NEW YORK – Ten members of New York’s Democratic congressional delegation, including top-ranking U.S. Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign on Friday over allegations that he sexually harassed six women. Nadler and Maloney, who respectively chair the powerful House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, kicked off the pile-on of resignation demands by issuing withering statements ripping Cuomo for both his alleged actions and his response once the claims became public. “The repeated accusations against the governor, and the manner in which he has responded t...
Stunning details emerge as Jeffrey Epstein's housekeeper testifies about Ghislaine Maxwell’s bizarre rules
Ghislaine Maxwell tightly regulated every detail in Jeffrey Epstein's Palm Beach mansion as "lady of the house," a former employee testified Thursday during the British heiress' sex trafficking trial.
Juan Alessi, who worked as a house manager for the multimillionaire Epstein for more than a decade in the 1990s, told jurors at the Manhattan trial that Maxwell ordered a "tremendous" number of rules, including warning to avoid eye contact with Epstein.
"'Never look at his eyes, look in another part of the room and answer him,'" Alessi, who worked at the Palm Beach, Florida estate, remembered Maxwell telling him.
"Remember that you see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing, except to answer a question directed at you," read a staff instruction manual exhibited in court.
The 58-page booklet was dated after Alessi's departure in 2002, but he remembered a prior version of it with similar content.
"NEVER disclose Mr. Epstein or Ms. Maxwell's activities or whereabouts to anyone," it read.
A lengthy checklist to review prior to Epstein's arrivals at the mansion included directions to be sure that a gun was placed in the drawer of a side table in the late financier's bedroom.
Wearing an all-black ensemble, the 59-year-old Maxwell watched Alessi's testimony during the proceedings in which she has pleaded not guilty to six counts of enticing and transporting minors for sex.
If convicted, she faces an effective life sentence.
Alessi also recalled seeing two girls that appeared underage -- 14 or 15, he said -- including one who testified earlier this week under the pseudonym "Jane."
Alessi said he first met Jane in 1994, when she visited the estate with her mother. He also recounted picking her up from school.
Those details appeared to corroborate testimony from Jane, who had recalled a "Latin American" man picking her up. Alessi is from Ecuador.
Alessi also recalled seeing Jane boarding a plane from Palm Beach with Epstein, Maxwell and the latter's Yorkie terrier, Max.
In hours of testimony over the course of two days, Jane, who is now an adult, told jurors in explicit detail that Epstein subjected her to sexual abuse for years, beginning at age 14. She said Maxwell was often present and sometimes participated in the sex acts.
The defense will begin cross-examining Alessi on Friday. Maxwell's lawyers insist she is a scapegoat for Epstein, whose 2019 death in prison while awaiting trial was ruled a suicide.
Armed left-wing activists are prepared for the next Rittenhouse -- but analysts say the armed right is a bigger threat
The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict revealed a stark divide in how Americans view race, political violence and guns: For partisans on the right, the verdict vindicated Rittenhouse as a hero who stepped forward to help protect property as police lost control, and who used justified deadly force to defend himself — a symbol of law and order against a backdrop of urban chaos.
On the left, the verdict is seen as a green light for white vigilante violence against Black racial justice protesters and their allies — both an extension of state violence and a reminder of law enforcement’s systemic failure to protect people of color. The violence meted out by Rittenhouse, resulting in the deaths of two men and injury to a third, is also viewed as the inevitable and tragic result of a country awash in guns. Consequently, the idea of adding more guns to protests is widely considered anathema by progressives.
Activists in the armed left embrace the first part of the equation wholeheartedly, but hold a more complicated view on the second question, placing less emphasis on the number of guns at protests and more on who’s carrying them. To be sure, the armed left is a decidedly small minority within the broader progressive movement, compared to the political right, where bearing arms is woven into veneration for the Second Amendment.
While armed leftists insist on reserving the right to carry firearms in self-defense at protests, there’s little evidence that the Rittenhouse verdict has prompted them to take a more aggressive stance. The lack of mobilization on the part of the armed left stands in contrast to perennial claims raised by the far-right actors and the conservative media ecosystem that “antifa” poses the greatest threat of violence, which are contradicted by all available evidence.
“I have not seen any credible threats or statements of intent to respond with violence as a response to the verdict, which is important to note,” said Matthew Kriner, a senior research scholar at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “Why don’t we see reciprocity in real time? One of the things that keeps coming up with the armed left is they have taken an intentional stance of non-proactive engagement. They don’t want to proactively engage with someone, but they will defend themselves.”
Grandmaster Jay, the supreme commander of the Not F*cking Around Coalition, a Black paramilitary that came to prominence when hundreds of its members paraded with rifles in the streets of downtown Louisville, Ky. in support of Breonna Taylor in July 2020, told Raw Story that, if anything, the Rittenhouse verdict is likely to make armed leftists more cautious.
