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D.C. renters' lawsuit is a blueprint for tenant organizing | Reuters

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Tenants and housing rights activists protest for a halting of rent payments and mortgage debt as sheriff's deputies block the entrance to the courthouse, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., October 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

(Reuters) - A lawsuit filed on Wednesday by a group of tenants against a major Washington, D.C.-area developer stands to be the first test of the bounds of the most robust tenants’ rights laws in the country.

The litigation could establish a model for renters to enforce their fundamental housing rights amid a spiraling housing affordability crisis that began well before the COVID-19 pandemic -- one that has hit Black and Latino Americans particularly hard.

The lawsuit alleges that landlords waged a years-long obstruction campaign against tenants who formed a union to protest deteriorating housing conditions and that the city police department aided property owners in illegally suppressing tenants’ rights.

“They wouldn’t rely on police to actually maintain safety, but they would call the police on tenants who were organizing or approached them about issues in the building,” Tara Maxwell, president of the Park 7 Tenant Union and a resident of Park 7 Apartments, told me.

The group claims problems at the complex include water leaks, mold, pest infestation and insufficient security. The complex previously reached a settlement with the city attorney general to refund nearly half a million dollars to tenants who were improperly charged for water use that was falsely marketed as included in rent, according to an August 2020 report by the Washington City Paper.

Representatives of Donatelli Management didn’t respond to questions and requests for comment. The Metropolitan Police Department also didn’t respond to my questions about its role in the alleged incidents.

Management has prevented the Park 7 community from organizing by calling police, denying access to common areas, and intentionally disrupting residents' meetings, according to the complaint, which also says management threatened union members and leaders with unlawful evictions, and removed fliers from public spaces.

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs filed the suit on behalf of the tenant union and several residents of Park 7, a 377-unit complex in Northeast D.C. composed mainly of Black and lower-income residents. The group is suing Park 7 Residential and Donatelli Management, which are owned by prominent local developer Christopher Donatelli.

The lawsuit was filed under the District’s Right of Tenants to Organize Act, which was enacted in 2006, and gives tenants the right to self-organize and advocate to address and improve their living conditions.

Most states provide little to no protection for tenant union organizing, according to a 2018 law review article by Christopher Bangs in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy, at least for standard residential tenants. Those who are tenants of mobile home parks or manufactured home parks, for example, tend to have far more statutory rights, “perhaps because of their status as both a tenant” and “as a homeowner," Bangs wrote.

Roughly 29 states offer limited rights, but they have little statutory support, and no formal certification process for tenant unions, according to the 2018 law review article. And about 19 states have no general protections for resident organizing.

D.C., California and New York have relatively strong legal frameworks for protecting tenants’ rights, including providing protection from retaliation against organizing and exemptions from trespassing laws for organizers who are invited onto the property by an occupant.

And D.C. likely has the strongest tenants’ rights laws in the country. It’s the only jurisdiction where tenants have a right in most circumstances to form a tenant organization and a corresponding right to bargain with property owners over housing terms and conditions.

Owners can't interfere with most self-organization activities – including meetings, canvasing and distributing literature in common areas and at tenants’ doors. The District also grants tenants whose landlords decide to sell the property the broadest set of rights, including first refusal.

The hurdle for renters, though, lies in the fact that this area of the law is largely untested.

Tenant unions “have received little attention in the legal scholarship,” outside of law student comments from the 1960s proposing to introduce collective bargaining into some landlord-tenant relationships, according to the Bangs article.

There is a lack of existing case-law regarding the District’s own robust statutes, Bangs wrote, including on the issue of a landlord’s duty to meet with tenants’ groups.

Brook Hill, one of the Lawyers’ Committee attorneys on the case, told me he’s unsure of whether a case has ever been litigated under D.C.’s specific provision against interfering with tenant organizing. Westlaw’s databases show the provision has been cited just a handful of times, although those cases mainly interpreted tenants’ rights regarding an owner's sale of residential property.

New York’s laws and regulations from the Department of Housing and Urban Development “are very similar to D.C.’s law, so we’ve looked at caselaw from those jurisdictions to inform how we think about this statute,” Hill said. “We do think that having a judge actually speak to some of these issues would be good."

That said, D.C.’s law is “written in plain and detailed language, unlike other statutes, and we think it’s hard to look at the facts and not conclude that Park 7 management has been systematically violating multiple provisions of the Act," Hill added.

