In crises, women are always the resistance leaders—in Africa and everywhere else / by Vijay Prashad

via Transcontinental

Originally published in the People’s World on March 24, 2023

What constitutes a crisis worthy of global attention?

When a regional bank in the United States falls victim to the inversion of the yield curve (i.e., when short-term bond interest rates become higher than long-term rates), the Earth nearly stops spinning.

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB)—one of the most important financiers of technology start-ups in the United States—on March 10 presaged wider chaos in the Western financial world. In the days after the SVB debacle, Signature Bank, one of the few banks to accept cryptocurrency deposits, faced bankruptcy, and then Credit Suisse, an established European bank set up in 1856, fell due to its longstanding poor management of risk (on March 19, UBS agreed to buy Credit Suisse in an emergency deal seeking to halt the crisis).

Governments held emergency Zoom conferences, financial titans called the heads of central banks and of states, and newspapers warned of system failure if safety nets were not quickly sown underneath the entire financial architecture. Within hours, Western governments and central banks secured billions of dollars to bail out the financial system. This crisis could not be allowed to escalate.

Other serious developments in the world might be called a crisis, but they do not elicit the kind of urgent response undertaken by Western governments to shore up their banking system.

Three years ago, Oxfam released a report that found that the “world’s 22 richest men have more wealth than all the women in Africa.” That fact, which is more shocking than the failure of a bank, has moved no agenda, despite the evidence that this disparity is caused largely by the predatory, deregulated lending practices of the Western banking system.

Silence greeted the publication of a key report this past January on the regression of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being met on the African continent. The 2022 Africa Sustainable Development Report, produced by the African Union, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank, and the UN Development Programme, showed that, because of the failure to finance development, African countries will not come anywhere near abolishing extreme poverty.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 445 million people on the continent—34% of the population—lived in extreme poverty, with 30 million more people being added to that number in 2020. The report estimates that, by 2030, the number of people in extreme poverty on the continent will reach 492 million. Not one alarm bell was rung for this ongoing disaster, much less the rapid apparition of billions of dollars to bail out the African people.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that women in Africa are more likely to be struck hard by the pandemic. The data, the IMF reported, is camouflaged by the prevalence of self-employment amongst women, whose economic difficulties do not always appear in national statistics. Across Africa, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets over the past year to question their governments about the cost-of-living crisis, which has evaporated most people’s incomes.

As incomes fall, and as social services collapse, women take up more and more of their households’ workload—tending to children, to elders, to those who are sick and hungry, and so on. The African Feminist Post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery Statement, written by a pan-African feminist platform, offered the following assessment of the situation:

“The absence of social safety nets needed by women due to their greater fiscal precarity in the face of economic shocks has exposed the failures of a development trajectory currently prioritizing productivity for growth over the wellbeing of African people. Indeed, COVID-19 has made evident what feminists have long emphasized: that the profits made in economies and markets are subsidized by women’s unpaid care and domestic work—an essential service that even the current pandemic has failed to acknowledge and address in policy.”

On March 8, International Working Women’s Day, protests across Africa focused attention on the general decline in living standards and on the specific impact this has had on women’s lives. That evocative statement from Oxfam—the world’s 22 richest men have more wealth than all the women in Africa—and the realization that these women’s living conditions appear to be deteriorating have not provoked a crisis response in the world.

There have been no urgent phone calls between the world’s capitals, no emergency Zoom meetings between central banks, no concern for people who are slipping deeper and deeper into poverty as their countries forge a path of austerity in light of a more and more permanent debt crisis.

Most of the protests on March 8 focused their attention on the inflation of food and fuel prices and on the precarious conditions that this is creating for women. From the Landless Workers’ Movement’s public action against slave-like labor practices in Brazil to the demonstration against gender-based violence by the National Networks of Farmers’ Groups in Tanzania, women organized by rural and urban trade unions, by political parties, and by a range of social movements took to the streets to say, with Josie Mpama, “Make way for women who will lead.”

At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we have been tracking how the pandemic has hardened the structures of neocolonialism and patriarchy, culminating in CoronaShock and Patriarchy (November 2020), which also presented a list of the people’s feminist demands to confront the global health, political, social, and economic crisis.

Earlier that year, in March 2020, we released the first study in our feminisms series, Women of Struggle, Women in Struggle, in which we pointed out how economic contraction and austerity cause more women to be unemployed, put more pressure on women to care for their families and communities, and lead to increased femicide.