"I don't think folks need to become more assertive," said Grandmaster Jay, whose real name is John Johnson. "We'll see situations that those individuals that choose to arm themselves will probably give a little more thought, whether they be protesters or militia. As far as folks provoking situations, thinking you can gamble on hiding behind self-defense, that would be foolish."
Speaking about the Rittenhouse shootings, Grandmaster Jay said he would like to see "synergy between the militia and the protesters," lamenting that the focus on outrage against racism and police violence — the cause for upheaval when the shootings took place — got lost during murder trial.
Four other leftist gun activists who spoke to Raw Story echoed Grandmaster Jay's assessment, adding other reasons that they don't expect an escalation on the part of the left. They view guns as only one limited option among an array of tools for collective defense at protests. And they're conscious that structural racism means they are more constrained than their right-wing counterparts. But they insist that organized armed community defense needs to remain on the table as an option for responding to situations like the one in which Rittenhouse fatally shot two men and injured a third.
Gun control advocates, unsurprisingly, view any introduction of additional guns to protest zones with alarm.
"Armed intimidation at demonstrations is a direct assault on the First Amendment and on the ability to keep our communities safe," Justin Wagner, the senior director of investigations at Everytown for Gun Safety, said in an email to Raw Story. "The gun lobby wants us to believe that guns everywhere will make us safer, but the research is clear: Guns at demonstrations make violence more likely."
One reason the Rittenhouse verdict is unlikely the move the needle is because it was utterly unsurprising to African-Americans in particular and leftist activists as a whole, who were already acutely aware of racial disparities in law enforcement and the court system.
“Everything is working according to plan — according to the plan this country is established upon, how everything was set up,” said Haikoo-x, a Durham, NC resident who is a member of the Panther Special Operations Command, a Black armed formation. “I see through the thinly veiled attempt to say this was not a racial case…. We know for a fact that if a Black man or Black woman defended themselves in the same way, we would not be experiencing such a verdict at this juncture.” Haikoo spoke on condition that his real name not be published because of his experience receiving threatening social-media messages from white supremacists.
The baseline for left-wing political violence is already statistically low, and armed leftists and experts alike say there’s no indication that the Rittenhouse verdict will be a tipping point for an uptick in mobilization.
A recent report co-authored by Everytown's Wagner found that the “vast majority” of armed actors at protests over an 18-month period from January 2020 through June 2021 were “right-wing groups, like the Three Percenters and the Proud Boys.”
Entitled "Armed Assembly: Guns, Demonstrations, and Political Violence in America, the report was jointly released in August by Everytown and the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLEDP. The report found that the number of protests involving the presence of firearms spiked in the three-month period following the death of George Floyd, accounting for more than half of the total. But the report notes that almost 84 percent of the armed demonstrations associated with protests against racist police violence included armed groups or individuals who showed up to oppose racial justice protesters.
Underscoring Wagner's point, the report found that demonstrations where firearms were present were almost six times as likely to turn violent or destructive. Sam Jones, a spokesperson for ACLEDP and one of the report’s co-authors clarified in an email to Raw Story that the report doesn’t assert a causal relationship between the presence of firearms and protest violence, but he said the correlation is cause for concern.
“The data do suggest that adding more guns to an already volatile situation like a political protest could elevate the risk of violence, and especially deadly violence,” Jones said. “Our data also indicate that demonstrations with counter-demonstrators on both sides, in general, are more likely to turn violent than demonstrations that take place on their own, so if these begin to increasingly take the form of multiple opposing armed groups looking to resolve their disputes in the streets, that’s a dangerous trend. But right now, that violence — armed or not — is predominantly connected to one set of actors: far-right militias and militant social groups.”
Left-wing community defense vs. right-wing accelerationism
Violence at protests has far more to do with the actors than the weaponry, in the view of Matthew Kriner, the scholar at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism. With a few exceptions, he said, people involved with the armed left tend to use firearms in a defensive posture.
“In the American context, there’s a very intentional framing and engagement protocol that is restrained self-defense and community-oriented defense focused,” Kriner said. “That’s in stark contrast to the right-wing discourse of militias and boogaloo that openly talk about using guns to start a civil war.”
Beginning around 2016, Kriner said, a number of far-right groups emerged that embraced accelerationism — the idea that violence can hasten societal collapse and open the door to a new social order.
“What we saw from 2016 onwards is that there are very particular actors that intend to bring the level of antagonism and the temperature of protests up in the hopes of instigating violence and with the intent of framing violence as being between the left and the right,” Kriner said. “That’s something accelerationists have been strategically deploying. You can look at the Proud Boys, Rise Above Movement, Patriot Prayer and now the boogaloo. Those are groups that are coming to events with the intention of witnessing violence and responding, or instigating violence.”