Indeed, the allegations, if true, seem akin to what are known as “hallmark violations” of the federal workplace organizing law that D.C.’s statute is modeled after -- management responses to organizing that have a clear chilling effect on organizing, contrary to the spirit of the law (for example, closing down a business under the NLRA compared with removing literature about organizing from common areas under D.C.’s Right of Tenants to Organize law).

The court’s analysis of the allegations could be the first time Washingtonians actually discover the scope of their rights as tenants. And any gains by the residents could make their advocacy and lawsuit a blueprint for tenant organizing in other states and jurisdictions.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias.

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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Purity

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KaiumSikdar
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I think there may be other examples of this.
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Anti-utility. I think there may be other examples of this.

Mapping the Past and Future of Urban Highways

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The FBI’s Domestic “War on Terror” Is an Authoritarian Power Grab

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Buzzfeed has revealed the FBI played a leading role in orchestrating last year’s far-right terrorist plot against Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer — which the bureau then foiled, to great fanfare. The incident has since been used to hand the FBI even more power.


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FBI investigators in Thousand Oaks, California, 2018. (Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images)

There are many ways to undermine democracy. In the United States, one of the most persistent threats to democratic rights has been the hoarding of power by largely unaccountable security forces that, in a single-minded drive to protect what they define as national security, have tended to run roughshod over civil liberties and treat activists and dissidents as criminals.

It was the case in the early twentieth century, when the FBI rounded up radicals, foreigners, and draft-evaders. It was the case mid-century, when the COINTELPRO program harassed Matin Luther King Jr and other civil rights protesters. It was the case under George W. Bush, when a newly launched “war on terror” became an excuse to go after law-abiding Muslims and government critics. And it was the case just last year, as a panoply of federal agencies were used by a desperate president Trump to go after protesters, journalists, and immigration lawyers, to name a few.

All of this is particularly relevant in light of a major new investigation by Buzzfeed published last week, examining the details of last year’s highly publicized FBI thwarting of a plot by a Michigan militia to kidnap the state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. At the time, I made a basic point about the whole situation: we should be careful about simply accepting the FBI’s account of the events at face value, not least because the sparse details included in its affidavit called to mind an old and controversial Bureau practice. That would be the FBI’s use of informants and undercover agents to effectively manufacture their own terrorist plots — typically by entrapping down-on-their-luck or mentally unwell Muslim men — which they then foiled and publicized, thereby justifying more money, resources, and powers for the “war on terror.”

While at the time I cautioned we didn’t have enough information yet to make a definitive call either way, the extensive reporting done by Buzzfeed all but confirms this was the case. According to the outlet, FBI informants “had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception,” from organizing and funding nationwide meetings where those involved in the eventual plot first met, to supplying, encouraging, and even helping lead the entire affair. Buzzfeed reporters Jessica Garrison and Ken Bensinger previously reported that the Bureau used a whopping twelve informants in the case, double the number of actual plotters charged.

One of those, known only as Dan, was paid nearly $55,000 by the FBI for seven months of work, during which time he became second-in-command of the whole operation. His handiwork included encouraging the plot’s chief, non-FBI ringleader — the literally basement-dwelling Adam Fox — in his increasingly unhinged fantasies, and using his sway to include Fox in meetings despite other militia members’ concerns about Fox’s stability. Dan’s FBI handlers, meanwhile, encouraged him to draw in as many people as possible into the plot, and provided the money he used to fund a national training exercise early on in the affair.

It should go without saying that none of this makes any of the individuals involved in the plot good guys, or any less noxious in their politics. This should be a basic point for anyone committed to basic democratic freedoms or opposed to mass incarceration: believing in due process isn’t supporting rape, murder, or other crimes; and defending the rights of the accused doesn’t necessarily mean you’d invite them over for dinner with the family. Or to use a closer analogy: sticking up for the civil liberties of accused Islamic terrorists doesn’t mean that you sympathized with their ideology or their alleged crimes.

But this news is significant beyond just the principle involved here. Even news outlets that were well aware of the FBI’s history of doing this exact thing with Islamic terrorist plots opted for sensationalistic coverage of the kidnapping scheme, uncritically reproducing the FBI’s preferred portrayal of the events. This plot was then, post-January 6, often cited together with the Capitol riot as a dramatic, visceral example of the growing threat of Far Right terrorism that required the failed and abuse-filled “war on terror” to be expanded to the home front.

