Amazon Vs. The Union (Again)

Our weekly Discontents, 9/27/2021

Image: The entrance of the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, taken in March 2021 during the height of the company’s anti-union campaign. Photo by Kim Kelly.

Hello friends! Kim Kelly here. I haven’t done one of these in awhile since I’ve been locked away in a tower (i.e. my house in South Philly) trying to finish writing a book, and have been slacking on Patreon/newsletter updates as a result. This past week, though, I stumbled across something that I just had to dig into a little bit, but didn’t have the bandwidth to pitch as a full-fledged article—and then remembered the beauty of the newsletter, in which I can just write about something without asking anyone else for permission or a platform. Freelancing is a pain in the dick, generally speaking, and situations like these are an excellent reminder that, for all of its flaws, the newsletter boom has given writers a shade more autonomy in getting our work out there.

So! The blog I blogged concerned Amazon, specifically its facility in Bessemer, Alabama. Earlier this year, workers there attempted to unionize with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). I spent several months covering that story on the ground, and it got a ton of media attention; people were drawn in by the David vs. Goliath nature of the struggle, and were understandably upset when the company’s extraordinarily intense anti-union campaign resulted in a loss for the union.

Less attention has been paid to the second round of this fight, though, which is playing out in the courts instead of in front of news cameras. I haven’t been following it as closely as I should because of the aforementioned book-writing thing (and the six-month coal miners’ strike I’ve also been covering, as a treat) but it seems that things are beginning to heat up, and a new election is on the not-so-distant horizon. My pal Hamilton Nolan had a good piece on that in In These Times last week that looked into how that process might shake out; take a second to read it if you haven’t already. I also know that workers within the facility are already talking union—and that there is a handful of striking coal miners in there spreading the good word. (Hopefully I’ll get to do a bigger story on that soon!).

With all that in mind, when anonymous person sent me an email last week telling me to check out the Amazon Bessemer facility’s Facebook page, I wasn’t surprised with what I found. You can read more about that here (it’s a public post because I wanted to ensure the info got out there, but I’d sure appreciate it if you considered subscribing!).

Speaking of subscribing, why do’t you go ahead and smash that subscribe button to make sure you don’t miss a single syllable from your pals at Discontents? This week’s roundup of smart, thoughtful, slightly feral leftist news and analysis is waiting for you just below the button.

The Flashpoint 

Eoin Higgins

How long ago was 2016? If you ask Daniel Galvis, chief of police in the small western Massachusetts town of Leyden, it was the "old days"—back when sending racist jokes and invective to town employees was acceptable. 

I covered Galvis's emails and the ongoing fallout this weekend. 

Erica Jensen, the board’s newest member—and who was not a recipient to the emails from 2015 and 2016—told me that the revelations of the emails have led to “a call to action for a number of people in town that Galvis should either be forced to resign, asked to resign, or replaced, or fired.”

“I think that there's a lot more under the surface,” she added.

This evening, the Select Board meets to decide what to do about the chief. 

In other news, fights over school mask mandates are tearing communities apart.

“As a parent, I feel like I’m sending my kids — one vaxxed, two not old enough yet — directly into the line of fire, but as a working mom, what other options do I have?” Amanda Kegley, a parent in Minnesota, told me. “Stress levels are off the charts.”

And a strike at a Kentucky bourbon distillery reveals the extent of the "we're all family" rhetoric from companies around the country. 

"But if the man that actually owns this business, if we were dealing with him, we would not be striking today. 10 years ago, this wouldn’t happen then. 10 years ago, this guy here, he would’ve made sure we weren’t out here. But it’s the ones below him… they don’t care."

This week, an anti-vaxxer meeting quickly goes off the rails and devolves into paranoia. 

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Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

War is violence done on incomplete information. I learned this from video games, though it’s been a lesson learned by people organizing violence forever . In the latest Wars of Future Past, I look at the “Fog of War,” the late 19th century term for operating without sufficient information. It’s a durable problem, even as an abundance of new information suggests, if not perfect information, more complete information for targeting purposes.

Thanks to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Kabul evacuation, between intense media scrutiny and the particular level of connection of residents in the city, we know that the August 29 drone strike, which the US initially claimed hit an ISIS-K target, instead killed Zemari Ahmadi, two other adults, and seven children. In the course of its 8 hours observing Ahmadi’s car, the US used six Reapers, armed drones with incredibly sophisticated cameras.

These drones gave the US the ability to track a vehicle and then destroy it and its occupants with a hellfire missile. That level of detail means they also offered a false certainty that this much information confirmed the initial identification of an assumed ISIS-K safehouse. Under what Clausewitz called the twilight of battle, things appear grotesque and larger than they are in reality. An initial error, a misidentification of a house, converted normal behavior in a city on the verge of takeover into death warrants for ten people. The drone war is full of moments like this. Only rarely are they so cleanly illuminated as tragedies after the fact.

Welcome to Hell World

Luke O’Neil

This weekend I collected a bunch of stories from Americans about getting sick or injured with traveling or living abroad which seems to be one of the most popular Hell World pieces in a good while. You will probably not be surprised to hear the way we do things in the U.S. seems absolutely fucked by comparison.

Here’s one example. I love this quote about our healthcare system changing the way we even think. We literally have to convince ourselves not to seek out healthcare here. We talk ourselves out of it. We put things off. We wait until it's too late and all because of fear of costs.

