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The Internationalist
  January 2021

From Amazon Union Drive to Hunts Point Teamster Strike

How the “World Scab Web Site”
Aids the Bosses

There it is, in your face, so stark that you can’t miss it: as we have repeatedly warned, the grotesquely misnamed World Socialist Web Site serves union-busting bosses against the unions. The (latest) proof: on January 15, an article posted on the “World Scab Web Site” calls to “Vote ‘No’ to the UFCW-backed union at Alabama Amazon facility!” So, acting in tandem with Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, the political bandits of David North’s WSWS are actively trying to prevent the organization of a union at the viciously anti-union e-commerce monopoly’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse. It’s far from the first time: the WSWS has likewise opposed unionization of auto parts plants in the past.1 Revolutionary socialists have a diametrically counterposed position: we say emphatically “yes” to unions, while fighting to forge a class-struggle leadership.

North is listed as chairman of the International Editorial Board of the WSWS, as well as national chairman of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) and leader of an “International Committee of the Fourth International” (ICFI, one of three different groups that go by that name). In the late 1970s, his outfit, then called the Workers League, sponsored a lawsuit trying to get the bourgeois courts to oust the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party – just one of the grotesque and sinister operations for which “the Northites” became notorious. In recent decades, they have been obsessed with a number of bugbears. One is any recognition that systemic racism exists in the U.S. – that is, the fact that racist American capitalism structurally oppresses black people in particular, as it has since the days of slavery. The WSWS/SEP routinely labels any struggle against this special oppression “racialist,” a nefarious plot to divide the working class. Another special object of their ire is labor unions.

This is no accident. In addition to his aforementioned titles, North was for years the Chief Executive Officer of Grand River Printing and Imaging, a multimillion-dollar non-union printing company in the Detroit, Michigan area. For the last three decades, North’s political mouthpieces have vituperated against unions, declaring them to be bourgeois (capitalist) institutions. Typically, the WSWS postures as a left-wing critic of the sellouts by the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy. That can fool some people until they look more closely. Behind that façade, these scab “socialists” actually side with the bosses in trying to destroy unions, the mass defensive organizations of the working class under capitalism. That was its role during the 2019 California teachers strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland, that’s what it did in the recent Hunts Point Market strike in New York and what it is doing now in opposing the union organizing drive in Bessemer.

In this latter case, the fake-socialist swindler North, d.b.a. “International Amazon Workers Voice,” was outraged that for the first time in the U.S. a major union organizing campaign is in progress at an Amazon “fulfillment center.” Starting on February 8, workers at Amazon’s BHM1 warehouse in the Birmingham suburb of Bessemer, a former center of the steel industry, will cast a mail ballot in an election under the auspices of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), on whether they wish to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), a division of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). The company is urging its “associates” to vote “no,” as is the WSWS gang of would-be union-busters.

To be perfectly clear, the leaders of the RWDSU and UFCW are classic union bureaucrats who use their posts sitting atop the labor movement to push policies of class collaboration. They have not shut down unsafe operations at the packinghouses which they have organized. In addition, RWDSU leader Stuart Applebaum is a linchpin of the subordination of labor to the capitalist Democratic Party (he is a member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee). Applebaum is also a top-flight operative of the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS),2 which dispatched him to keep unions in Tunisia in line in the 2011 “Arab Spring.” Revolutionary Marxists call on the unions to break with the Democrats and on the union ranks to oust the bureaucrats, who chain the working class to its exploiters, and to build a class-struggle workers party. This is in fact key to the fight to defend the unions, which have been under sustained attack from the bosses, who seek to destroy them – as do the pseudo-socialist swindlers of the WSWS.

