“There Are So Many Things That We Can Learn From This Strike”

The Los Angeles teachers strike showed that bottom-up organizing can overcome extraordinary odds. We can do the same throughout the health and education sectors — and at Amazon.

UTLA president Alex-Caputo Pearl at the LA March for Public Education, December 2018. (Photo by Joe Brusky)

Interview by
Doug Henwood

Public education is under attack across the US — and not just by right-wing Republicans. In recent decades, Democrats have also embraced the education reform agenda, including charter schools and lots of standardized testing, a pseudo-scientific way of evaluating both students and teachers.

Last spring, we saw rebellion against these strategies in conservative states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. Now, that movement is spreading to the Democratic stronghold of California.

Despite the Democrats’ dominance in California politics, education reform has been on the march in that state for some time. A center of the fight has been Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the country, where per-pupil spending is disastrously low. That low spending has partly been dictated by the property tax caps imposed by Proposition 13, passed forty years ago.

In the face of those funding restrictions, LA’s plutocrats have pushed the ed reform agenda hard. LA elites spent $10 million on behalf of charter school advocates in the 2017 school board elections. The pro-charter school board appointed Austin Beutner, who made a fortune in private equity and then retired to philanthropy, politics, and education reform, as superintendent of the city schools.

He and the board released a report in 2017 called “Hard Choices.” That report said the city was spending too much on teacher salaries and benefits. Among the points of comparison that led them to this conclusion were Oakland and Denver — cities that are now themselves on the verge of teacher strikes.

LA teachers were sick of it all and struck. And they won. Doug Henwood interviewed Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, and union organizer and writer Jane McAlevey to talk about the victory for Behind the News, Henwood’s show on Jacobin Radio. You can subscribe to Jacobin Radio here.

Doug Henwood

Alex Caputo-Pearl, what do you attribute this victory to? You had a very hostile board who basically wanted to destroy the union, so how did you win this one?

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Old-fashioned organizing. We’ve spent the last few years building systems and structures among our members, parents, and community organizations. By the time we went on strike, we had all nine hundred schools ready to go with contract action teams at just about every single school. We had regional structures that parents and community were involved in. Then once we went on strike, the issues touched a nerve publicly, and tens of thousands of more parents and community got involved.

Doug Henwood

What kind of internal work did you do within the union over the last few years to get this going?

Alex Caputo-Pearl

We started pretty quickly. We came into office in summer 2014. We won a good contract within the first eight months of our leadership using an organizing approach, which members liked. We then used that to pass a dues increase — we got 80 percent of our membership to vote to increase their dues by 30 percent. Then we built an organizing department, a parent community department, a research department, and a political department and bulked up our communications department with that dues increase.

Then we did the methodical work of building contract action teams at every school, so that the chapter chair was surrounded by several other leaders of the school. We formed a community coalition called Reclaim Our Schools LA. We trained our staff and our members in reaching out to parents.

Doug Henwood

This was the work of four or five years.

Alex Caputo-Pearl


Doug Henwood

School strikes are difficult for parents — I can speak from experience with when we had a school bus strike in New York. It’s a bit of an uphill fight. How did you win the parents over?

Alex Caputo-Pearl

We were overwhelmed and moved by how much support came from parents. Part of that is attributable to the years of work we did to set ourselves up so that we had parent leaders in every part of the city and many of our members identifying as parents connected within their communities.

But really, the explosion of support among parents was because of the issues: class size; lack of nurses in schools; lack of counselors in schools; a growing awareness about the privatization issue, where increasingly parents of students at public district schools were seeing charter schools co-locating on their campuses, taking dance studios, taking parent centers. We were able to frame the narratives in a way that really touched a nerve among parents.

The first four days of our picket lines were in the pouring rain. Our pickets were so damn strong — we were so proud. Tens of thousands of parents were on the picket line with us. The attendance in school was about 20 percent, and most of that was because parents were identifying with us and not wanting to go into school when we were on strike.

