Against all odds, the town of Bessemer, Alabama has made national headlines as the potential spark of a revitalized labor movement. Amazon workers’ fight to unionize the local BHM1 Amazon fulfillment center has put the capitalist repression of workers and class power dynamics — which Amazon so perfectly represents — in full view.
One particularly shocking example of how capital is catered to is the Bessemer Occupational Tax which forces workers to pay for the bosses at BHM1 to exploit their labor. As part of the state of Alabama’s offer to attract Amazon to Bessemer, the state’s leaders agreed to subsidize the facility with quarterly payments over the course of 10 years. These payments are taking 1 percent of the income from residents of Bessemer — a town where one in four people live below the poverty line — and going to a company that made billions of dollars in profit through the pandemic.
Linda Burns, a worker at the BHM1 facility involved in the unionization effort, spoke about the impact of this “Occupational Tax” with Left Voice reporters.
“Once they take out Bessemer tax, then Birmingham tax, then insurance and all, that’s not enough to live off of. I mean, after you pay, that $300 is just going to buy you some groceries. You’re pretty much living paycheck to paycheck.”
This first-hand account contradicts Amazon, which boasts through its public relations communications how generous its wages and benefits are. If Amazon truly wanted to be generous, Jeff Bezos could give $105,000 bonuses to all 1.2 million Amazon employees and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic. Bezos will not do this because capitalism isn’t designed for generosity — it is designed for those with capital to accumulate as much as possible by exploiting workers. The Bessemer Occupational Tax — and similar deals negotiated by Democrats and Republicans alike — is a perfect example of this.
This grotesque tax highlights how capital sustains itself by taking from workers, and how the bourgeois state exists to serve capital. It also highlights the importance of the union effort. While many people who support unions may view them as a service which helps provide better wages and benefits, the union’s greatest power is that it can tip the scales in favor of the working class. If the workers of Bessemer form a union, they can go on strike until the bourgeois politicians of Alabama revoke the tax policy that takes from the working class of Bessemer and gives to one of the world’s wealthiest corporations. This is just one of many reasons why all workers must support the union effort in Bessemer.