In response to these horrendous conditions, we also wrote about the rise of protests by women across the world. At that time, we decided that one of our contributions to these struggles would be to excavate the histories of women within our movements who have been largely forgotten.

Over the past three years, we have published short biographies of three women—Kanak Mukherjee (India, 1921–2005), Nela Martínez Espinosa (Ecuador, 1912–2004), and now Josie Mpama (South Africa, 1903-1979). Each year, we will publish a biography of a woman who, like Kanak, Nela, and Josie, fought for a socialism that would transcend patriarchy and class exploitation.

In the early 1920s, Josie Mpama, born into South Africa’s Black working class, joined the informal workforce, washing clothes, cleaning homes, and cooking. When the racist regime tried to enforce policies and laws to restrict the movement of Africans, she entered the world of politics and fought the oppression that came with decrees such as the lodger’s permits in Potchefstroom (in the country’s northwest).

The Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA, today known as the South African Communist Party), established in 1921, provided shape to the myriad protests against segregationist laws, teaching the workers to use their “labor and the power to organize and withhold it,” as their flyers declared. “These are your weapons; learn to use them, thereby bringing the tyrant to his knees.”

In 1928, Josie joined the CPSA, finding support both for her organizing work and for her desire for political education. In the 1930s, she moved to Johannesburg and opened a night school for ideological training as well as for basic mathematics and English. Later, Josie became one of the first Black working-class women to enter the senior leadership of the CPSA and eventually traveled to Moscow using the pseudonym Red Scarf to attend the Communist University of the Toilers of the East.

Under Josie’s leadership as the head of the party’s women’s department, more and more women joined the CPSA, largely because it took up issues that spoke to them and encouraged women to struggle alongside men and fight for more radical conceptions of gender roles.

So much of this history is forgotten. In contemporary South Africa, there is a focus on the importance of the Freedom Charter (adopted on June 26, 1955). But there is less acknowledgment that the year before, the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) passed a Women’s Charter (April 1954), which—as we say in the study—“would eventually become the basis for certain constitutional rights in post-apartheid South Africa.”

The Women’s Charter was passed by 146 delegates who represented 230,000 women. One of those delegates was Josie, who attended the conference on behalf of the Transvaal All-Women’s Union and became the president of FEDSAW’s Transvaal branch. The Women’s Charter called for equal pay for equal work (yet to be attained today) and for the right of women to form trade unions.

Josie’s leadership in FEDSAW caught the eye of the South African apartheid regime, which banned her from politics in 1955. “Josie or no Josie,” she wrote to her FEDSAW comrades, “the struggle will go on and ours will be the day of victory.”

On Aug. 9, 1956, 20,000 women marched to South Africa’s capital of Pretoria and demanded the abolition of the apartheid pass laws. That date—Aug. 9—is now celebrated as Women’s Day in South Africa. As the women marched, they chanted: Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo, uzokufa (You strike the women, you strike the rock, you will be crushed).

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

International Women’s Day—Made in the U.S.A. / by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

Mariah Parker chants during the Athens Women’s March at the Athena statue in downtown Athens, Ga., Jan. 21, 2017. | John Roark / Athens Banner-Herald via AP

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964), known as “The Rebel Girl,” was one of the premier labor activists and leaders of the struggle for women’s equality in the 20th century. She was an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, a founding member of the ACLU, and later in life the Chairperson of the Communist Party USA. In this article, originally printed under the headline “For the Rights of Women,” in the Daily Worker on March 11, 1954, Flynn discusses the U.S. origins of International Women’s Day. She says that while the women’s suffrage movement is rightly regarded as a milestone in the fight for equality, the concerns of working women extended far beyond the ballot box. The determination of 20,000 young and diverse working women in the textile industry who went on strike and led the first “American Women’s Day” in 1909 started the IWD tradition. The Rebel Girl talks about those strikers in this article and calls on readers to correct the problem that existed of too many American workers not having knowledge of their own past victories.

At the turn of the last century, thousands of thoughtful American women were deeply stirred at the denial of votes to women. Some protested politely in white-gloved Carnegie Hall gatherings. Some spoke on the street corners and were heckled: “Go home and wash your dishes!” Or asked, regardless of age, “Who’s taking care of your children?”

One woman was queried, “How would you like to be a man?” She replied tersely, “I wouldn’t. How would you?”

Some picketed the White House and burned President Wilson’s fine phrases about democracy in a pot outside his door. They were arrested and sent to a horrible workhouse which they exposed to the world.