Speaking of January 6, there remain serious questions about law enforcement agencies’ conduct on that day. The security and intelligence failure which was the only reason the “Stop the Steal” protest was able to get out of hand and charge into the Capitol still hasn’t been adequately explained. Besides contradictory testimony from officials about the failure of their response, we know the FBI and others warned the Capitol police in advance about the protests. We now also know there was at least one undercover agent among the rioters, on top of the fact that the leader of the Proud Boys — one of the far-right groups who took part in the incident — was a “prolific” law enforcement informant, in the words of his own lawyer, and that at least four Proud Boy leaders in total were feeding information to the Bureau since 2019, directly contradicting the FBI director’s sworn testimony earlier this year.

Why, given all this, did law enforcement fail so spectacularly to keep a mostly unarmed crowd of protesters out of the Capitol, particularly after the police’s militarized and heavy-handed response to anti-police brutality protests over the past six years? How were they taken by surprise when the entire event was planned in the open anyway? Why have law enforcement officials offered inconsistent, contradictory, and even misleading testimony? All good questions the national press has been largely uninterested in, obsessed instead with debunking overcooked claims that the FBI “organized” the riot.

None of this points to a deliberate conspiracy. But it certainly seems like the two principal events upon which a dangerous new domestic “war on terror” has been launched off of are, first, a kidnapping plot that only existed because the FBI made it happen, and second, a completely avoidable security failure by law enforcement that was asleep at the wheel. In other words, it points to a classic national security dynamic: agencies overzealously prosecuting national security threats, or royally screwing up, and instead of admitting to mistakes, using the incidents to justify more power and resources for themselves.

(Not that we should reflexively dismiss more sinister possibilities: after all, we just found out that as part of its pursuit of Julian Assange, the FBI stood by (or worse) as one of its informants carried out a cyberattack on the Icelandic government, which the Bureau used as a pretext to enter the country to go after the WikiLeaks founder.)

With the image of an archetypal terrorist shifting under Trump’s tenure as president, from dark-skinned Muslim men to burly white right-wing militiamen and racists, the broad left is currently in danger of letting its antipathy toward the this new face of terrorism put it in the position of facilitating an alarming concentration of police power and an eventual crackdown on political dissent. Post-January 6, far too many progressives who previously fretted about abuse of the criminal justice system suddenly turned into a mix of Rudy Giuliani and George W. Bush, calling for harsh prosecution of those who had committed only property damage on January 6, or even just walked around not doing very much. As Tom Cotton noted gleefully after the incident: “Some liberals appear to have shed their reservations about the use of force now that the mob carries different signs and chants different slogans.”

Left-wing lawmakers facilitated the passage of a bill funneling enormous money and resources to the Capitol police, which has now, alarmingly, been expanded into a national anti-terrorism police force, one that’s conveniently exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. After a disgraceful 2020 that saw public confidence in the police dip below 50 percent thanks to shocking, unabashed brutality and authoritarianism, the orgy of police propaganda that followed January 6 has now made them one of only three institutions that a majority of Americans still believe in. And prosecutors are trying to throw the book at entirely nonviolent January 6 protesters simply for having stood nearby as acts of property damage and violence were committed — all to nothing but crickets from civil libertarians, only a few years after similar prosecutorial overreach against the J20 defendants inspired sustained outrage and alarm.

Whether it’s a conscious strategy isn’t clear, but it’s a plain fact that national security agencies are now increasingly leaning on right-wing terrorists as the go-to justification for the same demands they were making when Islamic terror was the horror of the day, from internet censorship, to weakening encryption. In the process, they’ve tapped into a more liberal-minded audience that has switched its position on all these issues now that the ostensible targets have changed.

What’s particularly frustrating is that we were all just handed a walking, talking cautionary tale about the perils of this sort of thing in the form of Donald Trump. The tail-end of Trump’s presidency showed exactly how dangerous a sprawling national security apparatus could be in the wrong hands, and yet not even a year later, liberals are pushing to vest the federal government with even more authoritarian powers, ones that will be handed down to the next extreme Republican who wins the presidency… who very well might be Donald Trump. Meanwhile, already the FBI has used the Capitol riot as a justification to go after left-wing protesters and dissidents, a sure sign of what’s to come, as Biden’s domestic “war on terror” strategy has made clear.