Workers at Amazon’s Alabama warehouse badly need a union. Workers are required to pick items at breakneck speed – eight seconds each – to fulfill quotas of 400 items an hour, 2,500 a day. While the plant is ultra-modern (it has been open less than a year), the pace is so brutal that the turnover rate for employees is sky-high, with “at least 50 new people coming through every two weeks,” according to one worker (The American Prospect, 23 December 2020). Workers are supposed to be thankful for receiving a starting wage of $15 an hour. Meanwhile, the net worth (wealth) of Amazon owner Bezos has soared from $113 billion at the start of the pandemic to $184 billion as of December 7, according to a report by Americans for Tax Fairness (8 December 2020). With illusions of grandeur, Bezos has long yearned to build space “colonies for two or three million people” (and no doubt an Amazon sweatshop or two) on the moon.3

As any talented “union avoidance consultant” would, Mr. North of the WSWS seeks to make hay from the many betrayals of the union bureaucrats, which he crassly identifies with the unions as such. This means pitching the anti-labor line that the very existence of unions is to blame for labor bureaucrats’ dereliction of duty as the coronavirus pandemic makes life hell for “essential” workers, all while the top capitalists like Bezos live a parasitical existence, living off the proceeds of the toil of their wage slaves. In line with this, the WSWS shamelessly amplifies the complaints of backward workers about union dues. (The slick slogan of Bezos’ official union busters in Bessemer is #doitwithoutdues.) Organization costs money.

And that raises the question, who is paying for Mr. North's apparatus? There is a history to this: beginning in the 1970s, the ICFI led by North’s mentor Gerry Healy received over 1 million British pounds from bourgeois Arab regimes (Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Iraq, PLO and others) to act as their paid publicist while spouting off about a mythical “Arab Revolution.”4

A history of funding from capitalist sources, running a non-union printing company, using the bourgeois courts against left groups, siding with the bosses in opposing unionization – these are only some of the crimes of David North & Co. as he places himself on the opposite side of the class line from the workers movement.5 To hide this, he blows some smoke about phantasmagorical “rank and file committees” and counterposes these to real organizations of millions of workers. In line with the actual views, tradition and practice of revolutionaries from Marx, Lenin and Trotsky on, the Internationalist Group says that it is necessary to fight within the unions against the betrayals by the sellout, pro-capitalist bureaucracy and to build a leadership based on a fighting program of class struggle. You can’t do that by allying with the bosses – it’s as simple as that.

Voting in the NLRB-supervised union-recognition election is by mail ballot, set to begin on February 8, with votes to be counted on March 30. Needless to say, revolutionaries don't recognize the pronouncements of the NLRB as the last word, and frequently oppose the rulings of this agency of the bosses’ government. Moreover, a “yes” vote does not in itself promise victory to the workers in their struggle against the exploiters. But of course workers should vote “yes” – and even a bureaucratically “mis-led” union offers important protections against arbitrary actions by management. A victory for the union would be a powerful sign that the 6,000-plus workers in Bessemer are coming together and finding their voice, and it could spur unionization efforts at Amazon plants everywhere. A “no” vote, on the other hand, would be a setback to efforts to organize the workers in Alabama, throughout the South and across the country. That is just what Jeff Bezos wants, with David North eagerly playing second fiddle to the bosses’ anti-union tune.

Class-conscious workers say “union yes,” and condemn North and his crew as the low-down scabs that they are. ■

  1. 1. See “SEP/WSWS: Scab ‘Socialists’,” The Internationalist, December 2007.
  2. 2. The ACILS is the successor to the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) which was a big-time conduit for CIA funds, infamous for helping organize U.S.-backed coups in Latin America (Guatemala, Guyana, Chile) and sabotaging left-led unions in Europe.
  3. 3. Miami Herald, 20 June 1982.
  4. 4. See “Where Were You, David North?The Internationalist No. 29, Summer 2009
  5. 5. Others include whipping up a witch hunt in the right-wing tabloid press against British mine workers leader Arthur Scargill during the 1984 coal strike, alibiing the execution of 21 Iraqi communists and turning over names and photos of Iraqi dissidents in London to the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.