Lessons From Bessemer Part 5: Rich Yeselson Writes Bessemer Loss Was Crushing Defeat

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By Working Mass

Rich Yeselson writes in Jacobin that the loss in Bessemer was a crushing defeat. Yeselson agrees with McAlevey that, in addition to Amazon’s union-busting, the “malfeasance” of the RWDSU is to blame for the defeat, and that they should have pulled out after the change in the size of the bargaining unit.

But unlike McAlevey, Yeselson provides no tangible recommendations for what RWDSU could have done better. Instead, Yeselson focuses on a distinction he creates, seeing the defeat as “a reflection of a disjunction between ‘laborism,’ the intellectual and activist infrastructure supportive of organized labor, and the labor movement itself.” But Yeselson never clearly explains the relationship between this disjunction and the defeat in Bessemer, or how to fix it. 

Yeselson’s useful insight is in comparing and contrasting Amazon’s facilities with those of the targets of historic American union drives. He contrasts General Motors’ Flint plant, which employed some 25 percent of GM workers, with Bessemer’s facility which only employs around 1 percent of Amazon workers. 

Yeselson is right to say that “the decline in union density continues even as labor scholarship and advocacy in books, articles, and social media grow more compelling.” Obviously everyone in the labor movement would trade all the media attention the Bessemer fight generated for a win in the election itself, but that doesn’t mean the campaign was worthless. We hope the irony of a labor intellectual lamenting the futility of labor intellectuals while condemning the hard work of on-the-ground organizers will not be lost on the reader.

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Continue To Part 6…

Lessons From Bessemer

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