Organizing at Amazon: What Went Wrong? (+1 more)

Jane McAlevey on the fight in Bessemer, plus Amy Wilentz on Hunter Biden.

By Start Making Sense and Jon Wiener

(Igor Golovniov / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

https://embeds.audioboom.com/posts/7844411/embed/v4

The union organizing campaign at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., was defeated by a vote of 1798 against and 738 in favor. Jane McAlevey argues that the biggest factor in the vote was the laws that give tremendous advantages to the corporate side—but the union itself made a series of tactical and strategic errors. Jane is The Nation’s strikes correspondent.

Also: Hunter Biden was the target of a massive Republican attack campaign for more than a year leading up to the election; at the same time, the gossip pages seized on his disastrous private life. They made the most of his decades of alcohol addiction and drug abuse, and his subsequent affair with the widow of his brother. Now he’s written a book—it’s called Beautiful Things: A MemoirAmy Wilentz comments.

[Listen]


The Next Fight Against Voter Suppression

Dale Ho on Georgia, plus Karen Greenberg on ending our forever wars.

By Start Making Sense and Jon Wiener

(Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

https://embeds.audioboom.com/posts/7839139/embed/v4

There’s one political prediction that always comes true: Record turnout in one election will be followed by a tidal wave of voter suppression efforts before the next one. So it’s not surprising that after 2020 had record turnout, 2021 is seeing voting rights under attack nationwide by Republican-controlled state legislatures. Georgia has taken the lead—and Georgia is being challenged in court by the ACLU, along with the the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Dale Ho comments: He’s director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, and supervises the ACLU’s voting rights litigation nationwide.

Also: Joe Biden and Congress should end our forever wars—and they can—by starting with three key steps: Karen Greenberg explains. She is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and author, most recently, of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State.

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How Corporations Crush the Working Class

TRANSCRIPT:

The most dramatic change in the system over the last half-century has been the emergence of corporate giants like Amazon and the shrinkage of labor unions.

The resulting power imbalance has spawned near-record inequalities of income and wealth, corruption of democracy by big money, and the abandonment of the working class.

Fifty years ago, General Motors was the largest employer in America. The typical GM worker earned $35 an hour in today’s dollars and had a major say over working conditions.

Today’s largest employers are Amazon and Walmart, each paying far less per hour and routinely exploiting their workers, who have little recourse.

The typical GM worker wasn’t “worth” so much more than today’s Amazon or Walmart worker and didn’t have more valuable insights about working conditions.

The difference is those GM workers had a strong union. They were backed by the collective bargaining power of more than a third of the entire American workforce. 

Today, most workers are on their own. Only 6.4% of America’s private-sector workers are unionized, providing little collective pressure on Amazon, Walmart, or other major employers to treat their workers any better.

Fifty years ago, the labor movement had enough political clout to ensure labor laws were enforced and that the government pushed giant firms like GM to sustain the middle class.

Today, organized labor’s political clout is minuscule by comparison. 

The biggest political players are giant corporations like Amazon. They’ve used that political muscle to back “right-to-work” laws, whittle down federal labor protections, and keep the National Labor Relations Board understaffed and overburdened, allowing them to get away with egregious union-busting tactics.

They’ve also impelled government to lower their taxesextorted states to provide them tax breaks as a condition for locating facilities there; bullied cities where they’re headquartered; and wangled trade treaties allowing them to outsource so many jobs that blue-collar workers in America have little choice but to take low-paying, high-stress warehouse and delivery gigs. 

Oh, and they’ve neutered antitrust laws, which in an earlier era would have had companies like Amazon in their crosshairs.

This decades-long power shift – the ascent of corporate leviathans and the demise of labor unions – has resulted in a massive upward redistribution of income and wealth. The richest 0.1% of Americans now have almost as much wealth as the bottom 90% put together.

The power shift can be reversed – but only with stronger labor laws resulting in more unions, tougher trade deals, and a renewed commitment to antitrust.

The Biden administration and congressional Democrats appear willing. The House has just passed the toughest labor reforms in more than a generation. Biden’s new trade representative, promises trade deals will protect American workers rather than exporters. And Biden is putting trustbusters in critical positions at the Federal Trade Commission and in the White House.

And across the country, labor activism has surged – from the Amazon union effort, to frontline workers walking out and striking to demand better pay, benefits, and safety protections.

I’d like to think America is at a tipping point similar to where it was some 120 years ago, when the ravages and excesses of the Gilded Age precipitated what became known as the Progressive Era. Then, reformers reined in the unfettered greed and inequalities of the day and made the system work for the many rather than the few.

It’s no exaggeration to say that we’re now living in a Second Gilded Age. And today’s progressive activists may be on the verge of ushering us into a Second Progressive Era. They need all the support we can give them.