Maude Malone, a valiant fighter (who at her death was librarian of this newspaper) marched on Broadway when I was a young girl, bearing placards, “Votes for Women” front and back like a sandwich man, and lost her job in a library.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn addresses strikers in Paterson, N.J. in 1913. | Daily Worker / People’s World Archives

Various reasons moved different groups. There were the staunch veterans, who had been ridiculed, ostracized, disowned by families, and arrested for attempting to vote.

There were rich women who represented the cause “Taxation with Representation.” Professional women resented the obstacles placed in their way in schools and colleges. Working women wanted “Equal pay for equal work,” and laws on hours, safety, child labor, and sanitary regulations.

All were convinced that votes would be a powerful weapon to remedy their grievances.

They paraded, held meetings in churches, published papers, pamphlets, and leaflets, and lobbied in state legislatures and in Congress. There was every type of organization. They followed candidates around, forcing them to take a stand, as Mother Bloor described her suffrage work in Ohio.

More and more women resented their second-class citizenship, their lack of control over their lives, their children, their property, and their wages. A militant movement grew to enormous proportions, which finally won “Votes for Women” in 1920, when the 19th Amendment, known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, was passed.

The leaders of the suffrage movement were predominantly native-born, articulate, and aggressive. But working women were not adequately represented, and their needs were not sufficiently expressed in the official suffrage movement. In fact, there was already evident in some quarters opposition to “protective legislation” which actually restricted the rights of mothers and working women in the name of “equality.”

But activism began to develop among working women as early as 1908, not least of which was the East Side demonstration of foreign-born, unorganized working women in New York’s needle trades sweatshops of the day. It was organized by the Women’s Committee of the Socialist Party, headed by Margaret Sanger. She was a nurse and later devoted her life to the advocacy of birth control.

By the next year, 1909, there were 20,000 of these women workers engaged in a great strike of waistmakers on New York’s East Side. It was called “the girls’ strike.” Eighty percent of the workers were women, the majority between 17 and 25. They worked 56 hours a week in dirty firetrap buildings, sped up in the season, and put out of work completely in slack time.

The struggle started in two shops and spread after a meeting in Cooper Union at which a girl striker, Clara Lemlich, said, “I am tired of listening to speakers. I make the motion that a general strike be declared.” She is among those who should be honored as a founder of unionism in the United States.

The Women’s Marches of recent years carry on a tradition of activism stretching back more than 100 years. Here, protesters gather in front of the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 24, 2018. | Carolyn Kaster / AP

Because of its working-class origin and these simultaneous struggles, Clara Zetkin, leading German woman Socialist, welcomed American Women’s Day. She had urged a lengthy struggle in Germany to include women’s suffrage in the demands of the Social Democratic Party. There was opposition from some of her male comrades at the time because “women will vote reactionary.” They said that “if you give women the vote, they’ll vote the way the priests say.”

At the Congress of the Socialist International in 1910—with the support from August Bebel of Germany, Vladimir Lenin from Russia, and Big Bill Haywood and others from the U.S.A.—Zetkin’s proposal that March 8 be designated International Women’s Day was accepted unanimously.

It was dedicated to the struggle for the full rights of women. It has spread around the world and is celebrated today in many lands—China, the Soviet Union, the Eastern democracies, France, Italy, and England particularly.

Yet here in its birthplace, it has been allowed to dwindle away so that many here have forgotten or never know its American origin and significance. It is up to us to change that.

    Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

      Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964), known as “The Rebel Girl,” was one of the premier labor activists and leaders of the struggle for women’s equality in the 20th century. She was an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, a founding member of the ACLU, and later in life the Chairperson of the Communist Party USA. Flynn was indicted under the infamous Smith Act and thrown in prison for two years. She is buried at Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, near the Haymarket Martyrs Monument.

      People’s World, March 8, 2023

      Supreme Court kills abortion rights, sets target on marriage equality, contraception, more / by John Wojcik and C.J. Atkins

      A tear rolls down an abortion rights activist’s cheek as they speak outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022.

      As expected, the Supreme Court of the United States has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion across the nation nearly 50 years ago. The decision was already revealed in an unprecedented leak reported by Politico in early May, but now the nation has the final version of the majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito and circulated among the other justices in February.

      The ruling marks the first time in U.S. history that a constitutionally-guaranteed right has ever been removed by the Court. But the extremists on the Court do not appear content with just killing abortion rights. Justice Clarence Thomas, a signatory to the decision, called for the Supreme Court to overturn other past rulings protecting same-sex marriage, gay sex, and the use of contraceptives.

