We May Well Look Back…

Assignment: Sunday article. Usual Criteria: The biggest political story of the week just passed. My Conclusion: The union vote at Amazon on Staten Island.

Friday we learned that the union movement won the vote to organize at the Amazon facility in Staten Island which is by far the reddest of the five New York City boroughs. That is huge on several levels!

Traditionally an established union tries to form a local at a facility. In this case it was a brand new union. That also may have been the secret of its success; you had Amazon workers talking to fellow Amazon workers. Did this teach the labor movement a lesson?

The pandemic has been problematic for most businesses. That may be the understatement of the still young decade! Amazon has been the most glaring exception. For some time consumers – consumer demand constitutes 70% of demand in our economy – had been steadily moving toward online shopping and away from trips to brick and mortar stores. The pandemic only accelerated that trend. Many feel that outlets like Amazon (the dominant entity in that segment of business) are the future. They, like many other firms, have spent tens if not hundreds of millions to fight unionization. Why? Because they enjoy the exploitive advantage they have when their workers cannot bargain collectively.

Amazon has long practiced what most would call abusive and exploitive behavior toward its employees. This is widely chronicled but perhaps no better than in Emily Guendelsberger’s book, On The Clock. As an individual employee people, almost all of whom desperately needed the job, had little choice but to put up with it until their bodies were broken to the point where they no longer could.

In the opinion of many business observers Amazon also represents what the “new economy” will largely look like. I grew up in a town where the good jobs that paid a living wage and had a good benefit package were largely in auto plants and steel mills. Those factories are mostly memories today. There has always been and always will be a need for jobs for “C” students that terminated the formal education with high school. They are not lesser people; on the contrary they are the average/typical.

The working class (from which I came) has yet to recover from the Reagan presidency. Hopefully we will look back on Friday as the first step in the comeback.

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