Lessons From Bessemer Part 1: Learn From Bessemer To Beat The Bosses

By Working Mass

On April 9th, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama had rejected unionization, by a vote of 1798 to 738. For several weeks, this union drive captured the attention and imagination of the labor movement and the wider public, as the mainstream media provided coverage at levels seldom given to the workers’ movement. Onlookers were hoping that this election would be the first major blow to Amazon, one of the largest employers in the United States second only to Walmart.

With some 600 ballots in dispute, the results were likely closer than this figure indicates. And widespread claims of illegal activity by Amazon means that Bessemer is likely headed for a second election, albeit after a protracted legal battle. Nonetheless, the labor movement and the left media have responded to the election outcome with an outpouring of understandable disappointment.

Many labor organizers have taken to the pen to share their perspective on what lessons can be learned from the union drive in Bessemer and the strategic decisions made by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in organizing the campaign. And even more have taken to social media to voice their own perspectives, and to critique or commend the writings of the commentariat.

At stake in this discussion is not just how best to understand what happened in  one facility in Alabama, but how we can rebuild a fighting labor movement by adding to its ranks and confronting the most powerful twenty-first-century employers. Despite recent fightbacks by union teachers and others, the unionization rate has continued to decline and the total number of unionized workers has hovered between 14 and 15 million over the last decade. With unions – and socialism – rising in popularity, it may feel like the labor movement is on the verge of a historic comeback. But substantial successes in new unionization have yet to materialize.

Working Mass is launching this series – Lessons From Bessemer – to provide a useful and accessible collection of the different perspectives that have appeared on the Bessemer defeat, and to solicit additional insights. We hope that this series will help our movement to collectively think through what it will take to succeed at the new organizing drives that we know are necessary to rebuild the labor movement and take the fight to the bosses and to capitalism as a whole.

Continue To Part 2…

Lessons From Bessemer

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