      The destruction of Roe is having immediate impact. In the state of West Virginia Friday morning, the last clinic in the state providing abortion services closed its doors. The sole clinic in Mississippi continued to provide services but was expected to stop at any time as right-wing protesters gathered outside. In Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood issued an order to stop abortion services at both of its clinics. Similar scenes are playing out across the country.

      The scene outside the Supreme Court, Friday, June 24, 2022. | Jacquelyn Martin / AP

      The decision strikes down both Roe v. Wade, the Court’s 1973 ruling that enshrined the constitutional right to an abortion, and a decision in 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that essentially upheld that right.

      Alito wrote: “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have inflamed divisions in the country.”

      Joining him in tossing Roe were Thomas and Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. The latter three justices were appointed by former President Donald Trump. Thomas first voted to overrule Roe 30 years ago.

      Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—the last remaining Democratic appointees on the Court—dissented.

      “With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent,” they wrote, warning that right-wing abortion opponents would now try to impose a nationwide ban “from the moment of conception and without exceptions for rape or incest.”

      Though he did not sign their dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the liberal wing.

      Protected by Roe no more

      At least half the states in the country are expected to quickly make abortion completely illegal, with poor and working-class women and women of color in Republican-governed states having their rights stripped away first.

      Abortion rights advocates say this will result in desperate people traveling to get abortions in states where the procedure remains legal, such as Illinois or New York. Some 13 states have “trigger laws” on the books which outlawed abortion the minute Roe was officially overturned.

      In those places, the ruling marks a return to the time before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was a crime everywhere.

      As late as the early 1970s, for example, police departments and governments around the U.S. were conducting crackdowns on what they called the illegal “abortion industry.” Almost totally forgotten these days are the vicious attacks against women in government-led terroristic campaigns.

      The story of one such campaign, in Chicago, gained wide circulation again following the Politico leak. In the early ’70s, police came crashing down on “Call Jane,” a feminist collective of young women who, since 1965, had provided safe but then illegal abortions to roughly 3,000 Chicagoans per year. The collective, led by the famed civil rights and human rights activist Heather Booth, was raided after two Catholic women told police their sister-in-law planned to have an abortion provided by the group.

      A homicide detective assigned to the case traced “Jane” to the South Shore neighborhood. There, police raided an apartment, arrested nearly 50 people for questioning, and tore three women who were actively undergoing abortion treatment away from their procedure and hauled them off to the hospital.

      Members of the Jane Collective, arrested by Chicago Police. | Chicago Police Department

      Seven women were charged with 11 counts of performing an abortion and conspiracy to commit abortion. They would soon be known in Chicago’s newspapers as the “Abortion Seven.” Members of Call Jane protected the women they served and prevented many of them from being arrested by eating the index cards that bore the details of the patients’ information.

      There were similar cases across the country where working-class women went to incredible and dangerous lengths to access abortion or to protect those who needed them.

      A woman working for the Parks Department in Brooklyn found a woman who performed her own abortion bleeding and dying in a ravine in Prospect Park. She was able to get the woman to the emergency room at a nearby hospital where her life was saved.

      In 1973, the Abortion Seven had to be released by prosecutors when the Supreme Court issued Roe v. Wade. With the decision, the Court affirmed that access to safe and legal abortion was a constitutional right. It said that states could not ban abortion before 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

      The nightmare of state harassment suffered by women in Chicago in the early 1970s may pale in comparison, however, to the level of surveillance and repression that will be deployed against women, non-binary people, and trans men seeking reproductive services in those parts of America where abortion is again illegal.

      The data produced by cell phones, internet browsers, search engines, and social media could be used to prosecute those who seek abortions, and the heaviest crackdowns would undoubtedly descend on poor women and women of color.

      Many people in the states where abortion is now illegal are unlikely to make, nor can they afford, the long, expensive, and health-endangering journeys that will be required. The poor, the young, and people of color will more likely be forced to turn to illegal methods, creating another racist feature in the already racist criminal justice system.

      Now, stunned women’s rights activists fear prosecutions like that of the “Call Jane” collective will become business as usual.

      Women as criminals

      A national organization for defense attorneys has published a report that lays out a future in which the U.S. could undertake “rampant criminalization” and “mass incarceration on an unprecedented scale” in the name of “defense of the unborn.”