While right-wing mobs and white supremacists are nothing to scoff at, the potential for American fascism has always been most rooted in those institutions of authority that prize “law and order” and property rights over justice and civil liberties, the very same ones we watched last year brutalizing unarmed protesters and journalists, kidnapping people off the street, and turning American cities into foreign war zones — and who are still attacking nonviolent activists without a care in the world. The Left should be at the front lines opposing a startling push to feed them more power and resources. Instead, far too many are silent, or even cheering it on.


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In Poland, Amazon Workers Are Organizing

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Ever since Amazon arrived in Poland in 2014, the country has been a laboratory for the company's strategy of pitting workers of different nations against one another. We spoke with Polish shop-floor activists who are organizing Amazon workers for a global fightback.


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Since opening its first fulfillment warehouse in Poznań in 2014, Amazon continues to expand its operations in Poland. (Jaap Arriens / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Although Amazon is based in the United States, its workforce now extends around the world. This has been used by the company to suppress wages and increase productivity through greater competition. But there are efforts to counter that strategy, with some workers across Europe building connections and the capacity to organize together. It is still an uphill battle as Amazon creates individual contracts for its locations, doing its best to pit workers against one another not only from country to country, but from warehouse to warehouse. Yet the efforts remain, pointing toward possibilities for the future of international organizing.

In a recent episode of Jacobin’s new podcast, Primer, Alex N. Press spoke with two workers from Poland who organize with Amazon Workers International (AWI): Magda Malinovska and Agnieszka Mroz. Unlike established, formal unions or union federations, AWI is a shop-floor organization, which is less formalized. Malinovska has worked at the fulfillment center in Poznań, Poland for five years, first as a picker and then alongside Agnieszka as a packer; Agnieszka started at Poznań, which was the first Amazon warehouse in Poland, when it opened in 2014. Amazon’s operations in the country have only expanded in the intervening years.


Agnieszka Mroz

In our warehouse, there are ten thousand workers, more or less. Amazon, of course, will not admit that; they will say there are three thousand workers with the blue badge [meaning permanent workers]. But there’s an additional amount of temp workers double that size, plus cleaners, who don’t have permanent contracts, plus workers in security. So that makes the workforce ten thousand workers — it’s a big warehouse.

Alex N. Press

How did Poland become such an important place for Amazon?

Agnieszka Mroz

The simple answer is: cheap labor. Workers in Poland make three times less than in other Western European countries. But it’s not only about cost. Amazon has expanded — they didn’t simply relocate warehouses from Germany into Poland, the opening of the sites in Poland played a political role, which was blackmailing the workers who organized strikes in Germany, because workers in Poland deliver to the German market. We serve Amazon.de.

2014 was one of the heated moments with the strikes in Germany. Amazon used us as an additional card against workers organizing. Of course, that created pressure for us because workers in Poland don’t want to be strikebreakers. But because of different regulations, national laws, and so on, there are differences between organizing in Poland and Germany. So, that is all part of the objective reasons for its expansion here: the low labor costs and the precarity of employment in Poland. Here, Amazon has more ways to put pressure on workers regarding meeting quotas.

Alex N. Press

Many workers in both Germany and Poland are well aware that they’re being pitted against each other to keep costs down. But they also know that they don’t have to just go along with that. It was workers who had been trained abroad and saw what kind of conditions and benefits Amazonians in countries like England and Germany were experiencing, who started the union at Poznań. It wasn’t long after that when communication channels opened between the Poznań warehouse and the workers in Germany.

Magda Malinovska

In 2016, we got information that German workers were on strike. Polish workers didn’t want to play the role of strikebreakers. So, we organized slow-down actions. We paid heavily for that: a few workers were fired, and some workers still remember that, so they are more scared of organizing such actions. But we are still organizing and we are still together with German workers. For example, we recently wrote a common leaflet, stating that we demand more or less the same wages.

The issue of wages is very important for us because Polish people work overtime because they get such low wages. Working overtime is popular among Polish workers and according to statistics, we are one of the nations in Europe that works the largest number of hours. It’s mainly because of our wages, which are very low, and people are forced to work overtime. So we demand higher wages, and our colleagues in Germany support us because they know that when they are on strike, Polish people — because of the economic situation — are forced to work overtime, and because of that, their strikes have less power.

