Marble Falls My first reaction was disbelief. I asked Dharmendra Kumar, ACORN India’s director in Delhi, “Do you realize the time difference between Bangkok, Thailand and me?” He was moderating a panel at the Asian Pacific World Social Forum that would run between 415 PM and 545 PM Bangkok time which would be 315 AM to 445 AM Central Standard Time in the USA. The panel was about Amazon’s growth around the world and was entitled “The Price of Convenience.” I would represent ACORN International he wrote and other participants would include Nick Rudikoff with the global union federation, UNI, Parminder Jeet Singh, IT for Change, based in India, Casper Gelderblom, Progressive International based in the Netherlands, and another one of our family of organizations, Marielle Benchehboune, from Lyon, France with ReAct Transnational. What could I say, but, yes? I turned off the lights at 9PM and set the alarm for 245 AM to have a chance to bring a cup of coffee into the Zoom gallery with me.
I knew Nick’s work, better than I really knew him, back to his efforts directing the organization of warehouse workers in California’s Inland Empire at the same time I was running the Walmart organizing in Florida and India. Rick Smith, my partner on that drive, and I had spent a day with his staff comparing notes in Riverside during that time. He reported that UNI’s members had been on the Amazon case for a decade. He shared a deck on their research on the company. We all know the behemoth that Amazon has become, but it was still somewhat shocking to see slide after slide at how the pandemic, a global tragedy in every way, had been a watershed moment for the company, doubling their sales. They built 220 warehouses in 2020, but that was already in the works independent of the pandemic. As the slides clicked on, the pure scale of the company seemed almost impregnable. He shared that the European Union was having trouble making its monopolization case against Amazon to collect the $36 billion fine they had levied. It was hard to shake an understand, even as he mentioned organizing efforts in several countries that had pushed the company, of how long our odds were.
Gelderblom highlighted the mobilizations that Progressive International had helped organize, especially the most recent Black Friday and the Make Amazon Pay campaign. Parminder Singh emphasized that we have to understand Amazon as a tech company. We learned of a new breakthrough statute in India that would force Amazon to share sales data and analytics with companies using their platform, both individually and collectively, and enable them to share it with others in their industry and beyond as well. Marielle detailed the work that French unions had undertaken where they represented some warehouses and the obstacles they faced in organizing the 60% of the Amazon workforce that were subcontractors. I kept my remarks brief and focused on the need to support internal efforts like those of Amazonians United in specific warehouses, also the smalls steps we were trying to assemble to broaden the fight by supporting individual workers wherever they were employed in the USA to take concerted activity using the NLRB’s slightly more robust enforcement mechanisms in place now with the company. Nick and I seemed on the same page in fearing that the scheduled March elections in Bessemer and Staten Island were unlikely to see us celebrating union victories.
It was worth the wake-up. I had trouble going back to sleep. It’s encouraging and exciting to see the amount of research that has been done on the company and the number of fronts where various organizations and unions have engaged them directly, legislatively, and publicly. At the same time, it all seems like we’re mosquitoes on an elephant’s back. We’re winning some battles, but Amazon is winning the war. Hopefully, these kinds of collaborations will be able to assemble the kinds of innovative and unique organizing strategies that can move more workers into the fight to force accountability and justice from the company. This campaign is definitely one where “dare to struggle, dare to win” has to be our motto.