The historic union vote at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, comes at a pivotal moment for US unions. While the result has not yet been declared (at the time of writing), the huge wave of publicity and awareness that it has caused could galvanise support for workers and unions across the country, no matter what the outcome is.
Unions in the US and across the Western world more generally have been in decline for the last four decades. This is thought to be an important factor in the stagnation of worker wages and the growth of inequality over the same period. Aggressive anti-union policies have become the norm in many large corporations. However Covid-19 has led to a step-change in union activity, as it exposed the worsened working conditions and heightened concerns about safety protections in places like Amazon warehouses that not only continued operating, but saw surges in demand and profits.
“The union drive in Bessemer, Alabama, is going to have a ripple effect,” said Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the US. “It’s about so much more than Amazon. It’s about fundamental power and inequality. About a labor movement that’s innovating and organizing on a new frontier to take on issues like data collection, and making progress in the long march for civil rights. And Bessemer is inspiring people all over the country to take collective action with their co-workers. This isn’t the end, it’s a powerful beginning.”