I wanted to talk a bit about the incredible feat pulled off on Staten Island yesterday by a group of workers at Amazon. As a day has passed, I’ve read and pondered this historic event that future trade unionists will talk about for decades.
First I want to say congratulations to those workers and Mr. Smalls. You’ve accomplished something that so many workers these days can’t figure out. That they are better off with a union. Even if it isn’t the biggest one. Workers are always better off with a union. Let me be clear, I am just a worker. I myself am no labor leader. I work everyday like all of you. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time and effort over the last couple decades just trying to spread the gospel of the worker. I’ve had very limited success though unfortunately, in making things better for anyone. But I always showed up. Your win yesterday has reminded me that in this labor movement I went from young troublemaker to fossilized dinosaur overnight And I don’t like it! 😜
But I’ve learned a few things on this island over the years and I felt like writing about them this morning. Take them for what they are worth.
I learned that very quickly the goals of the group quickly end up becoming about the group rather than the concerns you all started out with. Many people will show up and have ideas. They will want to make sure their names are attached to yours. They will want to make sure they stand next to you. It will be hard but you must resist this. Don’t let folks co-opt your movement and attach their goals to it. Stay your course. If these folks did not work on the floor of that fulfillment center their opinions are backseat. Their ideologies cannot be prioritized in any way shape or form over the concerns of the 8000 workers in that building. People will want to use your efforts and work to push their agendas. It’s out there. Beware.
Politicians will be there. They too will want to attach themselves to your movement. But understand the work you must do for yourselves is separate of them and their goals. When Amazon starts throwing money around they will break your heart. You can’t be angry. But you must understand it will happen. It’s reality. Be prepared for it. But keep your union separate from political parties. It’s not easy to stand up to pressure from power, but it is the one most vital thing you must do. Feelings will get hurt but a union that stands the test of time will be the result. That’s not to say you don’t build relationships. You do. But interests will diverge. Relationships on that front are of convenience. It’s harsh to hear. But it’s factual. Ask any Charter/Spectrum worker still on strike after 5 years. They’ll explain.
Your hardest fights lie ahead. Amazon seriously underestimated you guys. They won’t make that mistake again. The finest union busting minds will be assembled. Be ready. They will open their money spigot and friends will quickly fade. “The activists” will be bought off. “Community leaders” will get the grants they want. “Politicians” will get the donations. Workers and their concerns always, always take a back seat. Always. Believe me when I tell you this. Many will say I’m bitter and negative. But hear me. When your concerns make life inconvenient for others. They’ll be gone. Ask a building trades union member and they can tell you about the folks that rub elbows with the Cappocias, Nicotras and other developers that do all they can to break the backs of their unions. They’ll be able to explain.
Finally keep it humble and remember that the biggest land battle besides the civil war on American soil was a battle to form a union. That’s a fact. You can look that up. They used to crack your skull open for trying to form a union.
Eugene Debs who by all measures was a labor leader in his time once said:
“I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition; as it is now the capitalists use your heads and your hands.”
These are good words to remember. Again. I myself am not a labor leader. And folks may consider this all negative. Most folks have come to ignore me. You all can too. But consider, because I am not a labor leader I am telling you what I know without reservation. I make my living with my hands. Nobody can take anything away from me. So do with these words as you wish. But please, guard your walls and build your union strong.