Doug Henwood

You also had huge crowds in front of City Hall.

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Three out of our first five days we did midday marches and rallies in downtown LA. All of them were over sixty thousand people — obviously, our thirty thousand members, but also a whole bunch of other people taking off work to be there. So it sent a message of real disruption to the school board and the superintendent.

Doug Henwood

Were you able to present this to the public as a fight for the quality of public services? You were faced by organized billionaires trying to undermine the public school system, but also as part of a war on public services in general. Were you able to make that broad point to the public?

Alex Caputo-Pearl

We were. For example, we used the “bargaining for the common good” approach. Over the last two years, we brought to the table issues that are not typically brought to the bargaining table. We did that through a series of youth, parent, and community forums two years ago, where we identified issues that they wanted brought to the bargaining table.

For example, one of the things we brought to the table, to address environmental issues as well as school issues, was forcing the district to remove unused bungalows from school campuses and replacing them with green space. We were able to win that in this strike, with the city committing to provide more services to build up green spaces, tear up asphalt at schools, remove bungalows, and create more gardens and green space.

Given the lack of support and services for immigrant parents, we also put forward the proposal that the district and the union collaborate on creating an immigrant defense fund, where we would use charitable drives and some of our funding for school district parents who are under attack on immigration by the Trump administration. We won that. We formally brought those to the bargaining table to highlight austerity and its impact beyond schools, and we won some things. We’re very proud of that.

Doug Henwood

What were the highlights of the victory for you in the settlement?

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Class size was huge. There’s a provision in the contract that’s been there for about twenty years that allowed the district to blow through class size caps that are established in the contract. For twenty years, the district has never had to pay attention to class size caps even though they’re in the contract. We got rid of that. The caps will now be enforceable.

Second, on class size, we developed a program of driving class sizes down — the first time LA has seen this in years. It will end up driving class sizes down by about seven students per classroom over the next three and a half years, then we’ll keep the fight going beyond that.

You’ve got class sizes right now of high thirties into the high forties. It’s outrageous. Driving that down over the next three years is going to be crucial.

Another huge victory: getting a nurse at every school full-time. We got language in the contract around a librarian at all secondary schools and a student/counselor ratio of five hundred to one. Right now, they’re around eight hundred to one.

There were other victories around charter schools: we got language around how district public schools and our chapter chairs will be represented and have voice when charter schools come and co-locate on their campuses.

We also got a commitment from the superintendent and one of the key board members, Richard Vladovic, to bring a motion to the school board to call on the state of California to cap charter school growth in Los Angeles. We talked to [Governor] Gavin Newsom about this over the weekend as we were developing this. The superintendent, the mayor, and I talked to him, and said, “This is coming. If it passes LA, we want it to be taken seriously.” He agreed he will take it seriously. He campaigned on some regulation of charter schools, so we’re very excited about that.

The other thing that came out of this, that is not a typical contract issue, is that Mayor Garcetti agreed to endorse the Schools and Communities First initiative, which is the first frontal challenge to Proposition 13 in forty years, which is being driven by California Calls, but that UTLA has been on the steering committee of for the last four years. Having Eric Garcetti endorse that challenge to close the corporate loophole within Proposition 13 is another significant win coming out of this agreement.

Doug Henwood

Yes, of course the question always is “how is the city going to pay for it?” You mentioned Prop 13, so there’s a cap on property tax revenues. They always love to plead poverty. So what about the financing issue?

Alex Caputo-Pearl

We were able to challenge the district on its finances. There was and is money here within LAUSD that is now going toward class size reductions, librarians, nurses, counselors. We had a lot of discussion about building together with the school district, the mayor, the governor, the speaker of the assembly. We had a number of conversations as we were trying to hammer this out around support for this Schools and Communities First initiative, which would bring about $5 billion to public schools in California and about $6 billion to other social services that support communities. That’s a good initiative that affects both schools and social services.