Alex N. Press

AWI has also been in communication with workers from France, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Talk about the tactics Amazon is employing, including saddling some countries with more degrading work.

Magda Malinovska

The company cannot utilize products that customers return, so they send them from other countries to Poland. Workers don’t really like it, because basically, they sort garbage right now. They say among each other that we’ve become a place for trash from all over Europe.

So, we exchange that information, we try to create common demands, and we also try to organize common actions and support each other during strikes. We have different laws, so we have to use different means of struggle. But we try to do things together: in some countries, people organized blockades, and we got some support from the “Make Amazon Pay” campaign last year. So, they organized blockages in front of our warehouse. In other countries, workers are allowed to go on strike, so they go on strike. This way, we try to put pressure on Amazon.

It was very effective, especially during the pandemic, when we had common demands. Amazon couldn’t ignore us. When we demanded hazard pay for working in very insecure conditions, they couldn’t say no. Also, when we had demands about safety measures, they couldn’t ignore them. At that time, we saw how powerful we are when we act together. That’s why we try to continue that — without bureaucracy, on the shop-floor level, discussing our situation as workers. We have to develop it, otherwise Amazon will always be much, much stronger than we are.

Alex N. Press

So what is Amazon Workers International? The workers involved are all part of individual local unions, but the group itself is more fluid. It’s the means of communication and support, but the muscle — as well as the strategy — is based on the shop floors of the different warehouses.

Agnieszka Mroz

Amazon Workers International is not a formal organization, and we try to keep it like that. We started as a network of exchange and support and solidarity, and we know that Amazon is very flexible, it’s very just-in-time, and it has the ability to go around choke points — so you really have to be on the shop-floor level to know when it’s a good moment to do something. But also, as an outsider, you cannot really grasp the moment when workers get organized, because often there is spontaneous resistance.

As an example, last November, during the morning shift in one of the big warehouses in the south of Poland, where our members were working — a warehouse for big items — there was a spread of information that temp workers, who are very in need, before the peak time, got an additional bonus, which permanent workers, or workers on shorter contracts but employed by Amazon, didn’t receive.

So it was a question of only a few hours, from when this information started circulating and people started to exchange information about it. And they said: Why should the temp workers get the bonus? We should all get bonuses. It’s not that they’re worse; we should all be treated equally. Forklift drivers got organized, and dozens of them refused to work on the morning shift for some minutes and were gathered in the dock department using signals, such as shouting slogans.

On the night shift, their work was stopped for one hour. Amazon got really nervous. The general manager came in the middle of the night, which never happens — they’re never there. They started talking to our shop stewards because they knew that this was before the peak [season], and in a big warehouse for big items, when there are a thousand forklift drivers getting together and organizing, that they could paralyze the warehouse.

It happened in a very short period of time. This showed us that you really have to be on the shop floor; you have to know when you can get together with others, when there are moments in the circulation of goods when the organizing of workers can economically hurt the company, because this is the moment when they will listen to us. That doesn’t happen through bigger campaigns, or politicians speaking up in the European Parliament — we saw it recently, with politicians complaining about how Amazon is, but that hasn’t improved our situation as workers.

So, Amazon Workers International came out of this idea that workers on the shop floor need to exchange information internationally. We cannot let the company divide us into Germans, Polish, French, and compete against each other. We refuse that.

But the company is of course playing on this division; they play on a lot of divisions between temp workers, permanent workers, Polish, German, workers coming from the countryside, from the town, from the bigger cities. With recent organizing, we’ve also published our leaflet in Russian; it’s important to add that there are more and more workers coming from Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, while in Western Europe, there are Polish migrants working for Amazon. In Poland, Amazon relies on even cheaper labor coming from the little villages. They provide free company buses for workers to commute to the warehouses, but they also employ more and more workers from Ukraine.

Alex N. Press

The demands you’ve put forward would be very recognizable to organizers in the United States.

Agnieszka Mroz

First is higher wages. Second is more stability of work: we demand, first of all, they get rid of the temp agencies, because there is no business argument for why the company should rely on temp labor. In the past, in Polish law, this solution was introduced to help companies which are in trouble, so they can have more temp workers. But Amazon is expanding; they’re not in trouble. After 2020 especially, we want to get rid of the temp agencies and employ everyone under a permanent contract. And the third issue is about speed of work. It is about quotas.

