Was the Union Drive in Bessemer a Net Positive for the Labor Movement? Yes.

In Bessemer, disgruntled employees reached out to a local union that had recently notched some big wins; it was what we in the labor movement call a “hot shop.” And the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union did what it could to control the terrain and timing of the campaign, but existing labor law makes that nearly impossible. Still, organizers should take on these potentially paradigm-shifting struggles wherever they emerge—even if they lose more often than they win. Successful movements grow out of these sorts of failures. We celebrate, for example, the civil rights victories of the Birmingham campaign in 1963 but rarely discuss how the seeds of this success were planted in a failed desegregation campaign two years earlier in Albany, Ga. As the National Labor Relations Board adjudicates the RWDSU’s accusations that Amazon illegally interfered with the vote, we can draw inspiration from the workers in Bessemer and turn their very public loss to labor’s advantage.


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