The fight for lives and labour
The fight for lives and labour
Black women in the US do the socially important work. Often no-one knows about it. It has no name. And it is essential for making money for the few rich people. Rose M Brewer writes about four examples of how these women are protesting for change.
A woman at a meeting of essential workers in Detroit, Michigan, US, October 2020.
The police murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 in Minneapolis, showed us the truth about racism, class, and gender, in the United States. The killing started big protests in the country and around the world, including South Africa, UK, and France. The fight started around the world for black lives and against black racism in the US. We know very little about the role of black women in this story and how they organised the fight for racial justice.
It is really no surprise that black women are leaders in the fight. They are some of the poorest people in a very unequal society. They do an unfairly large share of poorly paid labour, care and essential work. Low wages, bad working conditions, and the uncertainty of housing, food, and healthcare are reasons why women are organising for social justice. Nina Banks is from the Economic Policy Institute. She says, ‘In 2017, the median yearly wages for full-time black women workers were 21-per-cent lower than for white women.’ It’s a very big difference. Full-time black women workers earn ‘48 to 68 cents for every dollar white, non-Hispanic men earn, in 25 states’.
This is the history and the reasons now for the labour protests of 2020 and 2021, during the Covid-19 in the US, and the fight for Black Lives Matter.
Black women are at the centre of these movements for social change.
Amazon protest in Alabama
In 2021, we heard a lot about a US labour protest in Bessemer, Alabama, at an Amazon warehouse. 80-per-cent of the workers were black and most were women. The warehouse opened in March 2020 and the workers organised a campaign to join a union - the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union - in that summer.
Jennifer Bates is one of the black women supporting joining the union. She gave an interview in Elle magazine. She talked about the terrible working conditions at the Bessemer warehouse. It was the first campaign to join a union against Amazon in the US. She talked about the unending hard physical work. The workers could not use the lifts used for taking products up and down the building. They had two 30-minute breaks in 10-hour shifts. In Amazon warehouses in the US, workers said that they had to urinate in bottles, that there was not enough water or PPE as Covid-19 infections spread quickly. If you protested, you lost your job.
Amazon fought against the campaign to join the union. On 9 April 2021, the workers lost the campaign. Less than 30 per cent of the workers voted to join the union. But this was not the end of the story. The organizing work continues and they are legally challenging Amazon blocking the union. The Bessemer campaign showed that workers do this essential work in impossible conditions. And black, brown, and immigrant populations, mostly women, do most of the work. Automation is also a danger for the low-wage labour. The business consultancy firm McKinsey Global Institute thinks that ‘about 6.7 million black workers (or 42 per cent of the black labour) could lose their jobs because of automation by 2030’.
The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL)
In 2016 the Movement for Black Lives – M4BL - won attention after the police murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. M4BL understands that at the centre of black life in the US today is a 21st century transnational economy. The transnational economy is part of the reason for inequality and the economic problems of black people. Part of the Act is about a universal childcare allowance and job programmes for the poorest. The fight is for social change.
Family Friendly Action and Care in Action
Two other organizations led by black and brown people are Family Friendly Action and Care in Action. They began by knocking on people’s doors and organizing in Georgia in 2018 when Stacey Abrams was standing for election as Governor. She was the first black female from a large party to stand for Governor in the US. Family Friendly Action focused on electing supporters of the care economy in the 2020 Georgia election for the US senate. The care economy demand is for childcare, care of older people, healthcare, and paid family leave. Care in Action, also in Georgia and with over 900,000 activists, focuses on care through home health aides, house cleaners, and childcare. These care workers are mostly black, women of colour, and immigrant women. Executive Director Jessica Morales Rocketto says that ‘they want to change the political system all together’.
The fight for the union at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, is perhaps the leader in the struggle of workers in the US. The time when evictions stopped in the country is now over and housing is uncertain. Unemployment benefits stopped on 6 September 2021. But Covid-19 continues to affect black and brown communities more than other groups. It’s a powerful time as black women see that they are now an organized force against exploitation. And in Bessemer the protest continues, as workers are ready to strike and to start a new campaign for a union.
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(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)