Lessons From Bessemer Part 8: Joshua Brewer Responds to Outside Critics

  • Reading time:4 mins read

By Working Mass

In a lengthy interview with LaborNotes, Joshua Brewer, the head RWDSU organizer on the Bessemer campaign, provides a detailed and valuable account of the campaign from the union’s perspective. He pushes back against critics like McAlevey and argues that the campaign was a worthwhile initiative despite the disappointing result.

Brewer disputes the characterization of the campaign as a top-down, union-controlled effort. He emphasizes that Bessemer was a “hot shop” that reached out to RWDSU and wanted to move fast — if RWDSU initiated the campaign, it would have unfolded over a much longer period of base-building. In particular, Brewer says that RWSDU decided not to pull the NLRB petition after they learned about Amazon’s inflation of the unit size primarily due to pressure from workers who wanted to continue with the election.

Brewer also underscores the challenges that this campaign faced. He explains that the decision not to do house calls was made not just to protect workers’ safety but to avoid a COVID outbreak among organizers that would have been fatal to the campaign due to the small size of the staff. He also points out that COVID made it harder to have the regular, informal conversations among workers that are particularly important for inoculation against union-busting tactics and talking points. Finally, he argues that some of the virtual organizing tactics the union developed to cope with the pandemic also proved useful for contending with the extremely high turnover rate at the plant (at least 100 workers a week), which can make a house call-based campaign inefficient in the best of times. 

Overall, Brewer makes a compelling case that despite the defeat, and despite room for improvement in the campaign’s organizing tactics, it was not a mistake for RWDSU to press on with the Bessemer campaign. As he observes, once Amazon’s specious challenges to pro-union ballots are discounted, over 1000 workers voted for a union in one of the most hostile environments imaginable. That’s worth celebrating.

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Lessons From Bessemer

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