On the union election loss in Bessemer

by Alan W, Ben S, Sumter A

After Bessemer, we can’t afford to give up on the South.

Elijah Nouvelage/Getty images

Nissan. VW. Boeing. Mercedes-Benz. Delta. Wal-Mart.

And with the vote count from Bessemer, Alabama called in Amazon’s favor, we can now add them to the list of defeats of modern major unionization campaigns in the U.S. South. It would be easy to despair and doubt that victory is even possible under the hostile political and legal circumstances of the Southern states. We could cry foul, and call on the workers of Bessemer to pick up their battered spirits and do it all again in a second election. We could point to the PRO Act and try to legislate away capital’s advantages, urging workers to wait until labor law and the NLRB are on their side. Conversely, we could ease our pain by finding a silver lining, claiming that even defeated unionizing attempts somehow benefit workers by advancing “the cause.”

Instead, we must remember to put workers and our real-world circumstances at the center of our analysis. It is vital to understand our material contexts in order to create and carry out plans that win. However, while the terrain of struggle is important, it is often difficult and slow to change. DSA is fighting like hell to pass the PRO Act — but there is never a guarantee of victory. Instead of lamenting our conditions, it is our duty to fight on, and to do it in a tactically and strategically sound way.

Fortunately, the tactics and strategies for successful workplace organizing campaigns are well known, and don’t change from Bessemer to Burbank. Winning unionization drives almost always share common characteristics: a public and representative organizing committee of worker leaders, escalating and eventually public collective actions, and majority or supermajority support that is confidently assessed and tested before the final vote (or strike). These tactics have worked before, even in the most adverse circumstances. They’ve worked against gun-toting Pinkertons and slick union-busting legal firms.

So how do we build supermajority movements of workers on the job and in our communities? By treating workers as capable and intelligent, and supporting them as leaders, instead of trusting that positive press coverage and public support are sure signs of victory. By acknowledging their legitimate fears of employer retaliation — talking to them one-on-one, in person, away from the workplace. By respecting workers enough to wait to go public until majority support has been established.

If it was easy, it would have already been done. Those who are not embedded in Southern communities may find it tempting to see us again as “red and left for dead.” But working people fighting for our homes and communities don’t have that option. Labor’s future has been and remains dependent on our ability to organize the South. Only a revitalized labor movement, willing and able to take production-stopping action, can defeat organized capital. As socialists, we have a crucial role in rebuilding that movement, so we can fight for an economy and a society that values people over profit.

To develop your organizing skills, build your community’s strength, and work to win the fight, join DSA today!

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Atlanta DSA Editor in Chief

This is a collection of op-eds and official statements from the members of the Atlanta brand of the Democratic Socialists of America.