New York Amazon Unionised!

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The campaign for a ‘yes’ vote for union membership at Amazon has won a victory in New York

WORKERS erupted in celebrations across the US on the news that Amazon workers forced the tech giant to recognise a trade union in America for the first time.

Workers at a New York warehouse voted 55% in favour of joining the Amazon Labor Union.

The group is led by former Amazon worker Chris Smalls, who made his name protesting against safety conditions at the retail giant during the pandemic.

Smalls’ victory marks a major defeat for Amazon, which had fiercely fought against unionisation.

However, in Alabama, where Amazon was facing a separate union drive, the company appeared to have fended off activists in a tight contest in which challenged ballots could yet overturn that result.

Together, the two elections mark a milestone for activists, who have long decried labour practices at Amazon, the country’s second largest employer.

Smalls emerged from the vote count looking tired but jubilant, and popped open a bottle of champagne he was handed by supporters.

‘We did whatever it took to connect with these workers,’ he told the crowd, recounting an against-the-odds campaign that started with ‘two tables, two chairs and a tent’ and relied on an online fundraiser for money.

‘I hope that everybody’s paying attention now because a lot of people doubted us.’

In a statement, Amazon said it was disappointed by the loss in New York and that it was evaluating how to proceed. It also accused regulators of improperly influencing the vote.

‘We believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,’ the company said.

‘We’re evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the (National Labor Relations Board)’.

Rebecca Givan, professor of labour studies at Rutgers University, said Amazon’s defeat by Smalls and his team of worker-organisers was a ‘really big deal’, calling it a ‘David and Goliath story’ that upset the odds.

But she warned he will be facing another tough fight when it comes to contract negotiations.

‘Amazon will do everything it can do undo this success, to break up these workers and to try to stop the momentum that will inevitably come from this victory,’ she said.

After the vote, Chris Smalls was instantly surrounded by supporters and assembled camera crews.

He and his team of worker organisers had struck out on their own, creating a brand new, independent labour union to launch their fight against Amazon.

Their victory was a moment of vindication for the former Amazon worker, whom the company once called ‘not smart, or articulate’ in a leaked strategy memo.

But, as he told the crowd, it is far bigger than that.

Amazon employs more than one million people in the US and it has extraordinary influence on work practices, even outside its doors.

The company has put up a wall of resistance to unions since its inception.

With this win, activists are hoping that wall is about to crumble.