As an example, Kriner cited Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnis’ decision to create a ranked hierarchy within the organization in which members are required to commit an assault to obtain the top rank. He added that there’s no equivalent on the left of a group codifying premeditated violence.
The Not F*cking Around Coalition, or NFAC might be a possible exception as a left-wing group that embraces accelerationism, Kriner said.
Kriner said that NFAC’s social media “echoes of a similar vein of rhetoric as boogaloo in terms of willingness to use violence against law enforcement, in their case, because of the historical mistreatment of African Americans.” He added that there are a “small number within the NFAC arena that are willing to take violent steps,” citing Othal Wallace, a former member who shot a Daytona Beach, Fla. police officer in the head.
Grandmaster Jay rejected the notion that NFAC's ideology is accelerationist, telling Raw Story: "We've never espoused any statements where we said we were opposed to the police or let's attack the police. Its always been opposition to police brutality."
In describing NFAC's ideology of racial separatism, Grandmaster Jay rejected the term "Black ethnostate," but he said, "One of the things I teach, what has always been taught throughout history is that every race on earth has a home. Black Americans do not have a home." He added, "It is incumbent that we have a place that we can call home the way that the white race can call home."
(The Huey P. Newton Gun Club, another Black paramilitary organization, is similarly linked to Micah Xavier Johnson, who killed five Dallas police officers during an ambush at a Black Lives Matter rally in 2016. Co-founder Babu Omowale said Johnson was a familiar face at community events in Dallas, and his fellow co-founder Yafeuh Balogun reportedly posted on Facebook after the officers were killed: “I will not ever disown the brother as most have. He shall be celebrated one day.”)
Notwithstanding his assessment of NFAC, Kriner and other analysts emphasize that on the whole, armed protests are far more likely to become violent when they involve far-right actors.
“The key point here is not just the presence of firearms, but also the types of armed actors that are present,” Sam Jones of the ACEDP told Raw Story. The data shows that 20 percent of demonstrations involving Proud Boys turn violent, Jones said. In contrast, the report found that 16 percent of demonstrations involving the presence of firearms by any party turned violent or destructive.
“There’s clear indicators of accelerationism across the board on the right,” Kriner said. “The Proud Boys are often willing to embed themselves in spaces, openly wearing colors alongside MAGA activists. They’re willing to push the envelope in terms of what kind of violence is feasible.”
‘An excuse to have a Rittenhouse moment’
Haikoo-x showed up week after week for protests against racist policing in Graham, NC in the summer of 2020. Responding to George Floyd’s killing, the protesters focused on a Confederate monument in front of the county courthouse that served as a vivid symbol of the racism entrenched in local law enforcement and the court system. Haikoo and other racial justice protesters encountered continuous online threats and physical confrontation from neo-Confederates who wanted to preserve the monument, back the police and show their support for Donald Trump.
The far-right counter-protesters were always came seeking an excuse for violence, Haikoo said.
“The white supremacists I’ve come across, many of them had weapons,” he said. “Knives have been found on them. They made sure of their Second Amendment rights. I’ve been sent pictures of loads of firearms in regards to taking me out and in regards to taking my comrades out. They don’t mind flashing their firearms and making intentions known, and even doing their best to find themselves in the personal space of protesters, especially Black men, so they can cause a ruckus and have an excuse to have a Rittenhouse moment.”
“The real rule is the unspoken one — is no firearms by Black people and allies at protests,” Haikoo told Raw Story. “That’s what the regulation means.”
If it were legal, Haikoo said, he “would be carrying every time” he attended a protest in North Carolina.
“That could cut down on some of the violence,” he said. “You have some white supremacists that are really looking to hurt Black people. Some are just trying to intimidate. A lot of that intimidation has caused riots. You’re not going to walk up on me as fast when I have an AR-15 strapped to my side. That could be de-escalation. The goal is never violence; it’s organized force.”
On Oct. 31, 2020, Haikoo stood with other Black racial justice activists on a stage near the Confederate monument in Graham as city police officers and county sheriff’s deputies set upon protesters, along with children, disabled people and journalists, with pepper fog, disrupting a march to the polls on the final day of early voting and making dozens of arrests. “I had people screaming and crying at me to please hide myself and please get off the podium,” Haikoo said, recalling how his comrades were concerned that the deputies would use the chaos as a pretext to shoot him.
A couple weeks after the police violently shut down the march to the polls in Graham, Haikoo traveled from North Carolina to join an armed march with other Black activists in Dallas. Haikoo marched as a member of Panther Special Operations Command, alongside members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club and the Fred Hampton Gun Club, part of a constellation of armed Black formations inspired by the original Black Panther Party. “At the end of the day, we’re all Panthers,” Haikoo said. “It’s one big organization with different pockets.”
The march route took the activists through predominantly Black neighborhoods and, in Haikoo’s words, “allowed us to speak to people on how to properly arm themselves in a way that as much as possible is beyond reproach.