Then, we also talked about some adjustments around special education funding at the state level that would significantly increase money coming into the LA school district, as well as some potential state money for community schools — which is really our proactive visionary alternative to charter schools. One of the contract victories was getting the district to invest in thirty school communities — for them to go through a community schools transformation process, which means working with parents, community, youth, and educators to do an assets assessment and a needs assessment in their community. Then, create a strategic plan to get funding and support, to create that strategic plan, and then implement it.

Usually, what comes out of those processes is a commitment to deeper and systematic and funded parent engagement, a broader curriculum. Parents want music, the arts, ethnic studies, workshop industrial arts, all sorts of stuff. Then a key thing that also comes out of this is wraparound services, which mean locating legal services, health services, dental services, and more at school sites, so that schools are really the hubs of communities.

Money is always an issue, but we’re well-situated now. And it’s because of the strike. None of this would have happened without a strike.

Doug Henwood

We’ve seen this wave of teachers’ strikes across the country. Did that have any influence on your strike?

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Our members were absolutely inspired by the West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona strikes. At some of our rallies in the lead-up to the strike, we’ve featured Arizona and West Virginia teachers who had struck.

It was also very important that our strike really was the first of the recent strikes that was a blue-state strike. That has opened up a whole different narrative around what’s actually happening in public education and unions right now. We’re a deeply blue state dominated by Democrats, and yet we’re forty-third out of fifty among the states in per-pupil funding; yet we’re one of the states with one of the most permissive sets of charter school laws, which have been used to undermine the public education system.

The national unions, AFT and NEA, have been very supportive of this. Historically, they have been nervous about challenging Democrats. But we’ve said we’re going to throw down and go on strike against Democrats just as quickly as we will against Republicans.

Doug Henwood

It does seem like there’s a drift away from charterization and the whole education reform agenda that the Democratic Party has been obsessed with in the last twenty or so years. Do you see some movement away from that agenda?

Alex Caputo-Pearl

There’s some gradual things happening. Over the last two years, our members’ connection to parents at the school site level has led to a sharp spike in the understanding of the impact of unregulated growth of charter schools on district neighborhood schools. You’ve also got increasing research coming out that’s just saying places like LA have enough schools. We’ve got to focus on investing in our existing schools, not on a business model that opens more and more charter schools.

Then, third, it was very notable that the California Charter Schools Association — arguably the most important political force in the state of California now, shaping politics more than the oil industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and others — got very quiet during our strike. They know they can’t go up against teachers acting together with parents.

Eli Broad didn’t whisper a peep against our strike. California Charter Schools Association didn’t whisper a peep against our strike. Even their superintendent, who has some of those relationships with the billionaire folks, was very careful about how he spoke about our strike. He was critical of it, but very careful about it.

Doug Henwood

You also got some language about testing, reducing the amount of standardized testing.

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Like with any agreement, we didn’t get absolutely everything, and the struggle is going to continue. This agreement passed overwhelmingly, which is great, but we also celebrate the fact that our members’ expectations are raised now. Going on strike does that — so some of our members are saying, “Hey, we didn’t get enough.” That’s a good place to be, because the struggle’s going to continue.

Testing is one of those areas where we wanted more, but we still got something that frankly, no one would have been able to predict two years ago: we created a task force with the district that has as its stated goal reducing standardized testing by 50 percent. Which is an enormous thing when you consider that standardized testing has been crowding out music, arts, ethnic studies for years because of this testing craze.

Jane McAlevey

A lot of times when people settle contracts, there’s an over-projection of what they won. To be perfectly candid, I would say that so far there’s an understatement going about just how much you actually won.

Part of what was different about this struggle was the boss fight going into it. Last summer, when Beutner was appointed — when this Wall Street guy came in from the LA Unified School District backed by billionaire money — he put out a report called “Hard Choices.” If I remember correctly, within two months of the guy being appointed to run the school district, a report was issued that said teachers were actually overpaid. It said that your healthcare costs were too high. I mean, it was almost literally the definition of insanity from the view of a member of the public or a teacher.