These three issues have different expressions in different countries: in Germany, workers talk about permanent contracts because they have two-year contracts from Amazon — they don’t work through agencies — while we mostly talk about temp work. They are different legal forms, but the core of the demand is really the same.

Amazon has the resources to employ workers on permanent contracts, to pay more, and also to not put as much pressure on the speed of work as it has been doing. But we are aware — thanks also to AWI — that these three problems are the global problems of the working class, and working for that company.

Magda Malinovska

But Amazon is really special in how ignorant they are, especially in terms of health and safety — also in terms of wages, but especially in terms of health and safety. We know, more or less, what should be changed to improve working conditions in the warehouse, and they pretend they are blind and they are deaf.

They don’t want to listen to us. We have to really push them constantly. There’s no dialogue — we have to push them and put pressure on them to make changes. Our shifts are ten hours a day in the warehouse. So, we spend a lot of our time there, and because of that, we should have a say in how our work is organized, how our schedules are organized. Amazon doesn’t allow us to have that. So, we will continue this conflict, and we will continue putting pressure on them, not only locally, but globally.

Alex N. Press

Europe has a reputation for being significantly more pro-worker than the United States. But when you zoom in a little, you see that many of the issues that have held back the US labor movement are present there as well. One of those issues is what Magda called “bureaucracy.”

It’s the codependent political relationships among the major unions. In an article about organizing in Poland’s Amazon warehouses published in Jacobin in 2016, the author writes that many workers there view Solidarity, Poland’s largest union, as “largely passive and more interested in nationalist and conservative religious issues than workers’ struggles,” and that they “opposed seeking its assistance.” As the author writes, “younger members of Amazon’s workforce, some with higher education and work experience in Western Europe, considered Solidarity out of touch, a bunch of ‘old union men with mustaches.’”

Agnieszka Mroz

Yes, I’d like to make an observation about the so-called “social dialogue” in Europe by Amazon, because often I hear from US workers that unions are strong in Europe, and that’s why conditions are better. Traditionally, in the past, the so-called “social dialogue” model was based on this idea that the big boss, the corporations, would pick the big business union, they would dialogue with them, and that union would work as a manager, controlling workers’ unrest, and often representing their own interests as union bureaucrats.

The more traditional German companies that operate in Poland use this kind of model. Amazon is not playing that game; they do not pick a big union and do so-called “social dialogue” with them, marginalizing everyone else who has a different strategy, different opinions, or are more critical of the company. They just ignore the unions; they only do what they have to do, what is enforced by the local law. But they do as little as possible.

I can give an example. In Poland, law says that the union is allowed to negotiate over wages, because a wage is not an individual right, especially if there are workers on different levels having the same wage, so it should be the subject of negotiations. What Amazon is doing in Poland is they sign an individual appendix to the contract and that’s how they avoid negotiations: by saying that they are not covered by this collective bargaining process.

The law allows them to do that. So, coming back to unions: we come from a more grassroots tradition, which, first of all, is about the self-organizing of workers on the shop-floor level, but we also see that more conservative unions are pushed into this position. They really have to get active on that level, because there are no big negotiations, meaning the big union leader cannot talk to the company bosses and make deals behind the backs of other workers.

Our union, which is a grassroots union, is the biggest union in Poland. There’s a second union — Solidarity, Solidarność; maybe some people know about that from the ’80s — which traditionally played the role of “social dialogue.” But at Amazon, we really work together because Amazon has also pushed them to the defensive position.

We are both forced to organize on the shop floor and express the anger of our colleagues; to organize campaigns and be critical without rotten deals with the company. We should be happy about this, because we believe that the company is going to be changed through the workers who organize on the shop-floor level, not through negotiations behind the door.

Alex N. Press

What do you make of organizing efforts among Amazon workers in the United States?

Magda Malinovska

Last year, we were in touch with workers from the United States. When they organized walkouts — in New York, in Chicago, for example — they managed to do a lot and they didn’t really need a union to do that. Even here in Poland, we achieved certain things thanks to workers in the United States who organized walkouts, because they demanded temperature checks, and some safety measures.