I went to Husavík, Iceland for vacation and got a bad upper respiratory infection that settled in my ear, making me dizzy and nauseous. Vomiting, the whole deal. It didn’t even occur to us we could go to a doctor because, you know, it wasn’t an emergency. (The American healthcare system damages your *thinking,* not just the public health). The guy running our guesthouse had to tell us we could go to a clinic.

So we go. They *apologize* to us(!) because they have to charge us (about $25) to see a doctor.  We were in and out in 30 minutes, prescriptions in hand. Total cost for antibiotics and Tylenol with codeine: $20. 

Last week I also wrote about r/HermanCainAward the group that shares screenshots of Covid- and vaccine-denying people succumbing to the virus that has a lot of people feeling conflicted.

I don’t want anyone to die but if they are determined to do so what the fuck can I do about it? It all reminds me very much of substance abuse. You can give all the grace and guidance in the world to a friend who is suffering but they won’t hear it until they want to change themselves.

That one is pay-walled. Grab 25% off here.

Foreign Exchanges

Derek Davison

On Thursday, the Biden administration’s special envoy for Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned with a flourish. Before departing, Foote delivered a blistering resignation letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken lambasting the Biden administration for its brutal mistreatment of Haitian migrants massed at the US-Mexico border and for interfering in Haitian politics. Or, in other words, for behaving with regard to Haiti and Haitians pretty much the way every other US presidential administration has behaved. Par for the course, I suppose, but not terribly consistent with the messaging of a president who claims to be “putting human rights at the center of US foreign policy.”

The Biden administration has gone to some lengths over the past several days to smear Foote as a “toxic personality” who is lying about the nature of his departure. But his letter, which is only five paragraphs long but does an excellent job of encapsulating the US-Haiti relationship, is very much worth your time:

The people of Haiti, mired in poverty, hostage to the terror, kidnappings, robberies and massacres of armed gangs and suffering under a corrupt government with gang alliances, simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter, and money without additional, avoidable human tragedy. The collapsed state is unable to provide security or basic services, and more refugees will fuel further desperation and crime. Surging migration to our borders will only grow as we add to Haiti's unacceptable misery.

Haitians need immediate assistance to restore the government's ability to neutralize the gangs and restore order through the national police. They need a true agreement across society and political actors, with international support, to chart a timely path to the democratic selection of their next president and parliament. They need humanitarian assistance, money to deliver COVID vaccines and so many other things.

But what our Haitian friends really want, and need, is the opportunity to chart their own course, without international puppeteering and favored candidates but with genuine support for that course. I do not believe that Haiti can enjoy stability until her citizens have the dignity of truly choosing their own leaders fairly and acceptably.

The AP (Alex Pareene) Newsletter

Alex Pareene

My most recent letter is about dirt bikes and also what the purpose of governance (especially "progressive" governance) is. Various neighborhoods in New York City (including my own) have lately seen a large influx of people, mainly young men, driving small motorcycles on city streets, often (though not always) recklessly. This is seen by many residents as a problem, and one that the city should address. But New York City, like many other cities, like many states, and like our nation itself, often acts as if it can only think of one way to solve any given problem--punishment. I talked to my stepdad, a former dirt bike delinquent, and tried to think of literally any other way to solve the eternal problem of kids wanting to have fun with their friends.

Also the latest episode of The Politics of Everything, the podcast I co-host for The New Republic, is about Lyme disease, and the fact that there used to be a vaccine for it, but there no longer is, even though Lyme is far more widespread now than it was when that vaccine was first approved. The reasons for that vaccine’s withdrawal from the market turn out (surprise!) to have some parallels with Our Current Moment.


Gaby Del Valle & Felipe De La Hoz

The coverage of Haitian asylum seekers camping out at the southern border and being attacked by horse-mounted Border Patrol agents has become, like much else about our public immigration discourse, largely about images and emotions devoid of context and lacking a firm grasp of the actual policies, realities, and histories, that are converging here. The Biden administration has expressed some semblance of shock and horror at the images, promising to investigate and discontinue the use of horses without acknowledging that this is window dressing when the underlying policies of exclusion and containment remain in place.

Several officials have alluded to the fact that these migrants had entered the country illegally as if that had any nexus to the ability to apply for asylum (it very explicitly doesn’t). The trouble is that we’re asking the public to keep several concepts in mind at once: the Haitians had entered without authorization, but international and domestic law still protects their right to file an asylum application; most of them weren’t coming straight from Haiti, but various locations throughout Latin America, where some had lived for years; the history of Haitian migrants being specifically targeted by our immigration enforcement apparatus is rich; and our asylum rules narrow enough that, were the administration to actually respect their right to make an asylum claim, most probably wouldn’t qualify anyway. In a special edition of BORDER/LINES, we broke it all down for you.

Discourse Blog

I’ll keep this brief, as I just finished putting out another newsletter (for our subscribers only) that broke down some of the budget mess in Congress this week, thanks to money genius Alex Yablon

Last week, I wrote about misplaced, but justified anger at the anti-vaxx crowd, and while even their stupidity doesn’t warrant death. Jack Mirkinson wrote about the brutal treatment of Haitian refugees and what that says about America, whether it’s ruled by Biden or by Trump. I also really liked Katherine’s blog about The Card Counter and the neverending War on Terror, and Caitlin also lightened the mood on the site by watching hours of old cell phone videos from her teenage years (she survived). 

That’s about it for us from last week! As always, there’s more on the site, and it’s never a bad time to subscribe.