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California Amazon Strikers, Allies Blockade Massachusetts Warehouse

Above Photo: 4 AM Teamsters shut down Amazon in Norwood, MA. July 8, 2023. Steve Gillis.

Norwood, Massachusetts – With military-like tactics and discipline, over 300 Teamsters and their supporters converged in the predawn darkness on a sprawling Amazon warehouse (DCB4) and truck barn in the Boston suburb of Norwood on July 8. At exactly 4 a.m., contingents of workers moved out of the shadows of wooded side streets and, with bullhorns blaring, blocked off multiple gates with moving pickets.

Picketing was led by two striking Amazon delivery drivers — Cecilia Porter and Brandi Diaz — who had flown in from Palmdale, California. The action brought out nearly 100 supporters, organized in text chats without public announcement by young workers whose movement blossomed last summer from the 64-day strike and 24-hour occupation of the unionized Starbucks at Boston University.

Commanding the operation were Paul Weiskel, with the Teamsters Local 25 Futures Committee and director of Amazon organizing, and Raphael McKnight of Local 25’s Movie Division. The Futures Committee “provides a platform for young workers to mobilize themselves and cultivate leaders who know what it truly means to be a Teamster.” (teamsterslocal25.org)

With forces soon strengthened by uniformed United Parcel Service (UPS) drivers from a barn across the street and as surprised and vastly outnumbered cops began scrambling to the scene, the picketers immediately stopped multiple Amazon big rigs from delivering to the facility!

From then until 8 a.m., not one vehicle could move in or out. This was during a Saturday morning when Amazon vehicles typically create traffic jams throughout the residential neighborhood! The striking drivers vowed to keep returning until an acceptable contract is won in the Palmdale warehouse.

Drivers’ strike makes history

In April, Diaz, Porter and their 82 co-workers at Battle Tested Strategies (BTS) in Palmdale became the first of an estimated 275,000 drivers who deliver Amazon packages in the U.S. to unionize, in this case with Teamsters Local 396 in Los Angeles.

Diaz spotlighted their motivation to organize and strike: “Amazon is a wealthy corporation but the workers who make it possible are all living paycheck-to-paycheck. I’m a single mother and am barely making ends meet for my three kids on Amazon’s low wages. We deserve better from Amazon. Our unfair labor practice strike will continue until Amazon stops violating the law and starts taking responsibility for the workers who deliver its packages.”

Instead of bargaining with the workers, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — on and off the top of lists of the world’s wealthiest capitalists — canceled the contract with BTS. The company is one of 3,000 sub-contracted “Delivery Service Partners” which organize drivers under the corporate legal fiction naming them “independent contractors.” This exploitative maneuver has thus far been allowed by U.S. courts and utilized by Uber, Lyft, Doordash and a myriad of app-based, billionaire-producing companies to avoid all responsibilities as an employer.

Amazon effectively fired all the drivers who had already ratified a first-ever union contract with BTS. The firings were only one of Amazon’s dozens of unfair labor practices in Palmdale. The company has committed hundreds of blatant violations of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act in its war against unions, most notably in Staten Island and Albany, New York, and Bessemer, Alabama.

“These Amazon workers organized a union for fair pay and safe jobs but Amazon illegally refused to recognize their union or bargain with them,” said Teamsters Local 396 Secretary-Treasurer Victor Mineros. “The support from communities around these warehouses and other workers in this industry has been tremendous. We are going to hold this corporate criminal accountable for how it treats the workers who wear its uniforms and deliver its packages.” (Teamsters.org)

Since these trailblazing drivers hit the bricks in Palmdale on June 24, the Teamsters union has sent militant striker flying squadrons to shut down Amazon warehouses in California, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Dress rehearsals for major looming class battles

Sean O’Brien was launched into the presidency in March 2022 by 1.4 million rank-and-file workers and the Teamsters for a Democratic Union caucus, who were angry at former leadership’s contract concessions at UPS and corporate pandemic abuses throughout Teamster industries. O’Brien has declared daily the union’s intentions to overturn UPS’s exploitative labor agreement while moving to organize Amazon by militant actions – without reliance on impotent National Labor Relations Board processes.

Increasingly worried bourgeois media headlines warn of a supply chain disaster if the Teamsters union makes good on the promise to take their 340,000 members out on strike at UPS on Aug. 1 when the current contract expires. Already the rank and file’s 97% strike vote momentum has defeated UPS’s onerous two-tier wage scale and tentatively won dozens of “non-economic” victories. These include air-conditioned vehicles, language to ensure drivers are paid correctly and on time, and grievance process improvements during ongoing contract negotiations.

But after one meeting on “economic issues,” the union announced that the UPS offer was unacceptable, and the company’s CEO Carol B. Tome and her posse of lawyers reportedly walked out. UPS pulled in a record $100 billion in revenue in 2022, which in turn delivered record profits for its Wall Street shareholders.

In subsequent days, tens of thousands of UPS workers across the country have mobilized practice pickets at UPS barns training in tactical techniques, media and community relations, and internal political education and solidarity. Concurrent mobilizations have been happening nationwide among supporter organizations, many of them powered by increasing numbers of working-class and socialist-minded youth.

What do we want? More class-conscious labor and community solidarity!

This growing mobilization of labor and community forces was reflected in today’s predawn offensive at Amazon warehouse DCB4 by spirited contingents of Starbucks baristas, local university student unionists, hotel and restaurant workers, activists from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and tech workers who are organizing. Also present were members of the Democratic Socialists of America, the Young Communist League, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and the Independent Socialist Group.

Workers World Party cadre assisted with security, brought and set up sound systems and helped lead rousing non-stop chanting and music at the main gate.

The pandemic and war-era recession is developing in fits of bank insolvencies, high-tech layoffs, skyrocketing interest rates and inflation and contradictory “labor shortages” in essential industries. Ruling class commentators now openly fear this will turn into capitalist economic crises of world-historic proportions. The practice run in Norwood is exactly what is needed on a massive, nationwide scale to combat and ultimately overthrow the owners of global capitalist production.

Steve Gillis is a 37-year member and an elected leader of the Boston School Bus Drivers Union, United Steelworkers Local 8751, now working for the members and retired from driving.

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