Alex, when we’re discussing members’ “raised expectations” (two of my favorite words), can we walk backwards for six months and talk about what the boss’s message was and what their offer was, coming out of “Hard Choices” last summer?

Alex Caputo-Pearl

Yeah, that’s a helpful way to reframe things. We’ve got a really incredible team at UTLA, a team of officers who are elected straight out of the classroom, a fantastic staff with a bunch of talented organizers, and member-leaders across the city, who have just stepped up in an incredible way.

One of the things that’s great about the last few years is that we’ve been driven by work on the ground and not by rhetoric. One of the things that leads to is a certain amount of humility. Do we have chapter chairs at all these schools? Do we have parents in this section of the city? The focus is so much on the work that sometimes the thing that gets left off the table in the twenty-third and twenty-fourth hour of the day is how you’re framing stuff.

You’re right, Jane. When you look back at when Beutner first came in, he said that teachers were 17 percent overpaid in Los Angeles and that our healthcare was 44 percent too expensive. The angle on this entire fight was pushing back against cuts, and Beutner setting the table to get cuts.

The last scrap that he had attached to this whole fight was trying to tie our 6 percent pay increase, which we won, to having newly hired teachers from here forward take longer to get lifetime healthcare. That was clever on his part, to get our members who are teaching now to turn against people that they don’t know who will be teaching in the future. Even on that one, we beat it back and our pay increase, our 6 percent, is just a straight 6 percent with no contingencies and no conditions.

The fact that the district came out of this with literally no advance on their agenda of coming after teacher pay and teacher health care, is a very significant victory that, frankly, we’re probably been a little bit too humble and a little bit too busy to always acknowledge.

Jane McAlevey

I want to reiterate a couple more points about this. There were moments during the strike vote, when I was interviewing teachers in August, and I said to them, “If they give you the raise that you want, is that going to be enough?” “No.” I said, “What is going to be the most important thing that would get you back in from a strike?”

They said, “The thing we have to win is eliminating Section 1.5 of the contract. If we win that, we’re good.” That’s the language you described earlier that just blew a hole in the contract and let the boss declare an emergency and increase class size willy-nilly up to forty, forty-five, forty-six, whatever it was. Not only did they eliminate Section 1.5, which was absolutely huge, but they went way beyond that.

To go from what the boss message was, and what the employer’s goal was in this campaign — which was to damage the union on the way to undoing the public school system, quite frankly — to have come through that boss fight, built organizational structures that held, and achieved a two-page agreement that has so many victories in it — you went well past the minimum standards that I’ve heard most teachers saying that they wanted.

Doug Henwood

One more question for Alex. I know that teachers in Oakland and Denver are on the verge of striking. Have you been talking to them? Have they been studying your example?

Alex Caputo-Pearl

We’ve been working with the Oakland teachers for about four years now. We formed an organization called the California Alliance for Community Schools. This includes the teacher union locals from Oakland, San Francisco, Fresno, Santa Ana, San Diego, Anaheim, Richmond, San Jose. A major part of our push has been to endorse and collect the nine hundred thousand signatures that got Schools and Communities First on the ballot. But another major piece of our work was how do we, if at all possible, coordinate contract campaigns and potentially statewide actions.

We’re in very good touch with Oakland, and we’ve used a lot of the same methodology around Contract Action Teams (although they call them School-side Organizing Squads, SOS, which I think I like better). They came down for our huge march on December 15, on the eve of the strike. We’re going up to theirs on the eve of their strike. We’re both doing Art Build, which is this incredible work of getting students, parents, teachers involved in making art together before huge rallies.

We’ve done a lot of joint work, and Oakland teachers going on strike — which I think they’re going to be forced to do — will double down on the message to the governor, to the privatization movement, and to the broader nation that blue-state California is in a struggle for the existence of public education and we’re not going to let Democrats destroy it in just the same way Republicans are in other states.

