by Wade Rathke
April 11, 2021
Pearl River There’s no way to put sugar in your coffee. The union’s loss at Amazon is deeply disappointing. A victory would have been a huge blast of wind pushing us forward. The defeat, so widely observed, is gale force knocking us backwards. The union knew they were going to lose and, in my humble opinion, should have blocked the election and, if necessary, pulled the petition, in order to fight again, even taking a public relation’s beating, given the level of hype they had encouraged. Having said that, I don’t hold the union responsible for some of the exaggerated, sky-is-falling way that the media and many other observers have tried to pin on this donkey, even though it really hurts all of us responsible for workers’ progress in the terms and conditions of employment.
Part of the issue lies in the inexperience and ineptness of any pretense by most media sources of having reporters who are even vaguely knowledgeable about workers and unions. In our lifetimes we have seen major papers, even in our largest cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, pull reporters off of the labor beat, and where they might cover unions at all, it’s part of a generic business and work beat, which is a grab bag of this and that, giving most of the journalists no real understanding. For example, the story in the Washington Post, contained the same statistic on over all union density, attributed to Georgia State University, even when they were citing the numbers for the membership in the private sector at a little more than 6% on one hand and a bit over 10% on the other. It was all gobbledey-gook to the reporter and editor, so they didn’t care to sort it out. Their point was simply that unions are getting weaker, who cares about the numbers! When you have to read the “Work Friend” column in the Sunday New York Times Style section to see something in the papers that is really trying to talk to people as workers, you know there’s a problem.
The clickbait mentality that insists on huge winners and destroyed losers, confusing politics with sports rather than governance, also characterized the dramarama elements of the Amazon election. This was one group of workers, albeit large and significant, in one place and time making a decision about a union, but it was pitched as the rise and fall of the entire labor movement of fourteen million members. This kind of mouth-breathing also sought to assess the damage to President Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, and even the curious support by Florida Republican Senator Marc Rubio as he tries to establish some populist bonafides for a coming presidential race. Biden never mentioned Amazon per se, did so late in the campaign after many ballots were already marked, and didn’t comment on the election. Talk about Teflon.
This was only a body blow to pro-union workers in Bessemer and their union, life goes on for everyone else. Workers still have issues. Unions still must organize and win. Elections count votes in a particular moment in time. They are not definitive measures of movements and organizations. They are battles in a war. When you win, you still have nothing but hard work ahead of you. When you lose, you still have nothing but had work ahead of you, it’s just a bit harder than when you win. Lessons are learned. Wounds are mended for the next time, and a better outcome in these endless battles for justice for working people.
Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International.