazon-union-drive-but-birthed-national-movement/)
Despite the defeat in Alabama, the fight continues and internationalizes outside and inside Amazon.
A win in Bessemer would boost a domino effect on all Amazon plants in the US, with workers feeling encouraged to put a stop to these degrading working and low-wage conditions. After the union’s defeat, many workers are likely to face retaliation. But this defeat also stimulates the construction of union and political work to organize the class patiently by ad hoc workplace. While the results were being counted in the battle at Bessemer, even not unionized, Amazon workers from Chicago began a new battlefront, with a wildcat strike, claiming wage increase of $2 per hour, division of costs of transport to and from work and modifications in the shift of 10.5 hours. They organize under the name Amazonians United Chicagoland:
Unionizing is not a moment, it’s a process. Unionizing is a moving process when workers meet to formulate claims and a plan to sign most co-workers. Unionization is happening when uninvolved coworkers join class actions against management and when a new member of the organizing committee distributes Amazonians United newsletters during the break. We’re unionizing as we develop a sense of family among ourselves as we gather for barbecues and kickbacks while helping each other through times of need. That electricity in the air after we roll up a manager, making him nervous when he delivers our petition and expressing our demands as a group, knocking him and us up. … That feeling is our union, a workers’ union, coming to be.
We’re building a real union, not a useless business union, which is simply an extracting organization of law firm employees for workers to call. We are not interested in handing over our collective power to a bureaucrat who appears every three years to ′negotiate′ a concession contract through backroom agreements with our bosses. We don’t need the recognition of the NLRB or the Amazon to form our union, grow our union, or fight as a union. Our union is us workers, organized, acting collectively, building unity, growing in solidarity, fighting as one.
So, what does it take to unionize Amazon? It will take perseverance, humility and struggle. It will lead many workers with a deep commitment to organize the spread throughout the Amazon facilities, forming OCs that face issues that resonate with co-workers. Every time we gain a change through the organization, co-workers see the power to act collectively. This is how we begin transformations across the workplace from the standard individualistic mindset to a collective mindset. This is how we create a culture of militancy where we all put our incompetent managers in their place instead of bowing our heads to their disrespect. Each organizing committee, committed to the principles of the United Amazonians, is the foundation of our union, and we grow from there, collectively developing our strategy and vision as we go. ”(https://www.facebook.com/AUChicagoland)
Not only was the trillion-dollar slave boss, capitalist racism, the imperialist White House becoming an ally, the Democratic trade union bureaucracy, not only all these obstacles against their emancipation, some “Trotskyists” who appear to help, hinder even more. The ICFI organization, which owns the WSWS website, campaigns against unionization by releasing pamphlets that say they are not organized in the unions, organize with the WSWS (!?). Bezos thanks them and even more thanks the imperialist Democrats because with this sectarian policy the most conscientious workers will repudiate the “Trotskyist” sterility and continue to be deceived by Sanders and Biden.
Even empirically, Amazon’s most combative and conscientious workers know they need to organize for the fight against bosses, and if bosses pursue union activity, even if most unions are bureaucratized, it is necessary to boost the union’s class organization. And in this sense follow the struggle the workers of Amazon of Chicago, or Germany and Italy.
A capitalist post office, as a model of a socialist institution
As Lenin believed, the union is a school of class struggle, the first single front of workers against their employers. From this school of economic and immediate struggle it is possible to move on to the political and strategic struggle. From the struggle against an individual capitalist or corporation, to the fight against all capital, against the system of assembly and thus, advance in the consciousness of the proletariat by the expropriation of expropriators, by a new social and economic order. The communist consciousness is not only built after the passage of trade union struggle, but there is no communist organization with proletarian work of the masses, with renunciation of immediate and economic work.
Soon, soon, even the most conservative sectors, but the rearguard of the proletariat of Amazon is going to realize that they were cheated with lies and techniques of persuasion. Illusions will pass, fear will pass, only work overload, slavery and misery will remain. The fight against Amazon is a contemporary class struggle school.
The company seemed politically stronger than the manifest will of the U.S. president and his party. As it was the interests of the workers, the support of the Democrats and Biden was nothing more than proselytizing. Biden was so vehement in defending the unionization of Amazon workers when disinterested in their victory. You could have used any state device to pressure Bezos, but you didn’t. “It wouldn’t be ethical,” in their logic.
