Learning from Amazon.

A warehouse on New York’s Staten Island, known as JFK8, has become the first Amazon workplace in the world to be unionised following a grassroots campaign led by an activist by the name of Chris Smalls – who had previously been fired by the company for leading a health and safety walkout.

The victory is notable, not just for being the first at a notoriously aggressive union busting company, but for the type of campaign that suceeded where numerous other attempts had failed.

These Amazon workers organised around issues that mattered to their colleagues and through forming relationships with each other from the ground up. According to the New York Times, campaign tactics included everything from petitions and TikTok videos right through to making “outdoor s’mores” for workers coming off long shifts.

“When workers faced family crises, the budding union prayed. One fired employee became homeless, and the group set up a fund-raising campaign.” Smalls’s aunt even “provided home-cooked soul food: macaroni and cheese, candied yams, collard greens and baked chicken” to workers.”

Seth Goldstein, a lawyer who provided free legal support to the workers is quoted as saying “What you do is you create a community that Amazon never really had for workers”.

They recieved resources, infrastructure and other support from established unions along the way, but the campaign itself was concieved, executed and won by Amazon workers themselves.

Jane McAlevey is one of the union thinkers widely credited with influencing the direction of the victorious campaign. As the New York Times puts it, she has “questioned an approach she called “mobilization,” in which the union takes on an employer primarily through the efforts of a professional staff, consultants and a cadre of activists rather than a large group of rank-and-file workers.”

Instead, McAlevey advocates for what she calls “high participation unions” notable for the sorts of tactics used by Chris Smalls and his union, concieved of and driven by member leaders.

TEU is currently registering members as participants in McAlevey’s Organising for Power workshops which seeks to give participants skills she believes are key to successes such as the Amazon victory.

These include “organic leadership identification, one-on-one conversations, and the role of structure tests in building strong organising bodies.”

If you are interested in attending, please contact megan.morris@teu.ac.nz to learn more.