      “States are laying the groundwork now, and have been laying the groundwork for criminal penalties that are completely different,” than the pre-Roe era, says Lindsay A. Lewis, a New York criminal defense attorney who co-authored a report on abortion for the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL).

      Abortion rights advocates marched in the 1970s. |

      “They are so much more advanced and so much harsher than what existed before Roe was enacted.” State legislatures have spent recent decades “modifying their criminal codes” in ways that “completely change the calculus when it comes to what it would mean to go back to pre-Roe times,” according to Lewis.

      Lawyers warn that the states where the procedure is illegal are laying the groundwork to go after even those women who travel to other states where it is legal in order to get abortions denied in their home states.

      Criminal charges could come from specific abortion laws, but also from criminal codes that penalize “attempted crimes, conspiracies, and accomplices to crime, all relics of laws developed during the U.S.’ so-called ‘war on drugs.’ Those laws could subject a wide range of individuals to criminal penalties if Roe is overturned”, the NACDL report says.

      They would include prosecuting people from states where the procedure is illegal who attempt to seek abortions in states where it remains legal.

      For example, Louisiana law defines an “accomplice” to a crime as “anyone involved in its commission, even tangentially, whether present or absent if they aid, abet, or even counsel someone.” Lawyers say this could be used against a wide range of spouses, partners, friends, loved ones, or counselors, such as clergy or abortion fund networks, which help direct people or help transport them to clinics in places where abortion is still legal.

      Turning dissent into action

      The Court’s decision opens the way for a future Republican Congress and president to ban abortion entirely across the whole country. In the immediate weeks and months ahead, the decision is expected to set off an avalanche of legal challenges as the fight over abortion moves to state capitals and as Roe becomes a central issue in the November midterm elections.

      President Joe Biden addressed the nation after the ruling was made official, calling Friday “a sad day for the Court and the country.” With Roe gone, he said, “the health and life of women across this nation are now at risk.”

      The reaction from abortion rights, women’s equality, and other movement leaders was more stinging.

      “The hands of time have once again been turned back,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty. “In the midst of a Black maternal mortality crisis, restricting access to abortion will disproportionately endanger the lives of Black Americans,” Beatty declared. “Let me be very clear: Government-mandated pregnancy is not pro-life, it is pro-policing of women’s bodies.”

      In a statement sent to People’s World, Working Families Party spokesperson Nelini Stamp said: “Make no mistake, white Christian nationalists have been working towards this moment for 50 years. They have exploited the most anti-democratic features of our political system, from the courts to the Electoral College to the United States Senate. They have engaged in outrageous power grabs, bulldozed basic norms, and can’t be bothered to justify their hypocrisy. They know their views are unpopular, so they rig our democracy to enshrine minority rule, trampling our rights.”

      Members of the Communist Party USA march for reproductive rights. | via CPUSA

      Opinion surveys show a majority of Americans oppose overturning Roe and handing the question of whether to permit abortion entirely to the states. Polls conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and others also have consistently shown that only about 1 in 10 Americans want abortion to be illegal in all cases. A majority are in favor of abortion being legal in all or most circumstances.

      Laura Dewey, a leader of the Communist Party USA’s Michigan district, pointed to the 2022 elections as a frontline in the battle to stop the anti-abortion assault. She said, “We must help build the biggest backlash against the far right, one far larger than the right-wing backlash against Obama’s election, one comparable to the women’s uprising after Trump’s election. We need to be in the streets in the coming months and at the polling booths in November.”

      She said that “a strike by women and trans men should be considered.”

      Dewey called the decision “fascistic” in nature and connected it to other aspects of extremist Republican policy. “Along with the police violence against and the mass incarceration of Black and brown people and the wave of anti-voting laws, the reversal of Roe v. Wade signals the right’s determination to control and suppress human beings. It may very well be a sign of fascism to come unless we the people halt this frightening trend.”

      John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People’s World. John Wojcik es editor en jefe de People’s World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and ’80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper’s predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

      C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World. C.J. Atkins es el editor gerente de People’s World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People’s World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.

      People’s World, June 26, 2022,

      Women take on union busters by stepping up union organizing / by Mark Gruenberg

      Women Innovating Labor Leadership (WILL Empower) is an initiative that identifies, convenes and trains women labor leaders. They sponsored the recent discussion about women battling union busters. Photo courtesy of WILL

      WASHINGTON—Women across America, learning firsthand about the extent to which bosses try to destroy unions, are taking the lead in confronting and battling back against the union busters. At one notorious workplace, the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, they battled union busters who tried all kinds of tactics to defeat the union organizing drive, including harassment following them home at night.

