U.S. and World Politics

Workers On the Move!

By Bonnie Weinstein

Christian Smalls is interim president of the newly formed Amazon Labor Union at JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York, which is now representing roughly 8,300 workers at that warehouse.

According to an April 6, 2022, New York Times article by Gina Cherelus, titled, “Taking On Amazon in Streetwear”—an article about what Smalls was wearing at the April 1, 2022 Amazon Labor Union victory rally when the winning vote was announced—she reports:

“Mr. Smalls, the union’s 33-year-old president and a former Amazon employee, put on a black durag and paired it with a fitted baseball cap, hoodie, and sweatpants—all in red, his favorite color. Over his sweatshirt, he threw on a pair of goldtone chains and a red Amazon Labor Union T-shirt to show solidarity with the employees. …Mr. Smalls stood out in the crowd—popping champagne in streetwear and big sunglasses, a man whom Amazon had underestimated from the start. The monthslong battle he led against one of the largest corporations in the world wasn’t waged in a suit and tie or even jeans, as Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos often wears. Instead, Mr. Smalls did it in sweats, with sneakers on his feet and grills in his mouth.”

According to the article, Smalls helped design the ALU union shirts in black, white, hot pink, teal—Smalls said, “We need to look like Skittles,” referring to the multicolored candy. (Readers will recall that Skittles is the candy that Trayvon Martin was bringing home when he was murdered by George Zimmerman February 26, 2012. I’m guessing this association was not unintended by Smalls.)

On April 7, 2022, a week after the win was announced, Smalls, and Derrick Palmer, ALU vice president of organizing, flew to Washington, DC, to meet with Teamsters president, Sean O’Brian to garner support for the ALU—asking the Teamsters for resources such as office space, manpower, funds, lawyers, and negotiators, etc.

O’Brian, typical of established labor officials, was dressed in business attire. Chris Smalls and Derrick Palmer were dressed in streetwear—the clothes average workers wear daily.

This is symbolic of the grassroots nature of this union. The ALU does not see themselves in partnership with the bosses but in direct opposition to them. So, they wear ordinary, everyday clothes that most workers wear because they are workers.

The independent, grassroots nature of the union

In reporting about the meeting with O’Brian at the ALU’s April 8th press conference the next day, Smalls made sure to clarify that, “…we’re not affiliating with the IBT or other established trade unions. …We will remain independent. We won this way, workers organizing ourselves. We won’t give that up.”1

Chris Smalls started working for Amazon in 2015. He was terminated March 20, 2020, when he organized a walkout demanding COVID safety measures be implemented at the warehouse.2 All the other leaders and organizers of the union are still currently working in the warehouse.

The union is organized democratically—they have meetings, discuss issues, make democratic decisions—and then carry them out in the spirit of unity and solidarity.

The leadership itself is diverse in age, ethnicity, and gender. They are the core union organizers in the warehouse. They know their fellow workers and the workers know them.

They won the yes vote and continue to gain support by talking to their fellow workers daily, handing out educational material about the right of workers to organize, and how a union will help every worker on the job.

They hold rallies outside the gates of the warehouse, give out T-shirts, provide free food—from cheeseburgers to African dishes—that appeal to the diverse ethnic backgrounds of their fellow workers.

Talking to fellow workers face-to-face is their modus operandi.

They are educating themselves about the early history of the American labor movement and how the first unions won union representation and they are applying those lessons to their organizing strategy.

And it has worked. They have won. They have changed the face of labor today.

The obscene wealth
of the ruling elite

In an August 10, 2021, article online at Economic Policy Institute by Lawrence Mishel and Jori Kandra titled, “CEO Pay has Skyrocketed 1,322 percent Since 1978,” the article reports:

“In 2020, the ratio of CEO-to-typical-worker compensation was 351-to-1 under the realized measure of CEO pay; that is up from 307-to-1 in 2019 and a big increase from 21-to-1 in 1965 and 61-to-1 in 1989. CEOs are even making a lot more than other very high earners (wage earners in the top 0.1 percent)—more than six times as much. From 1978 to 2020, CEO pay based on realized compensation grew by 1,322 percent, far outstripping S&P stock market growth (817 percent) and top 0.1 percent earnings growth (which was 341 percent between 1978 and 2019, the latest data available.) In contrast, compensation of the typical worker grew by just 18.0 percent from 1978 to 2020.”