“It was an opportunity when we marched through to see that we have our people that care about us,” he said. “We have people that are willing to march out there — a bunch of Black people with guns and fearlessness in their stride. We got to give people hugs. [We were] talking to people in tears that didn’t know Black Panthers existed, that there were people really invested in marginalized communities.”
The open carry question
Armed leftist groups have periodically used open carry as a tactic to counter far-right mobilization. Two of the most dramatic examples come from 2016 and 2017, during Donald Trump’s campaign for president and his first year in office. Notably, they did occur during the past 18 months that have been marked by upheaval over COVID restrictions, racial reckoning and election disputes.
The Huey P. Newton Gun Club, named after the Black Panther Party founder, was founded in 2014 in response to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., which also kicked off the first wave of Black Lives Matter activism. In April 2016, as the Republican primary amped up anti-Muslim sentiment, armed members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club joined forces with the New Black Panther Party and Nation of Islam to confront rifle-wielding members of the Bureau of American-Islamic Relations.
“When they decided to come to south Dallas — that’s a largely African-American community — that’s how we got involved,” co-founder Yafeuh Balogun told Raw Story. “We didn’t think they should show up with guns. Come and talk, or communicate with pen and paper.
“I always say when I talk about it that it wasn’t the Huey P. Newton Gun Club; it was really the community that ran them out of Dallas,” he added.
Meanwhile, the now defunct Redneck Revolt emerged in late 2016 and early 2017 to confront the rising threat of the alt-right, a rebranding of white power extremism that sought to ride Trump’s coattails into mainstream acceptance. On Aug. 12, 2017, when hundreds of white supremacists from across the United States swarmed into Charlottesville, Va. for the Unite the Right rally, a contingent of armed leftists took up positions with long rifles outside a nearby park where an opposing group held a permit to provide respite for counter-protesters. Mitchell Fryer, who participated in the defensive formation, recalled that a group of young men in white shirts and khaki pants from Identity Evropa — an organization recently found liable for conspiracy to commit racial, ethnic and religious harassment and violence — walked up on the Redneck Revolt group, stopped momentarily to take stock, and then turned and walked away.
As a safety precaution, Dwayne Dixon, who also participated in the effort, said members carried rifles with empty chambers although they had ammunition on hand. That was to avoid anyone misfiring, or getting shot by adversaries who might try to wrest away their weapons.
“We were effective in what we hoped to do in a really historic moment that won’t ever be reenacted,” Dixon said. “These decisions were risky, but they were risky for us.”
Despite Redneck Revolt being named in a lawsuit by the Georgetown Law Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection that was ultimately resolved when they signed a consent decree agreeing to not return to Charlottesville as a paramilitary, Dixon said he still feels confident they made the right call.
White supremacists rained down horrific violence on Charlottesville during Unite the Right, including punching, kicking and hurling lit torches at counter-protesters and ramming through them with shields, culminating with James Fields accelerating his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of nonviolent marchers, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others. In contrast, Redneck Revolt did not fire a shot, and there is no evidence members engaged in any violence. Fields’ lawyer called Dixon to testify as part of an attempt to build a case that her client “felt he was in danger” before he drove his car into the crowd, but the jury rejected the argument and found Fields guilty of first-degree murder.
Six days after the Unite the Right rally, Dixon carried a semi-automatic rifle in downtown Durham, NC in response to a rumor that the Ku Klux Klan was coming to the city. Dixon was cited for violating the state’s law against bringing a dangerous weapon to a demonstration, but the charge was dismissed by a judge who agreed with Dixon’s lawyer that the law is unconstitutional.
Since then, neither Dixon nor Fryer have participated in any open-carry actions.
“I’d open-carry if the situation calls for it,” Fryer said. “I haven’t found another situation since Charlottesville outside of a couple instances on private property where that was the case.”
Dixon said that in light of the Rittenhouse verdict he has no appetite for any escalation of firearms use by the left.
“I don’t think that’s a trajectory I’m interested in pursuing,” he said, explaining that the volatility of the current historical moment in the United States and the endless complexities of social fault-lines and conditions give him pause.
“I would want to explore other modes of deterrence, not just simply carrying rifles,” Dixon said. “That moment and those tactics, they’re effective — in my case, that was 2017, and hasn’t been since.”
Over the past four years, Dixon noted, leftists have utilized an array of tactics to provide for community defense at protests, including bicycles and shields to create barriers, and flanking marches with vehicles in front and back.
“I think we have archives to draw on,” Dixon said. “The part that would be occupied by visible carrying of arms would be small.”
Fryer, who left Redneck Revolt before the group dissolved, started a project called Armed Margins to provide firearms and self-defense training to people who traditionally have barriers to access, including people of color, LGBTQ people and other progressive allies. They said they have seen plenty of open carrying by leftists over the past couple years, but they worry that many activists bringing guns to protests are creating unnecessary risks and don’t understand the legal framework of self-defense.
