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Rank and File

Our Big Push Was For Union Democracy And A Plan To Win

In 2022, Amazon workers on Staten Island made history. The JFK8 warehouse in New York voted to unionize, forming the first U.S. union in the company’s history — an independent union known as the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), representing over 8,000 workers. Since then, Amazon has been intransigently refusing to start contract negotiations. Union-busting tactics, such as the persistent firing of pro-union activists, continue at JFK8 and other facilities. Amazon even filed a case arguing that the National Labor Relations Board, the agency that enforces labor law, is “unconstitutional.”

Union Democracy Stands Up

The First Weekend of November, 2023, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) held its annual convention at a hotel near O’Hare Airport outside of Chicago. It was the 48th convention since the rank-and-file union reform movement’s founding in 1976. The mood was confident and upbeat, with organizers announcing an attendance of 500 Teamster members from across the country. It was the largest TDU convention since 1997. The Friday dinner banquet speaker was Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien, who took stock of what his administration had accomplished since taking office in March 2022.

For Open Bargaining, Start Early And Build

In many unions, ratification of a collective bargaining agreement can leave members alienated and angry. Sometimes members will be learning about the major features of a tentative deal for the first time. Little time is given to discussion—members are expected to approve what leadership recommends, and officers may get defensive at questions or complaints. In some unions, members know their opinion doesn’t matter and may not even bother to vote. But there’s another way to go, to build a powerful, participatory, energized union through the bargaining process: open bargaining.

There Is No Substitute For The Rank And File

The Bessemer Amazon unionization effort was full of potential. It held the promise of a union bringing together the Black Lives Matter movement and a struggle for labor rights in order to take on one of the biggest, most odious corporations in the country. Maybe a Southern state would set off a movement again, like West Virginia and Oklahoma kicked off the teachers’ spring.  Alongside Left Voice comrades, I decided to go to Bessemer, Alabama the week before voting ended. As I prepared to go, I had a weird feeling. I kept looking at interviews and I saw just two Amazon workers, over and over and over. They were great spokespeople, no doubt. But where were the other 5,698 workers? 
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