Bezos acted as if the president’s words were a dead letter, and the White House too, to the anguish of the “socialists” and Democratic unionists and the next big deal demonstrated how windy were the words of Biden’s statement. On April 13, Blue Origin, an aerospace company founded by Jeff Bezos, ran a lucrative business with the U.S. State. Bezos signed a $2.5 million contract with the Pentagon to design a nuclear-powered spacecraft. The commander in chief of the Pentagon is Biden. The outcome of this dispute also points to those who are in charge of the relationship between the imperialist state and the increasingly powerful global monopolistic corporations.
Amazon and USA; Alibaba and China
In this sense, it is a good benchmark for the contradictory relationship between the Chinese state and the Alibaba conglomerate, whose businesses, like those of Amazon, are based on electronic commerce. Alibaba accounts for 60% of the volume of deliveries in China.
The Chinese capitalist state well knows that it needs to maintain control of the market and corporations in order not to lose control of the economy if its plans are to follow its U.S. outperform route. Against Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, owner of Alibaba, the Chinese government imposed heavy fines and blocked the opening of capital of the Ant Group on the Shanghai and Hong Kong Stock Exchanges. With more than 1.2 billion users, Ant Group is in practice the world’s largest fintech.
According to the Chinese government and press, Ma was slowed by making acquisition agreements contrary to antitrust laws and having announced that he would hold the largest IPO (the initial public offering of shares) in the history of the Stock Exchanges. ‘If they leave the company uncontrolled, their own control can be eroded.’ Prevent disorderly expansion of capital’.
The Chinese techno-bureaucracy, which claims as a reference its formation in dialectical materialism (under Maoist vices), knows that controlling the growth of an individual multimillionaire is fundamental to continue with the planned advance of Chinese capitalism. So while the U.S. is bitter at the unstoppable if not world war of its hegemony on the globe, Chinese capitalism is still thriving for the time being. China’s economy grew by 18.3% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. It was the largest increase in gross domestic product (GDP) since quarterly data began to be collected in the early 1990s. 2021 surpassed the previous record increase of 15.3% in the first quarter of 1993.
Victorious today, Amazon prepares the conditions for its strategic defeat tomorrow.
The owner of Amazon is the richest individual capitalist on the planet. Amazon is the largest online retailer. Amazon with all its weapons offers us the most sophisticated conditions of contemporary capitalism to learn how to fight it. So far, the parasite Bezos and his entourage have fared better in battles. But our sidelearns, strengthens in number, before the first wave of the pandemic in March 2020, Amazon announced that it would hire 100,000 more workers for its sheds in Canada and the USA. And equally important is that the experience of battles better selects the commanders of the fight on ourside, making the Democratic bureaucrats be overcome by new combative leaders. We learn how to beat their secret agents, their technological pitfalls, their cyber espionage. Amazon won the battle of Alabama, but the private post-office company, now dominated by the dictatorship of the capital, will one day lose the class war.
The dynamics of global corporations like Amazon imposes the need for the organization of the international struggle of workers, which transcends the corporate activity of local unions. The very global character of these capitalist corporations generates the material premises for this organization of international struggle to be possible.
Referring to the post companies of his time, Lenin indicated in his work State and Revolution:
“Around 1870, a witty social democrat regarded the mail as a model of a socialist institution. Nothing fairer. Currently, mail is an organized administration, according to the type of monopoly of the capitalist state. “
However, the mail-like companies known to the socialists of the beginning of the century were state and national monopolies. Amazon is a private and multinational monopoly, that is, subject to an organized global administration, which merges e-commerce and production. Lenin continues:
“Imperialism gradually transforms all trusts into organizations of the same kind. The simple workers, hungry and overworked, remain subjected to bourgeois bureaucracy, but the mechanism of social enterprise is ready. Once the capitalists are overthrown, once broken by the iron hand of the armed workers, the resistance of their exploiters, once the bureaucratic machine of the current state has been torn down, we will be faced with the admirably perfected mechanism free of the ‘parasites’ and that the united workers themselves can very well put into operation by hiring technicians, masters and accountants and paying them all for their work as all ‘public’ employees in general, a worker’s salary. This is the concrete, practical and immediately achievable task for all trusts, aimed at freeing workers from exploitation; this task has already been initiated practically, in the governamental domain, by the Paris Commune.
We must take this experience into account. All economic life organized the way of mail, in which technicians, inspectors and accountants all employees will receive a salary that does not exceed the salary of a worker on the direction of a control of the armed proletariat – this is our immediate goal. This is the state, this is the economic basis we need. This is what will annihilate parliamentarism, while maintaining representative institutions; this is what will make these institutions, currently prostituted to the bourgeoisie, institutions at the service of the working classes.”