Amazon Unionization is a Defeat for Big Labor

Strangely, the groundbreaking unionization vote at Amazon’s JFK8 fulfillment center on Staten Island is a defeat for big labor.

To explain, the JFK8 unionization was a grassroots effort organized by a black guy from New Jersey – not Big Labor. Instead of support from national unions, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) relied on actual workers and a few volunteers from local socialist groups, Jacobin reports.

To explain, the JFK8 unionization was a grassroots effort organized by a black guy from New Jersey – not Big Labor. Instead of support from national unions, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) relied on actual workers and a few volunteers from local socialist groups, Jacobin reports.

Why Big Labor Fails

Big Labor’s Bessemer unionization failed for several reasons. First, critics claim the RWDSU relied upon professional union organizers, mostly white northern college kids, in their outreach to Alabama workers.

Second, Alabama is a Deep South state with a strong culture of hostility to outside interference. Third, there are deep racial and cultural divides in Alabama’s working class that make unionization difficult.

I think the Bessemer failure is a classic example of terrible strategy and lousy marketing. Bessemer unionization was a terrible strategy because Alabama is a historically tough place to unionize.

Most local institutions in Alabama, including government, media, and community groups, are hostile to unionization. Similarly, Alabama’s cultural, historical, and racial animosities create deep divides in Alabama’s labor force. Simply getting black and white workers in Alabama to talk could be difficult. Moreover, there will be little help or sympathy for the union from the community.

To elaborate, a successful strategist attacks the enemy where they are weakest. For example, in World War II, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill concentrated the British war effort against the “weak underbelly of Europe.” Namely, Italy and North Africa.

By attacking the Axis where they were weakest, the British did the most damage with limited resources. In addition, the British forced Adolph Hitler to divert resources from his Russian war effort to save his incompetent ally, Benito Mussolini, from defeat. Finally, attacking weakness gave the British all-important wins to boost their morale.

In contrast, Big Labor tried organizing the toughest Amazon fulfillment center first and failed. Hence, Big Labor wasted money and resources with no results.

Conversely, the ALU organized a center in a union-friendly state in a left-leaning city, New York. Hence, the ALU organized where they would find a friendly environment and support. For example, cops who apologize to organizers they arrest and ignore outreach efforts.

The Bessemer effort was lousy marketing because the RWDSU leaders did not study the workers and try to learn how to communicate with them. Instead, they just went in and lectured workers on the benefits of unionization. They made no effort to talk to workers or understand their point of view.

In comparison, the ALU went to great lengths to understand its prospects and communicate with them. For example, ALU organizers approached African immigrants by giving out free African food – a tactic that worked.

Does Big Labor Want to Fail?

I think Big Labor could have organized JFK8 and other New York Amazon facilities but did not.

Cynics will say Big Labor has no genuine interest in organizing Amazon (AMZN) for political reasons. For instance, Big Labor leaders could fear new unions will have new members who could vote them out of their cushy high-paying jobs.

I think Big Labor leaders are just corrupt, complacent, incompetent, and lazy. Instead of organizing, too many labor leaders have spent the past few decades spending their members’ dues. Some union leaders appear to be leading upper-class lifestyles at workers’ expenses.

For example, the United Auto Workers (UAW) owns the Black Lake Golf Club in Michigan. I doubt most autoworkers golf, but their union leaders do. I suspect most UAW members would vote to sell the Black Lake Golf Club and put the proceeds in a strike fund if they got the chance.

The Black Lake Golf Club exposes the gulf between Big Labor and actual workers. Labor leaders who spend their days in offices, or the golf course, will not battle management. Additionally, golf-playing union leaders are probably incapable of understanding ordinary workers.

Big Labor’s Big Lie

The Amazon Labor Union’s Staten Island victory destroys a Big Lie that permeates the modern American Left.

Here’s the standard version of the Big Lie: America had a strong and healthy labor movement until President Ronald Reagan (R-California) waved his magic wand and made the United States hostile to unions. Specifically, leftists claim Reagan turned America against unions by breaking one strike in 1981.

In 1981, Reagan fired all 12,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) who went on strike against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Reagan later banned the FAA from rehiring striking PATCO members. Finally, PATCO was de-certificated for staging an illegal strike.

The myth often spread by left-wing blogs and podcasts is that Reagan’s action made unionization difficult or impossible in America. In reality, Reagan’s action only affected federal employees.

Reagan had little choice. The PATCO members were violating a federal law. As president, Reagan took an oath to enforce federal law. The idea that Reagan destroyed the labor movement by crushing PATCO is ludicrous, but it is now gospel on the left.

I view the Reagan killed unions’ fantasy as a self-serving myth. If big bad Reagan destroyed unions, lazy, incompetent, stupid, and corrupt labor leaders escape blame. I think Big Labor’s lazy leaders are far more responsible for union membership’s decline than Reagan.

The ALU success destroys Big Labor’s lie by showing it is possible to organize workers even at the most hostile companies. Moreover, the ALU success shows the lack of effective leadership could be the actual cause of union membership decline.

Hence, JFK8 is a double defeat for Big Labor. First, it shows Big Labor is incapable of organization. Second, the ALU’s success exposes Big Labor’s favorite refrain as a shoddy myth created to hide its own failures.

Hopefully, the Staten Island success will show workers that many of today’s labor leaders are frauds and failures. Unionization is possible in America with effective strategy and marketing.

Unions are not Magic

Unions are not the solution to most of America’s problems. Yes, unions can perform enormous good by improving working conditions and raising wages.

However, unions cannot solve problems such as Climate Change, governmental corruption, political polarization, racism, income inequality, technological unemployment, homelessness, lack of opportunity, and lack of access to healthcare and education. Only the government can solve many of those problems. Moreover, the only way government can deal with those problems is through political action and reform.

Unions can be part of that process, but unionization alone will not solve most of society’s problems. Anybody who thinks increasing unionization will end income inequality, or solve the housing, opioid, or retirement crises is living in a fantasy world.

I think giving a few people lucky enough to have union cards or certain jobs higher salaries, more benefits, and better working conditions will make income inequality and political polarization worse. Raising pay and improving conditions for a unionized minority will give people more reasons to resent their neighbors.

Finally, many of America’s current problems stem from the glorification of one class of private institutions, corporations, by a minority on the right. Such magical thinking led to the catastrophe of privatization and the shrinking of government power.

Identical thinking about unions, a private institution, will lead to similar catastrophes. Relying on unions to solve income inequality or the retirement crisis will lead to disaster.

The only solutions to America’s problems are a restoration of effective government, expansion of the safety net, and political democracy. Unions alone will never achieve those goals.