“There’s people out there doing community defense,” they said. “The left isn’t having appropriate conversation about what are good practices and what aren’t.”
Fryer described a livestream they monitored in which a group of leftists with long guns was attempting to direct people from the opposing side out of a parking lot. When the person went in a different direction one of the leftists came up and slammed their rifle into the driver’s window. Fryer declined to disclose the date and location of the incident because they don’t want the person to be doxed and harassed, but cited it as a cautionary story about a situation that could have easily gone horribly wrong.
“What’s not recognized is that in stand-your-ground states, vehicles and homes are known as special places,” Fryer said. “In the legal protections of stand your ground, within self-defense you’re granted quite a few presumptions that cannot be argued in court. I believe it’s the presumption of deadly harm on the part of the person who is trying to forcefully enter the vehicle. The other is the presumption of reasonable fear of serious injury or death.”As the number of armed protests surged in the three months after the killing of George Floyd, armed confrontations between opposing actors rose apace. Notably, Gaige Grosskreutz, the third man gunned down by Kyle Rittenhouse, testified that he was unintentionally pointing his own gun at Rittenhouse when the shooting occurred.Earlier in the summer of 2020 a Black Lives Matter supporter named Garrett Foster who was carrying an AK-47 when he was fatally shot by a driver trying to pass through a crowd of protesters in downtown Austin, Texas. Daniel Perry, an Army sergeant who was moonlighting as a rideshare driver, has been indicted for murder in the case. Whether Foster raised his rifle before Perry shot him is in dispute.
Then, in August 2020, only four days after the Rittenhouse shooting, an antifascist named Michael ReinoehlMichael Reinoehl fatally shot Patriot Prayer supporter Aaron Danielson after a protest in Portland, Ore. Reinoehl went on the run, and five days later a US Marshals task force killed him in a hail of bullets.
Matthew Kriner, the scholar at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism said Reinoehl is the only armed leftist that he's aware of "that proactively carried out an assault."
He also said: "Leftists, when they do go armed to protests, there's a valid reason they might want to be armed. When you look at rhetoric by Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, they joke about hunting antifascists in the streets. Antifascists have a valid reason to believe they will not just be assaulted, but be targets of attempted killings."
‘A different set of rules’
Mitchell Fryer, the instructor with Armed Margins, and Yafeuh Balogun, the co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, acknowledged that bringing additional guns to a setting like Kenosha, Wis. on the night that Kyle Rittenhouse killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber — which can more properly be described as a rebellion than a protest — is risky. But they both insisted that an organized community defense force shouldn’t be off the table.
“What we would have done potentially is attempted to keep those groups from intermingling,” Balogun said. “That would have been the best and most responsible thing is the protection of life. I’ve never been concerned about property. I don’t care if buildings burn. We probably would have been trying to keep the groups separate.”
Taking into consideration that Huey P. Newton Gun Club members would have been embedded “with the progressive element” in a crowd that was angered by the police shooting of a Black man, Bologun clarified: “We wouldn’t necessarily be trying to control people’s First Amendment rights. We would have allowed people to be open about how they feel.”
Fryer also said they could imagine an organized community defense formation playing a constructive role.
“I think the presence of armed people can be a deterrent, especially if those persons are well organized, narrow in their scope of what they’re doing, and comport themselves with discipline,” they said.
Like Balogun, Fryer said they viewed an armed left formation as a potential buffer. But they also said it could have potentially opened a line of communication with the right-wing militia to which Rittenhouse was attached.
“If you’re a person who’s armed up, you can hold a conversation with another person who’s armed up and have dialogue — all kinds of things that lower the temperature,” Fryer said. “It’s harder to shoot someone who you’ve talked to.”
Balogun argued that it was the “intermingling” of opposing groups that allowed Rittenhouse to interact with Rosenbaum, whom he perceived as a threat, leading to first his and then Huber’s death, ultimately concluding with the jury’s decision that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. Fryer said made a similar point — that no matter Rittenhouse’s state purpose of protecting property or providing medic services, “the way he’s being interpreted is a white agitator who’s pointing guns at us,” not an ally to those expressing their rage at the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
“Hypothetically, you have a community defense group and you hear the Kenosha Guard is out, and they’re adjacent to areas where there’s rebellion going on,” Fryer said. “As militia folks are showing up, they’re establishing communication with them before the militia starts doing unilateral things. Maybe they’ll give you information.” Fryer added that the community defense group might sense that someone like Rittenhouse was inadvertently antagonizing the crowd. They might “get feedback and send that over to the militia, and they rein that shit in.”
But a left-wing version of Kyle Rittenhouse waving a rifle around, and lethally dispatching far-right domestic terrorists under the legal cover of self-defense? That’s not even a fantasy that armed leftists are likely to entertain.
