By Tarang Saluja and Eli Gerzon
Norwood, MA — On Saturday, July 8, between the early hours of 4am to 8 am, Massachusetts saw its first Amazon picket. Teamsters and roughly 200 supporters from other unions and socialist organizations stood in solidarity to block about six tractor-trailers from entering the DCB4 Amazon warehouse in Norwood, Massachusetts.
This picket was the Massachusetts extension of the Teamsters Local 396 picket in Palmdale, California. After Amazon delivery drivers and dispatchers in Palmdale unionized with the Teamsters and reached an agreement with Battle-Tested Strategies, a contractor for Amazon, Amazon refused to recognize the contract and committed multiple unfair labor practices, including the termination of all 84 workers in the bargaining unit. Since June 24, Local 396 has been picketing not only in Palmdale, but also multiple locations across the country. There was another picket on July 7 in Connecticut, and these actions have been leading up to Amazon’s large annual Prime Day promotion on July 11.
The day before the Amazon picket in Massachusetts, Teamsters Local 396 organized a picket at an Amazon facility in Connecticut.
With this action, the Teamsters were able to use their position as a large union to mobilize around the country and employ a strategy that brought pickets to disrupt production and add pressure on Amazon around the country. “We’re just here to show Amazon we’re going to take this fight anywhere they want to take it,” said Cecilia Porter, a Teamsters Local 396 member and striking Amazon driver.
UPS workers, 340,000 of whom may go on strike August 1, were most prominent on the picket line. Greg Kerwood, a member of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) and a UPS driver, spoke to the common struggle in logistics. “Workers at Amazon do the same work, same job, same warehouse labor, same delivery labor. They deserve the benefits of a union contract, just like we enjoy at UPS.”
Rand Wilson, a part-time organizer with TDU, understands that the battle will not be easy, likening the challenge to earlier, unsuccessful Walmart organizing efforts. However, he is excited to try out new strategies and expand organizing horizons. Wilson spoke to the importance of solidarity across unions, stating that “not just the Teamsters but every union needs to be involved in a campaign to unite these workers and to build power with the rank and file of Amazon.”
Many other unions were there. Members of Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) showed up with “Our Fight is Your Fight!” signs. Far from a symbolic phrase, the Teamsters have offered concrete support for Starbucks workers. Julie Langevin, an ex-barista and current SBWU organizer, spoke to how Teamsters’ commitment to respect the picket line helped Starbucks workers at 874 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston maintain a strike for 64 days.
“One of the most incredible things about the Teamsters and the fact that they deliver supplies to all of our shops is that they don’t cross picket lines…so when we have a picket line and we keep it going 24 hours a day for 64 days, Starbucks can’t possibly open that shop.”
Cecil Carey, a Boston Teachers Union (BTU) member, also spoke to how solidarity between the Teamsters and teachers leads to material wins. “I want my students and their families to be able to have living wages and stay in Boston. And so I care about every worker getting paid appropriately and getting justice at the worksite.”
Anneta Argyres, president of the Professional Staff Union (PSUMTA) at UMass Boston, shares this concern for students and fellow workers at the university. “We are all facing the concerns about increasing cost of living and increasing inequality in our society … So I both see the struggles that our students at UMass Boston are having, trying to get an education and deal with that huge amount of debt, and I see what happens when we’re hiring new folks who are burdened with educational debt and trying to make ends meet and can’t even afford to work in a place like UMass Boston.”
Argyres also added that Amazon’s practices should concern all workers, warning that “if we allow employers to get away with the treatment that they want in Amazon warehouses, we’re all gonna be facing that same treatment.”
Jacksyn Bakeberg, a mathematics graduate student worker in the Boston University Graduate Workers Union (BUGWU) and a leader in the Boston DSA Labor Working Group, also observed the parallels between the corporatization of higher education and Amazon’s increasing cruelty. “I think Amazon is changing the landscape of what work looks like in the United States and in the rest of the world. And similarly, we’re seeing a really changing business model in higher education… a shifting towards viewing higher education more as a business.”
For Steve Gillis, a bus driver in Boston for 37 years and member of the Boston Schools Bus Drivers’ Union, it is clear how the Amazon model affects bus drivers. “Those of us who have been professional drivers… we see this model that Amazon is trying to push, like Uber and Lyft independent contractors. Workers? Not workers, no rights, no wages, no benefits, no unemployment, no workers’ compensation.”
He adds that fellow bus drivers have to work part-time at companies like Uber and Lyft to make ends meet. For Steve, this battle is part of the fight against “the corporate law in this country that allows Amazon to get away with this fiction and with this really illegal activity of not even treating their drivers like workers.”
This fight also extends to broader issues of social justice. Proudly wearing a SBWU shirt, Gillis was particularly animated about Strike with Pride, a strategy that SBWU has used to fight back against anti-LGBTQ attacks from Starbucks corporate. “Starbucks came in and ripped down rainbow flags. How fucking outrageous… joining, not only the Supreme Court, but right-wing legislatures and fascists across the country attacking LGBTQ folks? No, we won’t have it.”
Jamie Wallace from the Coalition for Black Trade Unions (CBTU) and Ed Childs from UNITE HERE Local 26 also see this struggle linked to broader social issues, particularly racism and war.
Wallace described “racism as another system that keeps the people separated and divided,” adding that it keeps the powerful in their position because “we are divided as a people and we haven’t come together to battle against these systemic oppressions that we are currently facing.”
Adding on to Wallace’s comments, Childs expressed concern that Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated while helping organize sanitation workers into unions and bringing together the Civil Rights movement and union movement, has been forgotten “as a symbol of the unionism.”
Childs also spoke to how war is used as a tool to divide and attack workers. After recalling how the U.S. has historically used war to repress unions, he added “When the U.S. has wars in Africa, those African workers are us. If the U.S. attacks Russia, those Russian workers are us. They attack China, those Chinese workers are us. Until you understand that, you’re losing. So, get out in the street!”
Passionate about eschewing artificial divisions, Childs also criticized how only some workers were deemed essential workers during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Don’t any worker think that they’re not essential and don’t any worker think that another worker’s not essential. We’re all essential. And if anybody’s out on strike, whether it’s a dishwasher or computer programmer, you get out there and support them.”
In addition to their commitment for shared struggles, many of these workers were also members of socialist organizations and shared a critique of capitalism. Most of the interviewees in this article were members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), or Workers World Party (WWP). Organizations like the Young Communist League (YCL) and the Independent Socialist Group (ISG) were also on the picket line but not quoted in this article..
Spencer, a member of SBWU and DSA, added to the message of solidarity with a critique of capitalism and what it does to workers. “No matter where you are, there are workers struggling… because that’s the nature of capitalism. That’s just the way that the system has been built, and the only real way forward is to dispose of that and create a new system.”
For many workers and leftists, this picket at Amazon was a landmark moment in the fight to create a new system. Everyone on the picket line recognized that this fight is everyone’s fight, and people’s support is needed for both this fight and every fight to come. With the conversations on the Amazon Teamsters picket line covering SBWU’s Strike with Pride, the shared critique of the larger capitalist system, and parallel trends of exploitation across industries, this picket was a concrete symbol of the developing awareness that the only way forward is to unite across our struggles.