Chris Smalls and frontline workers protesting on May Day. Photo: Chris Smalls/Twitter @Shut_downAmazon Chris Smalls and frontline workers protesting on May Day. Photo: Chris Smalls/Twitter @Shut_downAmazon

Workers from Amazon and other retail companies walked out on May day to demand protective equipment and hazard pay, reports Alyssa Cassata

While companies like Amazon are making millions in profits, frontline workers are being forced to fight for equipment to protect them from the pandemic. On May 1st, workers across America went on strike to protest unsafe working conditions and make their demands clear.

Amazon owner, Jeff Bezos, has reportedly gained $24 billion over the course of the pandemic but has failed to adequately protect the workers who made those profits possible. The company has refused to publicly disclose the number of employees that have been infected with the virus and ended its unlimited unpaid leave policy at the end of April, creating unsafe conditions for employees who have reported that they feel Amazon is putting them in an “impossible situation” that forces them to “choose between getting groceries and rent paid and potentially infecting themselves or others”.

Chris Smalls, who was shamefully fired by Amazon following a walkout he organised in March, coordinated the protest against exploitive companies such as Amazon, Instacart, FedEx and Target. Their demands included transparency on cases and policy, real paid sick leave, hazard pay, clean facilities and safety guidelines to be enforced at all times. Protests took place in a number of locations nationwide from JFK8 in Staten Island, New York to HOU2 in Houston, Texas and striking workers were joined by nurses, bus drivers and train operators in solidarity against unethical working conditions.

The walkout’s significance is clear, given that it was the first time that non-unionised workers coordinated a nationwide strike and attracted extensive media attention, ensuring that their demands were heard. The protest also gained the support of numerous political figures including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.

The mass walkout follows Smalls’ recent announcement that he has hired CK Hoffler (a trial lawyer, known for her success in civil rights, employment and complex commercial cases) to challenge Amazon for allegedly failing to protect its employees against covid-19. This legal action fighting for workers’ rights has received the support of famed civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson, as well as Rainbow Push Coalition and other coalition partners.

Jeff Bezos is also currently facing demands to testify before Congress for possible antitrust violations following claims that Amazon has made statements that “appear to be misleading, and possibly criminally false or perjurious” after the Wall Street Journal published an article claiming that Amazon employees have used data about independent sellers on the company’s platform to develop competing products, conflicting with an Amazon lawyer’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in 2019.

Although Jeff Bezos is currently the richest man in the world with a net worth of $139.7 billion, he is failing to ensure a safe environment for workers and provide employees with the hazard pay they deserve. However, this example of inequality is not unique to Jeff Bezos or Amazon, but is typical of the parasitic capitalist system rampant in America, highlighting the crucial nature of organising workplaces and protesting exploitation. Workers like Chris Smalls have not just proved that this is possible, but that it is popular and has the support of the public.

Watch Alyssa’s recent interview with Chris Smalls:

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Alyssa Cassata

Alyssa Cassata is a socialist, activist and history student