Experts compare Amazon’s first union to 1937 Flint GM strike

Last week’s vote is a David vs. Goliath story that has already inspired workers across the country to consider similar organizing efforts.

Last week, Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island in New York came away with one of the biggest organized labor victories in the last century. Some experts are comparing their effort to the 1937 Flint General Motors strike that helped catapult America’s labor movement.

More than 5,000 workers voted in the election to form the company’s first-ever union. The new Amazon Labor Union (ALU) won by about 500 votes. That’s despite a massive anti-union campaign by Amazon.

“I think this is sending shockwaves through corporate America.” — Steven Greenhouse, The Century Foundation.

It’s a David vs. Goliath story that has already inspired other workers across the country to consider organizing for better conditions and compensation. And it comes amid several other high-profile attempts to unionize. That includes Southeast Michigan, where coffee shop workers have formed picket lines to demand better treatment and pay.

Listen: Experts talk about what the new Amazon union vote means for the future of unions and work in America.



Steven Greenhouse is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation and author of the book “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor.” He wrote a piece in The Atlantic this week titled, “Is Organized Labor Making a Comeback?”

“I think it’s a very big deal,” says Greenhouse. “I’ve seen some people say this is the most influential union win since 1937 up the road from you in Flint Michigan when workers organized GM.”

“I think this is sending shockwaves through corporate America,” he continues.

Marick Masters is chair of the Department of Finance and chair of the Department of Accounting at Wayne State University’s Mike Ilitch School of Business, as well as an expert on organized labor. He says the comparison to the Flint sit-down strike of 1937 is appropriate.

“I think it reflects that there is a large, untapped desire for worker participation,” says Masters. “I think it’s a long way ahead before labor can capture the glory of the past, but this is certainly a significant step in that direction.”

Related: The movement to organize unions at Michigan Starbucks’ locations

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  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.