Leaders on Display and the Amazon Problem

ACORN International Amazon India Women Workers

            Delhi      We met a parade of leaders in Delhi representing the diverse projects of ACORN/Janaphal in the city and throughout India.

The first was the most fun, when a dozen women leaders from all around the settlement where the office is located in East Delhi assembled to share their work with us.  There was a fair amount of traffic in-and-out, because the meeting turned out to coincide at midday when some children were getting out of school.  Nothing fazed us though, and they never missed a beat.

Many of the issues would have been familiar to community organizers anywhere in the world.  Sanitation and garbage pickup was a big one.  Pressure from the members had gotten results, but this is a permanent campaign and something of a Sisyphean task, since garbage and trash was strewn across the road from us everywhere in a no-man’s land, along the side of streets, and elsewhere.

These were women leaders for a largely women’s organization, so two other issues were discussed even more than trash:  domestic violence and “dark spots.”  Many of these women, and even the women organizers, had been frequently summoned to settle family affairs not only about abuse but claims on dowry, child care, and other cultural issues.  The success rate was high, but when all else failed or violence was unchecked, the organization reported those cases to the Delhi Commission on Women (DCW) for action.  The “dark spots” campaign was more preventive and involved forcing lights to be erected in crime spots where there was drinking and gambling and women felt unsafe, as well as in parks where they needed to take their children.  Many lights were constructed to satisfy their demands.

At the end of the day, we met the key leaders for the Delhi branch of our Joint Hawkers Action Committee, JHAC/ACORN affiliate.  Their work has been the mothership for expansion into another 30 cities around India either through direct organizing or affiliation into the federation.  The working president, the general secretary and others talked about their victories, mainly the Act and the reopening of the night markets during Covid, as well as their challenges with the city, police, and general livelihoods.  Add everything up that JHAC is doing and we’re close to 400,000 members in that organization alone, which triggers a lot of other discussions.

Sandwiched in the middle of these meetings were leaders and organizers of the Amazon India Workers Association.  Say the word Amazon, and if the next word is challenges, somehow that doesn’t speak to how hard this is.  Only the managers of these warehouses work for Amazon, while the workers are employed by three different contractors.  Despite the clarity of Indian labor laws that mandate 8-hour days and no more than 48-hour workweeks, Amazon’s warehouse schedule is 10-hour days and 50-hour weeks.  Talking to the organizers about why we had not been able to win on such a clearcut issue, it turned out that the workers weren’t there.  They liked having a two-day weekend, even if it meant extra hours, since Saturday work is standard still in India.  They only make $120 USD a month anyway.  Our demand for 25000 rupees monthly rather than 10,000 RPS would still only cost the company a bit over $300 US per worker per month.  This is going to be a slog, but we’re on our way.  Workers are signing to create a union this year.

Nothing works without rank-and-file leaders rising out of the membership, so it was encouraging to meet so many good, strong people in ACORN’s affiliates.