Workers still look to unions to get all they want and deserve

Chewy Shaw, Executive Vice Chair, Alphabet Workers Union

UNIONS HAVE BEEN DECLARED DEAD AGAIN. They aren’t. But that never stops the corporate mainstream media great spin machine.

The fact workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama recently decided not to join a union proves unions have lost their mojo—the spin machine says. Workers just aren’t interested in unions anymore—the spin machine says. Never mind that the claims come thanks to a spin machine set up.

All a set up

It was the spin machine that hyped the Amazon vote up to the sky. It gave the story all kinds of headline space and TV time. It got liberals all lathered up. A gaggle of “progressive” members of congress declared their public support, along with Bernie Sanders and finally the President of the USA. The hype said there was no way the union vote could fail. But then it did.

And there it was: manufactured proof that workers just didn’t like unions—even when all their leaders told them they should. Except it wasn’t proof of that at all.

All it proves is that: (a) workers are not sheep and cannot be “brainwashed” by the boss or the union; (b) the employer always has a massive unfair advantage when it comes to how union votes are presented and carried out; (c) unions can make mistakes in strategy and tactics.

No big deal

“This happens all the time,” says Jane McAlevey, author and crack union organizer, “unions lose votes and unions win votes. Sometimes you lose two or three times—and then you win. In the legendary Smithfield organizing campaign, workers at the nation’s largest hog slaughterhouse won their union on their third election—after a 16-year fight. The point is you don’t quit.”

McAlevey says the Amazon union drive needed to be more personal. “Workers watching coworkers take a stand in large numbers is what wins, not rallies with out-of-state superstars, not famous football players, not famous actors and actresses, not even Bernie Sanders or the president of the United States.”

The beat goes on

Reality continues to confirm that workers still turn to unions as the only way to win what they deserve at work—even in the high tech industry.

For example, on January 4, workers at Google, and other Alphabet companies, announced the creation of the Alphabet Workers Union with support from the Communications Workers of America (CWA)—the first of its kind in the company’s history. Alphabet is Google’s parent company, with more than 120,000 workers.

“This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers,” said Nicki Anselmo, Program Manager. “We’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected.”

The new union is part of CWA’s CODE-CWA (Coalition to Organize Digital Employees) project. It follows successful union drives by other Google workers—like HCL contract workers in Pittsburgh and cafeteria workers with UNITE HERE! in the Bay Area—as well as unions formed by workers at other tech companies like Kickstarter and Glitch.

The power of collective action

The Google workers who walked out were very public about all the kinds of discrimination they experienced at work. It makes a big difference when white collar workers see other white collar workers take action, says Veena Dubal, law professor at the University of California.

“They come to see their working conditions as something that can be addressed through collective action and not through individual actions with one’s manager or HR. And it’s powerful.

“Making those stories public was key to new organizing, says Dubal. “When people hear how others are being treated, and can connect directly to it themselves. It makes them angry. And that anger means that they don’t just want to leave the place, that anger means they want to change the place. And the way that you change the place is through collective action.”

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