“I don’t think we will see an increase in that from the left because we know we don’t get the same privilege extended to us,” said Haikoo-x, the racial justice activists who faced down violent white supremacists in Graham, NC last year. “Honestly, a black man would get a much harsher sentence. A Black man would be sentenced just for carrying a firearm. We face a different set of rules versus Kyle, America’s sweetheart…. We can’t. That’s out of survival. What that does is it makes it open season for them to have even more justification to kill us. ‘He had a gun.’ ‘He had a violent past.’ They’re going to make a scandal and ruin your name, and say, ‘He wouldn’t have had a gun if he wasn’t looking for violence.’”
Haikoo repeated his assessment that the left is unlikely to escalate in response to a far right emboldened by the verdict, but offered the subtlest of suggestions that it might not be that way forever.
“I don’t think it will increase anything,” he said. “We will not be able to survive doing so, unless we did so in very large numbers. That is something to be determined.”
Amazon workers in Alabama get new shot at union after NLRB rules company broke the law in first vote
Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama may soon get another chance to decide whether to unionize. The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Amazon violated U.S. labor law while waging an aggressive anti-unionization campaign against warehouse workers earlier this year in Bessemer, Alabama. This comes as Amazon workers worldwide from Bangladesh to Germany campaigned on Black Friday for fairer working conditions under the banner, “Make Amazon Pay.” “If Amazon is trying to eat the world, it’s also bringing many disparate sets of workers and activists and communities together to fight against them,” says Alex Press, staff writer at Jacobin.
Amazon Workers in Alabama Get New Shot at Union After NLRB Rules Company Broke the Law in 1st Vote www.youtube.com
TranscriptThis is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York, joined by Democracy Now! co-host Juan González in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Hi, Juan.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Hi, Amy. Welcome to all of our listeners and viewers across the country and around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: On Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, the day after Thanksgiving, Amazon employees worldwide joined in a strike that targeted the trillion-dollar company and its founder, billionaire Jeff Bezos, under the banner “Make Amazon Pay.” They called for the retail giant to raise wages, pay its taxes in full and stop its surveillance of workers.
This comes as workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, may soon get another chance to decide whether to unionize. The National Labor Relations Board has ordered a new election after it ruled Amazon had interfered in the first election in part by pressuring the U.S. Postal Service to install a mailbox outside the warehouse one day before the voting was set to begin. Amazon managers then pressured workers to drop their ballots in the new collection box, casting doubt over the secrecy of the election. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is leading the organizing campaign in Bessemer. RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement the new ruling “confirms what we were saying all along—that Amazon’s intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace.” In March, Democracy Now! spoke about the mailbox with Michael Foster, a member organizer with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
MICHAEL FOSTER: Workers just truly believe that something is going on with this mailing box. Why would Amazon want them to bring their ballots from home and bring it to the plant and put it in their mailbox, when they can just literally put it back in their own mailbox? People call me and ask me, “Is Amazon stealing some of the ballots?” Because they have seen people put their ballots in that mailbox. And it’s just really scary. I believe it’s intimidation, so to speak.
AMY GOODMAN: In more news for Amazon workers, New York Attorney General Letitia James sought an emergency court order Tuesday to force the company to implement stricter COVID-19 protocols, saying Amazon has prioritized profit over worker safety during the pandemic and retaliated against employees who raised concerns about their safety. James called for the court to appoint a monitor to oversee worker safety at Amazon’s New York facilities. In another court order, James said Amazon should be required to rehire its employee Chris Smalls who was fired after he spoke out about working conditions.
For more, we’re joined by Alex Press, staff writer at Jacobin and host of a podcast about Amazon workers. Welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about this historic moment where the NLRB is now apparently calling for a second election, saying that Amazon interfered with the first election in Bessemer, Alabama, at their warehouse? Describe what you know at this point and what happened.
ALEX PRESS: Thank you for having me, Amy. This week the regional Director of Region 10, which oversees Bessemer’s election, has ruled that they should rerun that election. The objections were many that the union filed over Amazon’s behavior during the mail-in balloting period. The voting took place in February and March and then when the votes were counted in April, a clear majority of those pallets were against unionizing. The problem was that mailbox specifically. Amazon had gotten USPS to set up a mailbox in the parking lot outside of the warehouse. Amazon had been pushing for an in-person vote but it was the height of COVID and the NLRB had ruled against that, so this mailbox was seen as an attempt to get around that. It was under a tent that had all sorts of anti-union slogans on it. It was within spitting distance of the surveillance cameras.
As the person you spoke to earlier said, the workers themselves felt that they were being surveilled, and the NLRB officer agreed. In the ruling this week they wrote that Amazon had created the impression of surveillance, if not actually in fact surveilled the workers, and also had contravened the authority of the agency and in fact, even more concerning had shown it has control over USPS as well, which was tasked with making sure those ballots were not interfered with. So this was a violation of what the NLRB refers to as laboratory conditions. You can’t have sloganeering at a polling site. You can’t have the employer counting or seeming to count and control the ballots.