This extreme economic inequality between the wealthy, capitalist elite and the masses of the working class is the underlying impetus of the new radicalization that is taking place in the world today. The bosses are raking in the dough at fantastic rates as the working class is forced to suffer ever-increasing austerity measures. This is the modus operandi of capitalism.

What the ALU is fighting for

The union is fighting for a modest starting pay rate of $30.00-per-hour, paid sick leave, job security measures such as a longer workweek, regular work schedule, etc.—to combat the 150 percent worker turnover rate. They are also calling for “quality-of-life” improvements like the right to keep their phones on the warehouse floor, longer bathroom, and lunch breaks, and demanding that the company provide shuttle bus services for employees with long commutes.3 (Workers who don’t have cars sometimes have to spend two hours each way on public transportation to get back and forth to work.)

The ALU is now busy organizing shop stewards from the ranks in every section of the warehouse so they can effectively build support for the demands they have raised in their union drive and see that they are carried out.

They are actively organizing other warehouses including LDJ5, right across the street from JFK8, with another 1,500 workers, who will be voting for the union beginning April 25-29, the count is expected May 2.

And since their victory at JFK8, the ALU has been responding to inquiries from workers in hundreds other Amazon warehouses across the country—and even from workers in different companies who are struggling with many of the same issues.

Building democracy and solidarity

The ALU attributes their victory to the workers’ direct democratic participation in the union decision making, and in the continuing organizing efforts on the warehouse floor and outside the gates.

Not only is the ALU hoping to organize Amazon warehouses nationally, but they are also expressing their solidarity with Starbucks’ workers who are organizing for union representation and winning union votes in store after store across the country. They have expressed solidarity with Walmart workers who are struggling to form a union and have visited fellow Amazon workers at Bessemer Alabama. While there, they spoke to coal miners in nearby Brookwood Alabama, about 23 miles from Bessemer, who have been on strike at Warrior Met Coal for over a year seeking better pay and benefits after making concessions to help the company survive.4

The ALU recognizes the importance of solidarity between workers everywhere who are trying to better their lives and the lives of family and friends.

This union understands and teaches that the collective labor of the working class created the stupendous wealth that has been stolen from us by the bosses. They know in their gut that independent, democratic, labor organizations strengthen unity and solidarity among the working class. And they know that working class unity and solidarity in opposition to the capitalist class is the only power strong enough to re-distribute the wealth back to the workers who created it.

The unique power of this new union movement

We can’t emphasize enough that Amazon workers, Starbucks and Walmart workers, coal miners, hospital and restaurant workers, truck drivers and delivery workers—all “essential workers” have one very important thing in common—they can’t be offshored.

Companies providing essential services—be they small companies or giant mega corporations—can’t move to countries offering cheap labor and resources to the bosses like the manufacturing and industrial companies have done.

Essential workers are here to stay! Fundamentally, if essential workers stop working, the work won’t get done. That’s power!

If the ALU can successfully organize their workplaces, it will be a tremendous victory for humanity. It will inspire workers to follow their lead. It will show that victory over the tiny few who seem so powerful is possible if workers organize together in unity and solidarity in pursuit of our common interests.

It proves that together we have the power to be victorious over the billionaires who exploit our labor, oppress our rights, threaten us with weapons of mass destruction and plunder the earth for wealth and power over us.

The Amazon Labor Union is creating a new blueprint for the victory of workers everywhere—bringing workers together democratically, independently and in opposition to the bosses—based on our common interests, and valuing and finding strength in our diversity.

They deserve every bit of our support.

Note to readers: Please help continue this historic struggle all the way to victory and beyond with a financial contribution to the ALU Solidarity Fund on GoFundMe at:




4 “Striking coal niner says he’s ready to go back to work, if they do us right.”