Doug Henwood

Jane McAlevey, what can we learn from the strike for broader national application?

Jane McAlevey

Man, there are so many things that we can learn from this strike — including the lessons about what it takes to run a real strike that we’ve known about in our movement for a very long time. In fact, the piece that I did in Catalyst, that Jacobin reran, the article called “The Strike as the Ultimate Structure Test,” lays out a lot of basic know-how that serious organizers have had since the 1930s.

The point of me in 2019 doing a book review of a book that was finished in 1950 — though actually John Steuben, who wrote the book, began writing it in the 1930s when he was an organizer during the CIO/CP era — is that there is, in fact, a set of truisms about what it takes to build a really strong rank-and-file organization. It’s not about having a fantasy that just because you think people are pissed off, they’re going to rise up and have the level of organization that they built here in Los Angeles.

In our progressive movement, there’s this idea that we don’t need full-time staff. Sometimes there’s a demonization by progressives of the concept of “the professional staff.” True enough, there are plenty of unions where the staff quite frankly play a very unhelpful role, if not a downright bad role in terms of holding back the rank-and-file members. But that’s one scenario.

The scenario by which you can turn out sixty thousand people a day in the pouring rain and you can know exactly what’s happening across nine hundred schools, picket line by picket line — that has to do with the most fundamental thing you and I have talked about before, which is, have you done real organic leader identification?

They have here. I sat in on some of the long discussions that took place when members were coming off the picket lines and were reading the draft agreement. People were saying that the key now to getting really great chapter chairs in schools was to ask, “Who’s writing curriculum in your schools right now?” There’s a way we know how to find who are the natural, really talented leaders, school by school, or hospital by hospital in my case. You have to run a series of structure tests.

Alex mentioned that they went for a big dues increase shortly after the election of the Union Power slate, which is the candidate slate from which Alex Caputo-Pearl emerged as president of the union, along with a bunch of really terrific leaders. One of the first things they did to test whether or not the rank-and-file membership was really united behind a bold vision of the union was to run a massive dues increase, which is something that we did when I was in Las Vegas many years ago. Certainly, a really good threshold test of rank-and-file engagement, of how they feel right now about their own organization, is to run a big dues increase.

I think that they’ve done seven significant, what I would call “structure tests.” There are serious methods and when we follow them — we meaning a progressive, radical labor movement — we win. That’s the message that’s coming out of the amazing strike. The organizing department was built by organizers trained in that same tradition that I was trained in. I didn’t invent this stuff, I’m the first to say it. We all were trained by the same people who come out of the old 1199 union. That’s a very important message, I think, for the broader progressive movement.

Doug Henwood

That term, structure test — I presume that means a way of finding out if you’ve got the numbers with you?

Jane McAlevey

Yeah. It really means, do the members own the organization? Do the members understand that this is their organization? In the United States, we never assume that people are ready to have a strike unless they’re participating in multiple structure tests, meaning a super-majority petition, things that let us test whether we are at 90 percent across every worksite, in this case across every school. They had to get to the point where they knew that the rank and file owned the unions so much that they were at no less than 90 percent across nine hundred schools. They had to use every structure test.

Let’s just take one of them, the majority petition. You want to get a majority of people to hand sign a petition that says we are going to demand smaller class sizes in our contract. You move that out across nine hundred schools and you give it a timeline — let’s say five days. Then, at the end of five days, you can do a straight-up assessment. These thirty-five schools sent none in. Okay, well, we have a problem in these thirty-five schools. There’s no one engaging with their own organization. These four hundred schools sent back 100 percent of signatures in three days. Okay, we don’t have to worry about those schools. They’re in great shape.

Structure tests are how you learn to prioritize where the rank and file, the teacher leaders, and the staff organizers collectively need to focus their energy to make sure that when the rubber hits the road in a big strike, the rank-and-file members are participating upwards of 90 or 95 percent. That’s what real organizing is.

