Amazon Union’s Chris Smalls Is Part of the Legacy of Black Labor Organizing

This op-ed argues that Black labor organizers have long recognized that better conditions for Black and brown workers result in better conditions for everyone.

By Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman and Katie Camacho Orona

April 5, 2022

…. In 2020, Amazon’s own demographic data also revealed that nearly 63% of its warehouse and call-center workers were Black, Latino, Native American, or multiracial, compared to approximately 21% of its corporate workforce. The Pew Research Center found that the majority of jobs that are being lost amid the pandemic are concentrated in the service sector where, in 2018, Black or African American workers and Latinos were overrepresented. Ironically, these workers are considered unskilled and, to some, unworthy of a living wage, health care, and/or financial security. Yet, unprotected workers in these jobs are coming together to fight for better wages and working conditions as we have seen at Amazon.

This is why it matters that Christian Smalls is a leader of a historic union-organizing movement: His persistence and frankly unapologetic Blackness honor the past, present, and future of workers who are fighting for their dignity. Smalls has remained humble about his role in the collective organizing drive, telling Labor Notes, “It’s not my union. It’s the people’s union.” But it’s worth noting the outsized role he played in the successful campaign because it was Amazon’s general counsel, David Zapolsky, who suggested that “[making Chris Smalls] the most interesting part of the story and, if possible, making him the face of the entire union-organizing movement” would kill the movement itself.

No one can deny that ordinary people taking on Big Tech is the epitome of fighting the power — a power that made billions during the pandemic shares little to nothing with frontline workers and fails to correct horrific working conditions. The anti-Blackness built into so much of our technology makes this win, spearheaded by a working-class Black man, that much more symbolic.

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