      Jennifer Bates, a lead organizer at Amazon’s monstrous Bessemer warehouse, talked about this in a recent discussion. The illegal following of workers to their homes happened in the middle of their second drive to unionize the 5,000-plus workers at Bessemer, the majority of them workers of color, after their union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, lost the first election, in 2021, by a two-to-one ratio.

      The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) tossed out that first vote due to rampant company labor law-breaking, officially called unfair labor practices. So RWDSU came back for a rerun, culminating in a second election earlier in 2022, again facing Amazon and its founder and dominant force, Jeff Bezos, one of the richest people in the U.S.

      And this time, applying lessons learned in the runup to the first vote, Bates and her RWDSU colleagues undertook intensive education of their co-workers, even as Amazon’s hired union-busters trailed the organizers on their way home and on their house-to-house campaign visits to co-workers.

      The union-busters, as usual, also forced workers into “captive audience” meetings, complete with harangues against unions in general and RWDSU in particular. “The anti-union consultants really angered me,” Bates told a recent session on the rising role of women in the union movement, sponsored by Georgetown University in D.C.

      “One employee asked them: ‘Why do we see you all only during election time?’”

      And when the union-buster stood up and bleated about how unionizing would economically hurt workers, even in low-wage Alabama—starting from zero, if you will—“one anti-union person stood up” in the captive audience meeting “and said, ‘That’s a lie.’

      “The point is they”—companies and their “consultants’—“should not be allowed to interfere with our efforts.”

      It was incidents like that, plus a lot of one-on-one meetings and education, that produced a win among 600 tech workers at the New York Times, that led to a mail-in election now occurring at a Starbucks in Cleveland, and produced a rerun race too close to call in the second Bessemer vote.

      Georgetown’s Women Innovating Labor Leadership initiative brought Bates, Times senior software engineer Nozlee Samadzeh and Cleveland Starbucks worker Maddy Van Hoek together for the zoom discussion on the rising role of women in the labor movement. Instead, the session ranged far afield.

      One big point all three agreed upon: While almost half the U.S. workforce is female, and while women are discriminated against on the job in pay, benefits and promotions, most women—and most workers—know little if anything about unions, and how organizing can help them improve their lot and lessen pay and benefit inequality.

      “Doing basic agitating about working conditions can make you a lot more familiar” with people’s individual problems on the job—and how they’re all similar—said Samadzeh, in a statement Bates agreed with. “Workplaces are built for people not to unionize…We understand we’re all workers and can improve conditions by having a (union) contract.”

      Jennifer Bates talked about the battle against union busters at the Amazon Bessemer, Alabama warehouse. | video screenshot

      “We thought it would be easy” to organize Bessemer, “because a lot of people understood what a union was,” Bates added. They didn’t and it wasn’t. “They should begin teaching about labor education in middle school–and have it be a requirement, not an elective, in college.

      “So the second time around” at Bessemer “we did a lot more education.”

      That education involved a lot more one-on-one communication. At Bessemer, it was door-to-door, in the parking lot after shift changes, in break rooms and house to house. For the Times workers, all in its tech arm, it was the web.

      “The Internet makes it so much easier to be in contact” with co-workers “and to meet people where they are at,” said Samadzeh (her emphasis). It also helped counteract past sketchy knowledge of unions as white-male dominated “and something your grandfathers did,” one of the three added.

      Again, an internal company decision set the organizing drive off. At the Times, it was “a homophobic op-ed” the paper published, which left the staffers at the tech arm irate. They began looking for an united way to express their outrage. “And a number of people had been advocating for gender-neutral restrooms,” too.

      The New York News Guild, which has had wall-to-wall representation in the paper’s newsroom for decades, was the answer.

      Personal stories about how unions helped, too. Samadzeh had her own, from the shop she worked at before joining the Times, Watts Media Productions in Manhattan.

      “The company abruptly moved to pay us in arrears,” meaning after a pay period ended. And sometimes the checks were late. “There was a two-week period where no one got paid and everybody was freaking out.” Unionizing was the staff’s answer.

      At Starbucks, said Van Hoek, it was the realization the impression the firm gave “that it’s a decent place to work,” isn’t altogether true. “A lot of people in the community said ‘I thought you were treated well.’ But even if Starbucks did live up to its standards, we could still form a union, for accountability.”

      Mark Gruenberg is an award winning journalist and head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

      People’s World, May 10, 2022,