Doug Henwood

What about public involvement? Unions have suffered many blows to their image — they look like self-interested organizations, not really concerned with the level of public services and more concerned with their own wages and benefits. How important is it to get the public on your side for something like this to succeed?

Jane McAlevey

It’s literally life or death. In a strike like this, in the healthcare sector, in the education sector, frankly in every sector, every union needs to build community infrastructure. You have a dominating narrative being driven by both Democrats and Republicans and by the super-wealthy elite, that has been attempting to decimate the image of unions for decades now. If you haven’t done the hard work to connect your members to their own communities and build the kind of organization that’s going to stand up and support you when you walk out, you are unlikely to win.

In both Chicago during the amazing 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike, and also here in Los Angeles, the teachers’ unions are going up against Democratic strongholds. It’s in the cities controlled by Democrats where the employers were out to kill the unions because that was a way for them to privatize the system. So winning over the public was second to none in both Chicago and Los Angeles, and the leadership knew it.

Karen Lewis, in the case of Chicago, Alex Caputo-Pearl, in the case of Los Angeles, knew that they had to educate the entire city. They had to educate the public about why the strike mattered, what the issues were. This morning, waking up in a hotel in Los Angeles at about 5 AM, I literally said to the guy at the hotel, “Hey, did you hear that the teachers won?” This hotel worker looked at me and the first thing he said was, “It’s amazing. I hear that they won a nurse for every school, guidance counselors, and school librarians.”

That is very telling about what they did in this city. It was just like when I was riding public transportation in Chicago and I had on a CTU t-shirt. Literally, people on the buses were coming up to talk to me about how the strike changed their lives and their own view of the power of the working class in their city. These were not teachers.

The same thing is happening in Los Angeles. The education workers, because they’re teachers, are teaching all of us and the public in their cities, what it takes to win and what’s at stake with austerity.

Doug Henwood

What should we think about the fact that teachers and nurses are acting like a vanguard of the working class in the United States now? What does that mean in the broad scheme of things?

Jane McAlevey

First of all, there’s nothing more exciting to me. Look, these are mostly women-led professions, and there’s a whole lot, if not a majority, of women of color at the leadership, both in health care and in education. It’s so important that we’re building a women-led, people of color–led, trade union movement in this moment. I think you see this much more natural, organic connection to the community. I honestly don’t believe that the mayor, Garcetti, would have intervened in the strike had he not seen the public being brought along by a mostly female workforce who deeply understand that there is no separation between what matters to them in their contract at work and what matters to them when they punch the clock and go home.

This struggle was about racial justice, and they brought racial justice front and center into it. One of the many things that we didn’t talk about is that they won an end to random searches in pilot schools. They’re extending that to twenty-eight schools, and they’re phasing in more of them, where you just can’t do random searches anymore on the students. So they built a movement that brought in housing, the environment, racial justice issues. The immigrant defense fund that they won is this dedicated hotline with attorneys for immigrant families.

I think what women do differently than men is we connect the workplace and the non-workplace issues. But the reason they’re driving privatization so hard is because we know they can’t offshore. They can’t move the hospital to China. They can’t move the school to Myanmar or to China, so instead, the neoliberals have set out to decimate the teachers’ unions.

In the healthcare sector, most people don’t understand that in the United States the vast majority of nurses and hospital workers are not yet in a union and never have been — unlike teachers, where the majority actually are. So in the case of the teachers, it’s about de-unionizing. They have to privatize the system to break the teachers’ unions, to break public institutions, to make more money off education, and just break the labor movement.

In the case of health care, I frequently have said to people that if we just focus on organizing nurses and hospital workers in the healthcare sector we could damn near come close to getting back to the private sector density we had at the heyday of the labor movement. It’s 10 million people who are building a different kind of labor movement because they deeply understand, in the case of nurses and hospital workers, that their patients are getting sicker because they’re poor. They’re just naturally compelled to fight poverty.

