On the morning of Aug. 1, Amazon workers and supporters shut down Amazon warehouse DSF4 in San Leandro, Ca. for several hours to expose the corporation’s hypocrisy and utter disdain for essential workers. The cul-de-sac where DSF4 is located was jammed full of honking cars that brandished signs calling for workers’ rights and racial justice. A motorcycle crew was in position to block off roads and keep protesters safe while activists held a socially distanced rally with music and revolutionary speeches. Many Amazon workers at the facility watched in quiet excitement — while their warehouse bosses were clearly panicking and refused to talk to organizers.
A coalition including Bay Area Amazonians, Tesla workers, Gig Workers Collective, People’s Strike Bay Area, Workers United Against COVID-19, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation held a car caravan to deliver a petition to the warehouse. The fiery and energetic action blocked entrances and exits to the facility — halting all shipping and loading activity — to demand the warehouse be shut down for deep cleaning, and all workers be given two weeks off with pay to quarantine.
The facility has seen four workers fall ill to COVID-19 in the past month, but management has not taken responsible action to ensure the safety of their workers by stopping operations and cleaning the warehouse. People around the United States have recently demonstrated a profound rage toward Jeff Bezos and Amazon leadership, which has boasted about its solidarity with the Black community and its care for essential workers, while simultaneously denying workers hazard pay and crushing warehouse organizing attempts under the pretense of “social distancing violations.”
Jeff Bezos has made an enormous amount of money during the pandemic, as Amazon is a popular and convenient shopping choice for those who have the means to stay home and socially distance. But these products do not just magically appear on people’s doorsteps.
Speeches by activists with the Bay Area Amazonians outlined this contradiction: Essential workers risk their lives every single day to transport millions of dollars worth of product, but who pockets the profits this work generates? Many of Amazon’s warehouse employees and drivers live paycheck-to-paycheck and belong to the same Black and Brown communities which bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic’s deadly impact. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos is making around $150,000 every single minute, and is on track to be humanity’s first trillionaire.
Who is the benefactor?
Who is the benefactor between the capitalist owner and the masses of essential workers who handle Amazon’s daily processes and distribution? Well, Amazon would like for its employees to cling to the idea that Bezos is the benefactor, since he owns the warehouses, owns the trucks, instructs workers on what they should do and pays them a wage. But that is a flawed line of reasoning that seeks to keep workers quiet and to manufacture gratitude toward corporate leadership. In reality, the worker is the benefactor, and the capitalist is a parasite who appropriates the value the worker generates and tosses back a few scraps. This action highlighted that without all the back-breaking work of Amazon’s warehouse employees and drivers, Jeff Bezos would not be making any money.
More speeches connected the ongoing struggle at Amazon with other workers’ struggles. Present at the action were activists from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, as well as the Service Employees International Union, all representing the interests of essential workers and their demands for just working conditions and compensation.
Bay Area Amazonians activist and organizer Adrienne Williams explained how Amazon products have to be loaded and unloaded by ILWU port workers, and that Teamster drivers have to handle the safe transport of these products before Amazon workers even interact with them. She also pointed out that Amazon leverages global inequality to seek out the cheapest labor costs, and looks with contempt upon the criminally underpaid workers in the Global South who manufacture their products. Read Liberation News’ interview with Williams for more information and a deeper perspective on the workers’ struggle at Amazon.
Repression of dissent and union-busting
Amazon’s brutal repression of dissent and consistent union-busting by management makes it difficult for workers to speak up. Many face the disastrous consequences of the pending eviction crisis in the United States and could easily be fired for fighting back against management. To Amazon, these workers are disposable, since capitalist society forces people to fiercely compete with each other for jobs in a job market that has been utterly devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. One brave Amazon worker, John Hopkins, was a key organizer of Saturday’s action and gave a powerful speech encouraging his fellow workers to speak up and fight back against corporate bigotry. He also concisely connected the struggle for workers’ rights at Amazon with the struggle for Black liberation:
“I want to tell you guys an anecdote about the last time I visited my grandmother in Mississippi. We were rolling down one of these old roads that she knows like the back of her hand. And, you know, it’s just one of these quiet old roads. You don’t see anything for a long time. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, we see this little beaten-up old shack. My grandmother says to me, ‘That’s the place where our neighbor came and forced my daddy to work the fields at gunpoint.’ [pause] Now, Jeff Bezos isn’t using a shotgun to force us to come to work, but he is absolutely coercing us.”
Hopkins was the one to personally deliver the petition to DSF4 demanding the warehouse be cleaned and its employees be given two weeks with pay to quarantine. He also advocated for another petition demanding that Jeff Bezos say the words “Black Lives Matter,” since the company leadership has carefully avoided using this phrase, allegedly too incendiary. But it is not. It is a simple and clear fact that BLACK LIVES MATTER! Hopkins demanded the company, “Not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.”
If Amazon is to use feel-good marketing slogans regarding essential workers and the anti-racist movement, then they must actively take the precautions to protect essential workers and to protect Black an Brown communities. The problem is that the company itself will not ensure the material safety of its workers, because it is simply not profitable for the owners. It is up to the workers themselves to rise up, demand their rights, and win.
Bay Area Amazonians also introduced a comprehensive set of demands to be considered after the San Leandro warehouse has been properly cleaned:
- Safety: Redesign workplaces with social distancing markers on the floor & train workers to use them
- PPE: Sterilize vans daily and provide drivers & flex drivers with adequate supplies & PPE
- Inform of cases: Create a transparent process for informing workers of positive COVID-19 cases
- Quarantine pay: Send any employee exposed to COVID-19 home immediately
- Essential items only: Suspend delivery of non-essential items during the pandemic.
- Living wage: Starting pay of $30 per hour
- Health care: Full medical benefits for all workers
- Workplace: Route designer in every warehouse
- No retaliation against workers who speak out & organize
- Safety laws: Follow state and local labor and safety laws
At around 11 a.m., the rally wrapped up and the participants rode off in victory. One of the final chants was “WE’LL BE BACK,” and activists hope to spark a nationwide movement of similarly disruptive direct actions in the continued workers’ struggle against blood-sucking capitalists like Jeff Bezos.
Visit Bay Area Amazonians to find more information and support their cause.