So those votes are being set aside and it is likely a rerun will happen in the spring. It is unclear if it will be in person or mail-in again. That is all to be determined. Amazon can request that the board review this ruling again but odds are at this point—the hearing officer in August who had overseen this election recommended a rerun. This week the regional director concurred with that agreement and similarly ordered a reelection. So, the workers were correct. Something was going on. And in fact it’s very concerning for all of us that Amazon could actually pressure a public agency, USPS, to install a mailbox.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Alex, that’s one question I wanted to ask you, whether Amazon has the opportunity to appeal, since this was a regional director’s decision, to the NLRB in Washington and the likelihood of that?
ALEX PRESS: Yes, so they have ten business days to request a review. Then the board can either agree with the existing ruling and reject that appeal and go forward or it can agree to contravene this regional director. I would say odds are that this is not going to change, that there will be an election in the spring. But Amazon does have ten business days to request review and knowing anything about Amazon, we can expect that they will in fact request that review.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Last Friday, Black Friday, Amazon workers in over 20 countries took part in either strikes, a protest. Delivery drivers in Italy, garment workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh, most of these were workers for third-party companies hired by Amazon. Can you explain what happened in these protests and the impact on Amazon of this growing global coalition of its workers?
ALEX PRESS: Yes. The Make Amazon Pay coalition is a global attempt to fight back against Amazon at the level that Amazon operates, which is the global. It might be U.S.-based, but it’s certainly not limited to U.S. borders, its operations. Black Friday has become a day of protest. That started last year for Amazon workers. It spread this year to 20 countries. That’s because Amazon workers hate this day. Their quotas go up, their injury rates go up, they are worked harder than ever during the holiday season while Amazon makes record profits. So they have taken back this fake holiday to stage protests.
This year it was all up and down the supply line, all across borders. As you mentioned, delivery drivers in Italy struck. While they are not directly employed by Amazon, they are an integral part of Amazon’s operations. Amazon gets around the rights and requirements and responsibilities of employing them so it doesn’t have to deal with those problems but in fact is using them to get its goods to customers. They’re pretty central to the operation. There were also garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia who continued their campaign to get severance that they are owed of some $3.6 million at this Cambodian factory that shut down and promised them severance, never gave it to them. That factory supplies goods for Amazon. We think of Amazon as sort of a marketplace or a platform for third-party sellers but at this point Amazon produces many of its own goods and sells a lot of them. Those were the garments that were being made in those factories.
The protests also existed at the level of the proposed Africa Amazon headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa. Communities there are concerned about the development project. There was also a protest outside of an oil refinery in Argentina. That is because Amazon Web Services, the backbone of the internet as it were, which makes the majority of Amazon’s profit, they work a lot with big oil. So these concerns are not just about workplace conditions, but they are about Amazon’s impact on the entire planet, the climate, so on and so forth, the lack of taxes being paid.
One of the people who was organizing this event, Casper Gelderblom, who works for the Progressive International, he told me actually he saw a direct comparison between even the Cambodian and Bangladeshi workers and those in Bessemer. He said there have been union-busting campaigns in Bangladesh that Amazon has at the very least turned a blind eye to, which in their form are reminiscent of the struggles we see in Bessemer. So working-class destinies are connected generally but also specifically in this struggle. If Amazon is trying to eat the world, it’s also bringing many disparate sets of workers and activities and communities together to fight against them.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a short video created by the Make Amazon Pay coalition that was released announcing the global Black Friday protests and strikes.
PERSON: Here in Germany, office employees are put under enormous pressure, ignoring labor laws. IT workers, click workers, data labelers and customer service agents are controlled just like their colleagues in the warehouses. The stress is everywhere the same.
PERSON: [translated] The factory fired us in April 2020 and paid me only $700-plus for my 15 years of work.
AMY GOODMAN: So there you have that clip. Alex, as you have written, we are talking about Amazon having a global supply chain and so the protests are global. Let’s talk about the significance of the unionization of this one warehouse in Bessemer, really, for the world, what it means. We are talking about a company, Amazon, that is the second largest private employer in the U.S., around 950,000 workers. What would it mean if the union won?
ALEX PRESS: People might look at this and say, “It’s just one site. It’s a few thousand workers. That’s still a lot of people, but it’s nothing compared to that million that Amazon employs in this country.” But that is not the case. Once workers get a foothold into one workplace, once they get organized, that spreads very quickly. We are actually seeing something similar at Starbucks where several stores in Buffalo are trying to unionize, and the company is going all out. Howard Schultz came and spoke to those workers. The CEOs of Starbucks North America are showing up to sweep the floors at those Starbucks. That is again because employers understand that once workers see that they have power, that spreads very rapidly.
