Union struggle at Amazon: Biden wants to bring workers back from Trump


Warehouse workers at the mail order company Amazon decide in the US state of Alabama whether they want to be represented by a union. US President Biden openly supports the project and draws conclusions from the Trump shock.

US President Joe Biden’s video message was brief but clear: I have my eye on Alabama. In Birmingham, the largest city in the state, a potentially groundbreaking decision will be made. Should a union represent the 5,800 workers in an Amazon warehouse in the future? The company’s votes have been counted since Tuesday. A result is not expected until the weekend at the earliest. It would be the first Amazon site in the US with union representation. The company employs 800,000 people across the country. During the pandemic, Amazon has grown to become the largest employer in the US alongside Walmart.

“America was not built by Wall Street, but by the middle class, and the middle class by the unions,” promoted Biden for the vote and listed the advantages of being a representative. Union leader Stuart Appelbaum was blown away: “That was more than we had hoped for,” he said: “We have never received such support. It feels like the beginning of a movement.” Appelbaum has headed employee representation since Bill Clinton’s second term in office.

“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” Biden said in his message. Amazon in Alabama is accused of some of this in order to influence the vote of its employees in the interests of the company. This makes the vote even more of a “David versus Goliath” media issue. One where the White House and Biden went behind the challenger. This is a great success for employee representatives. The union had made representations after Biden took office and informed the new government about the project in Birmingham.

An unreached electorate

About 85 percent of the workforce at the Amazon company are black. The president’s message could meet with open ears there. In recent years the south of the USA has also organized itself politically across the board. Blacks played a crucial role in ensuring that Biden even sits in the White House and has a wafer-thin majority in the Senate. The state of Georgia, for example, where a third of the voters call themselves black, they colored democratically blue, including both senatorial seats. This was mainly because they mobilized potential Democrats better than in the past.

Biden’s fraternization with the trade unions may also have been born out of political necessity. As an outspoken friend of the workers and unions, Biden was supposed to guide these very groups back to the Democrats and enable them to win a landslide together with the voters in the suburbs. That didn’t work. In the relevant constituencies, he fared worse than ex-President Barack Obama and even Hillary Clinton in 2016. Because of the overweighting of rural areas in the US electoral system, Democrats can only win their majorities with these voters.

For decades, the US has seen a historic change in the electorate and thus in the two major parties. Of the 265 constituencies where at least 40 percent of adults are employed in unskilled labor jobs, Biden only won 15 last November, a research group found. In the constituencies they won, an average of 23 percent were unskilled workers. In Trump’s constituencies, it was 31 percent. Of the white unskilled workers, 35 percent more voted for Trump than for Biden, according to by-election surveys. Accordingly, the Republican also expanded its support for non-white workers. In 2016, a fifth of them voted for Trump, last November it was a quarter.

Republicans still tied

Biden continues to try to take countermeasures as a friend of the workers. The Republicans are thus in a strategic quandary. You have to distance yourself from the Democrats, but you also don’t want to lose the support of the working class that Trump won. So far, such as at the conservative CPAC conference, they have been hiding behind cancel culture and other lines of conflict between whites and other ethnic groups of voters. Economic policy goals were hardly mentioned at the conference. That could be because the main topics of February Republican voters were illegal immigration, lack of support for the police, high taxes, and perceived bias in the media, not the economy.

There are also exceptions. When it became clear after the election that Republicans had received a lot of support from Latinos and workers in general, Missouri’s Senator Josh Hawley – the young and conservative type with potential – tweeted, “We’re a working-class party now. This is the future.” Influential Senator Marco Rubio from Florida sees this future as “a party based on a multi-ethnic (…) coalition of working Americans”. Accordingly, Rubio supported the efforts of the union initiative in Alabama in a guest post in “USA Today”. After all, Amazon waged a “war on workers’ values”.

Clinton and Obama disappointed workers

A placard outside the Amazon Center in Birmingham, Alabama indicates the vote.

(Photo: AP)

In the long run, however, a missing party-wide message is politically risky. “If you don’t act to improve people’s quality of life, they will turn away from you,” predicts former Republican MP Carlos Curbelo from Florida of the New York Times. Internally, an internal party conflict is raging, which is why ex-President Trump presented a black list of unwanted party politicians at the CPAC conference. The Republicans still have time to sort out. But the Democrats can sing a song about the possible consequences of permanently not addressing such an important group of voters as the workers directly.

It was the Democratic President Bill Clinton who in the 1990s pushed his party and the country further into the market-liberal corner and also cut social programs. Barack Obama promised in 2007 that as president he would support the workers, “put on his comfortable shoes and picket you with you”. He didn’t keep his promise. He held back when it came to helping those who suffered from the economic crisis in 2008, sending millions into economic despair. Trump addressed those workers who had been disappointed by the Democrats for decades and shocked Democrats and the US as a whole with his election.

Actions and signals

Obviously, Biden does not want to repeat these mistakes. So far, the president is pounding. He delivered parts of the 1.9 trillion Corona aid package to lower-income Americans. This includes direct payments and other support for families. However, a minimum wage increase was canceled shortly before the adoption in order to get the necessary votes for the whole package from the own camp. A lot of resentment followed, as not only the left wing, but a large majority of the population supported the measure.

Now a gigantic infrastructure package with a volume of up to 4 trillion dollars is to be launched. It should stimulate the economy, make it more sustainable and more climate-friendly. The Republicans also wanted an infrastructure plan, but under Trump it never came to fruition. Biden emphasizes at every opportunity that the restructuring that is necessary due to climate change could bring very well-paid jobs. It is his promise to the workers that they have a future in this country in the democrats’ vision of progress, and that as president he does not only think of the upper urban educated classes.

A far-reaching law

The “Protecting the Right to Organize” Act (PRO Act) is to be understood as a further signal in the direction of workers. It is supposed to make it easier to organize oneself together and to make harassment by employers punishable. The main point of criticism of the law is that workers in unionized companies cannot forego participation, but pay sums in any case. “The most significant revision of legislation for joint negotiation in the private sector since the 1940s,” says The Wall Street Journal of the initiative. The House of Representatives has already passed the bill through Democratic votes. Next, the Senate has to vote.

Biden supports the law. It is very unlikely that it will receive the necessary majority of 60 percent in the Congress Chamber. But in the population, support for unions was 66 percent last year. This made it bigger than it had been since 1999 and not since 1967. Sometimes signals like video count, especially when it comes to a choice. This is the only reason why some union giants consider Biden “perhaps the most union-friendly president of all time”.

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