It’s the same with the education sector and the teachers. They see what poverty is doing to their students day in and day out, and a women-led movement connects the issues in ways that frankly we just haven’t seen in the United States in forty or fifty years.

Doug Henwood

Teachers and nurses are not low-paid workers, they generally have degrees, sometimes several degrees. A lot of public attention has been paid to organizing fast-food workers, minimum-wage workers. What about that focus? Is it that teachers and nurses have some social power and social prestige, and fast-food workers don’t have much? Is the attention paid to fast-food workers misplaced?

Jane McAlevey

Fast-food workers deserve way more dignity than they get in this country. But the fact of the matter is, we’re in a fight over power. So if as a labor movement we need to prioritize doing what is actually going to build power, then we need to think very carefully about the sectors in the economy in which we’re ploughing the biggest resources. That’s part of the argument I made at the end of No Shortcuts.

Health care and education can’t be shipped out to China, they are women-led, people of color–led, are producing a different kind of movement around them. And what one massive strike just did in Los Angeles compared to years of fighting around the fast-food stuff — it’s night and day.

It’s not that fast-food workers aren’t important. Not in a million years. But part of what I focused on in both the Steuben review, and especially in No Shortcuts, is trying to give people a history lesson going back to the 1930s. The smarter labor movement of the 1930s in the United States was never equally focused on all workers. They had something called the “basic industries.” They understood the strategy to build power. And my argument today is that we need to do the very same thing.

We need to have a power analysis for the entire country, and we need to get clear that to build the kind of power required, we need to get much more focused on a handful of strategic sectors and dig in and dig in hard. Included in that, by the way, is the entire supply-chain and logistics sector. I mean, if we did Amazon, health care, and education, we’d retake the country, seriously.

Doug Henwood

How would you go about organizing a place like Amazon?

Jane McAlevey

I would go about it in the very same way that they just did here. You would do warehousing and then the supply chain sector. I’ve been staring at a website looking at how the whole supply-chain system works for Amazon. There is no question that with a real approach to organizing from the outside in, bottom up, neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community, in the key places where the warehouses exist, partnered with the drivers, the pilots — what workers need to take that leap of faith, which they just did here in Los Angeles, is for there to be a credible plan to win. I don’t think we’ve offered Amazon workers a credible plan to win yet. I haven’t seen it yet.

Part of what separates real organizing from not-real organizing is that real organizers wake up in the morning believing that workers are smart, that they’re intelligent, and that faced with good, strategic choices, they actually get the difference between doors A, B, and C, and they will walk through a really smart plan. They will help own it and shape it and build it. That is not something that we have offered up yet. We just haven’t in terms of going after Amazon.

We would strategically map the most important of the warehouses, we’d strategically map where the chokepoints are, how to slow them down. There would be a series of steps you would make in doing a power structure analysis of Amazon, and then you’d have to put really serious money — like, the kind of money that’s gone into the fast-food campaign, frankly needs to go into a bottom-up organizing approach to take Amazon. It’s just not happened yet.

Doug Henwood

Amazon’s coming to Long Island City.

Jane McAlevey

An amazing opportunity.

Doug Henwood

What advice would you offer to the welcoming committee?

Jane McAlevey

The welcoming committee needs to literally make sure Amazon is not allowed to function in New York until Jeff Bezos and Amazon are taught a lesson. And the lesson has to be, you’re not going to make money and contribute to gentrification and destroy this city without this company going union. It’s going to be a hell of a fight, and I’m really excited at the prospects for a New York City–based movement taking on Bezos in a way that he has yet to be taken on. It’s urgent.

There’s nothing more important that people could be doing right now in the short term in New York, in my opinion, than seizing the opportunity of taking that subsidy, ripping it away, and making the place ungovernable unless and until that man learns that he’s going to go union.