Bessemer, Alabama: The whole world is watching

An injury to one is an injury to all. 

This famous labor slogan, popularized by the Industrial Workers of the World over a century ago, is more meaningful today than ever. But it has a double meaning for workers at Amazon, where the workplace injury rate is exceptionally high due to the backbreaking, fast-paced work.

Their pain is felt by “all,” as in the slogan — the working class and oppressed of the world — who are watching with rapt attention the struggle for union representation in Bessemer, Ala. Warehouse workers, a huge majority of them Black and almost half of them women, are voting by mail in a National Labor Relations Board-supervised election running from Feb. 8 to March 29. The outcome, which could lead to the first unionized Amazon facility in the U.S., will be announced after all the ballots are counted.

Every classconscious worker is rooting for the union: the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The courageous workers in the Deep South, taking on the hated doublecentibillionaire Jeff Bezos, are fighting for all of us. Alabama’s Black poultry plant workers, who are represented by RWDSU, have taken on a range of the organizing tasks. 

This is labor vs. capital in its truest, rawest expression. 

We are inspired!

And with very little advanced preparation, there were over 50 actions on Feb. 20, a national day of solidarity called by the Southern Workers Assembly and backed by the Support Alabama Amazon Union Campaign and others. These actions brought together a diverse group of progressive forces: union leaders, Black Lives Matter activists, housing advocates, migrants, young and veteran socialists, and current and former Amazon workers — many of whom have no history of working together. Bitter cold unseasonably cold conditions in the South could not put a chill on solidarity.

From the video message posted in January by the NFL Players Association to the handwritten letters sent by incarcerated workers, statements of support represent a cross section of the working class. The class unity around the Bessemer struggle must — and will — expand even more between now and March 29. 

This historic union drive did not unfold in a vacuum. The context for it is the mass movement that emerged this past year for economic justice and against racism. As the pandemic took its toll, workers waged hundreds of job actions demanding a safe workplace. The Black Lives Matter upsurge in response to the police lynching of George Floyd has been called the biggest civil rights movement in U.S. history. 

Bessemer is a continuation of this radical trend.

Movements are not linear; they have their ebb and flow. But the tide today is rising and lifting all boats. Every worker must grab an oar and help row this essential class struggle to victory.

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