They introduced these things, such as temperature checks, in warehouses in Germany, in Poland, and so on, after those walkouts. We had unions here that demanded a temperature check, and we didn’t manage to achieve it. But then those US workers organized protests — which were more important for Amazon because they put real pressure on them — and then we got it. So, we also have to learn where our strong points are and how to use them. They did it in a good way in Chicago, and they didn’t need a formal structure to put pressure on Amazon.

Alex N. Press

The poor working conditions in Amazon warehouses get a lot of media coverage and attention these days. For example, people constantly bring up stories about workers peeing in bottles because they don’t have time to use the restroom. There was also reporting about the company employing Pinkerton spies in warehouses in Poland. What do you make of these narratives about what’s taking place in Amazon facilities?

Agnieszka Mroz

We don’t like this approach of victimizing workers, of seeing workers as the victims of spying or bad management practices. I mean, that is the reality we see in our warehouses, but if we are victims, we have no power to change it. So, all this news about workers peeing in bottles — it’s good news for the big media, but this is not the news that would make our colleagues determined to walk out or to join the union.

But other things would, like management threatening them when they take a longer break, so they’re punished with time off task. This everyday experience of exploitation would make workers angry, but only to the point when they don’t see that they are victims. Workers don’t want to be seen as slaves, because slaves cannot easily resist; they cannot be a subject of the movement, of the organizing. So, I would say this information about workers as victims is not very helpful.

It also doesn’t mean that we, as workers, are not able to speak — we are able to speak. We’re able to write our leaflets, our newspapers, and we are able to make theories and think about how Amazon should change. So the message would be if you want to support workers, maybe it’s not best to focus only on the big media, which portrays us as poor victims of the digital-capitalism algorithm where you can’t do anything. This is not true.

Most of the work at Amazon is physical work; it’s about turning your body, using your muscles, and walking a lot. We are not under the tyranny of the algorithm where we can do nothing. This is not our experience. It is of course true that Amazon has an army of lawyers and sociologists who watch what we are doing on a daily basis in the warehouse. But we believe we are still much more than them in the warehouse, where there are thousands of workers who, if we get together, can change this balance of power.

Alex N. Press

What do you say to people who feel conflicted about their use of Amazon as consumers?

Agnieszka Mroz

I was asked this a lot recently, around Prime Day, by people who still want to shop at Amazon. They say that for whatever reason, it’s comfortable for them, or it’s fast, or they cannot buy any other product, and how do I feel as a worker about this?

I don’t believe in the consumer boycott. If you want to buy at Amazon, donate to a strike fund; be aware that there are workers there who can speak and are able to make their own demands, and support them, because nothing will be changed except by them. There are different unions, different groups, different initiatives in different countries. So if you buy at Amazon and you don’t agree with the exploitation, then find a way to support workers who are self-organizing in the warehouse where you’re buying.


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iridesce
6 days ago
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What Else Is There to Say About Climate Change?

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Sarah Miller, author of this 2019 article on Miami real estate & rising oceans, recently wrote this resonant piece, All The Right Words On Climate Have Already Been Said.

I told her I didn’t have anything to say about climate change anymore, other than that I was not doing well, that I was miserable. “I am so unhappy right now.” I said those words. So unhappy. Fire season was not only already here, I said, but it was going to go on for at least four more months, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. I didn’t know how I would stand the anxiety. I told her I felt like all I did every day was try to act normal while watching the world end, watching the lake recede from the shore, and the river film over, under the sun, an enormous and steady weight.

There’s only one thing I have to say about climate change, I said, and that’s that I want it to rain, a lot, but it’s not going to rain a lot, and since that’s the only thing I have to say and it’s not going to happen, I don’t have anything to say.

Miller continued:

Also, for what? Let’s give the article (the one she was starting to maybe think about asking me to write that I was wondering if I could write) the absolute biggest benefit of the doubt and imagine that people read it and said, “Wow, this is exactly how I feel, thanks for putting it into words.”

What then? What would happen then? Would people be “more aware” about climate change? It’s 109 degrees in Portland right now. It’s been over 130 degrees in Baghdad several times. What kind of awareness quotient are we looking for? What more about climate change does anyone need to know? What else is there to say?

This is where I am on the climate emergency most days now (and nearly there on the pandemic). Really, what the fuck else is there to say?

Tags: global warming   journalism   Sarah Miller
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iridesce
9 days ago
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