Amazon is completely predicated as a business model on total exploitation of workers, complete dictatorial control over their working conditions. This is what Amazon innovates. It really has driven down the standards, has ramped up surveillance. So if there is any pushback, if workers have any right to push back on that and to negotiate their working conditions, that is in fact an existential threat for Amazon, and they are treating it as such.
One thing we haven’t discussed is that Amazon, while it seems to have broken the law in Bessemer, much of what it did was legal. Spending an unfathomable amount of money on antiunion law firms to come in and train management on how to defeat the union, all of that is legal and Amazon is spending an immense amount of money on that. It has starting doing that again in this past month in the lead-up to this expected ruling from the NLRB. Amazon does not want this. It is not necessarily about it can’t afford maybe higher wages or something like that that the workers would win with a union contract. It’s really about power itself. It is about maintaining that dictatorial control on which it runs, on which it profits.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You mentioned that Amazon Web Services are the most profitable part of the company, but most people are not aware of this aspect of Amazon’s work, these enormous farms of data processing that Amazon has established around the country and the world. Could you explain a little but more about that?
ALEX PRESS: Yeah. It is very hidden. We all see stories about the warehouse workers, maybe some about delivery drivers, but AWS is a complex beast, because it is hidden. These data centers are in fact literally hidden. It is very hard to access them. In fact, again, it’s about us being the product. Our data and our usage of the internet, of every platform you use, most of them are running through AWS. Amazon has this trick in its back pocket in that it is very hard to get any kind of—it is not like warehouse workers can organize those facilities. The Make Amazon Pay coalition was hoping to bring more light to that by protesting the oil refinery and places like that, but this is a complex beast.
Amazon’s whole business model is about becoming infrastructure. It wants to become our infrastructure for how we get goods and services through its warehouses and delivery services. It also has succeeded in becoming infrastructure for the internet, and that is its own problem. There are conversations around breaking Amazon up, antitrust law. It is possible Amazon would spin off AWS to a separate entity from its delivery and warehouse operations. But it is definitely the case that people should talk a lot more about AWS because that is where Amazon gets its bread and butter, it’s where it gets its most profits and it’s where it has really sunk into the marrow of society and it’s very hard to avoid it.
AMY GOODMAN: The Teamsters Union, one of the largest unions in the country, consists of over 1.4 million members, just finished an election last week for a new president and they voted in Sean O’Brien, who has been openly critical about leadership being too timid in Amazon organizing and UPS. Who is Sean O’Brien? How could his Teamster presidency affect union organizing when he takes office in March?
ALEX PRESS: I’m glad you asked because that is a big part of the context when we talk about organizing Amazon, especially in the United States. This is historic. This was a reform slate; that’s who Sean O’Brien was running on. It was backed by the longstanding Reform Caucus in the Teamsters, which is the Teamsters for a Democratic Union. And it is pretty shocking that they finally won. They had been trying to take out the Hoffa slate for a long time. This was the first time that Hoffa Jr. agreed he wouldn’t run again, but he hand-picked his successor.
Sean O’Brien had once been one of the Hoffa guys. In fact, the falling out between him and Hoffa happened during the last UPS negotiations. UPS, that contract, is the largest private-sector contract in the country. There’s about a quarter million people who are covered by it so it’s a huge contract. In the last round of negotiations in 2018, the Teamsters leadership pushed through undemocratically a very bad contract, especially a tiered contract, so there are certain workers who get worse standards than others, which is a death sentence for a union. The majority of the members had voted down that contract but a very obscure rule in the Teamsters constitution allowed the leadership to push it through.
Sean O’Brien was sort of a dissident in that process. He insisted on bringing the opposition into the negotiating room, as it were, and so Hoffa took him off the team. That is when this break happened. So this is a big deal. Sean is not a radical by any means but he is very willing to strike UPS and that was a big part of his campaign was that there needs to be a stronger contract. In fact, that goes hand-in-hand with organizing Amazon. If you have a strong organized UPS workforce, those workers can push for better standards across the industry and they are also in a place to win Amazon workers to a union by demonstrating the benefits of that.
Those planks go hand in hand and really that is the key, because the Teamsters at their convention this year said that they would focus on organizing Amazon. They are putting resources into that. They’re training up rank-and-file workers amongst their membership in how to organize Amazon workers in their community or near their workplaces. Having leadership that’s taking that very seriously is a big deal. I think that is the key for the next couple of years of what organizing Amazon in the United States will look like.
AMY GOODMAN: Alex Press, we want to thank you so much for being with us, staff writer at Jacobin and host of a podcast about Amazon workers.
Next up, as Barbados becomes the world’s newest republic, breaking ties with Queen Elizabeth 55 years after it became an independent nation, calls are growing for Britain to pay reparations for centuries of slavery and colonialism. We will go to Barbados for the latest.