The University of North Carolina Press stands in solidarity with workers fighting for dignity and workplace democracy in the book industry—especially the more than 5,000 Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, who are in the midst of the historic first attempt to unionize one of the e-commerce giant’s warehouses. This is of particular interest to us both as publishing workers and because we have a lasting commitment to publishing scholarship on the southern organizing tradition in works such as Civil Rights Unionism: Tobacco Workers and the Struggle for Democracy in the Mid-twentieth-century South by Robert Korstad and Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression by Robin D. G. Kelley.
In this spirit, we are making Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition freely available. It details how Black laborers and sharecroppers in the 1930s joined forces with white industrial workers, housewives, youths, and renegade liberals to take on Alabama’s repressive, racist police state and fight for economic justice, civil and political rights, and racial equality. As Jamelle Bouie wrote in his recent New York Times op-ed about the Amazon unionization effort, citing the work of both Kelley and Korstad, “We should remember that the political character of the South is more than its shading on an Electoral College map; that the entire region is home to a rich history of resistance against the twin forces of race hierarchy and class exploitation; and that a more just and equitable future may well depend on how much we take those histories to heart and build on them from there.”
We join others across the book industry today as part of a Book Workers Day of Solidarity with the Amazon warehouse workers because our values of equity and justice require it. Different though our jobs may seem on the surface, publishing workers, bookstore workers, librarians, and warehouse workers are all part of the same struggle. Over the past year, while many of us worked from home during the pandemic, those working in warehouses and at printers faced greater risks in their workspaces under unrelenting pressure to continue business as usual during an unprecedented time. Without their labor, there would be no books at all. It is incumbent on all of us in the book industry to lend our support and solidarity to these workers, particularly now, particularly in Bessemer.
“The future of the labor movement is in the hands of the Amazon workers in Bessemer. The corporate powers know that if a Black, mostly female working-class can win in the militantly anti-union South, they could win anywhere. Over eighty years ago, workers in Alabama’s mines, steel and textile mills, fields, and kitchens tried to chart a different future for the working class across the country. They fought for strong unions and Black freedom; they fought for fair and equal pay and human and civil rights. But corporate power, Cold War-era anti-labor laws, and the durability of racist and anti-labor rhetoric prevailed. Not this time! Bessemer’s workers need our support and solidarity, beyond the results of the election. Indeed, once the union wins the elections, Amazon and its allies will only ramp up its war on workers. As the old slogan goes, Solidarity Now, Solidarity Forever!”—Robin D. G. Kelley
You can access Hammer and Hoe for free here.
More information about the Book Workers Day of Solidarity can be found here.
UNC Press books for further reading
–Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism by Allyson P. Brantley
–Hard Work Is Not Enough: Gender and Racial Inequality in an Urban Workspace by Katrinell M. Davis
–Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill Town by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, James L. Leloudis, Robert R. Korstad, Mary Murphy, and LuAnn Jones
–Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South by Talitha L. LeFlouria
–The Challenge of Interracial Unionism: Alabama Coal Miners, 1878–1921 by Daniel L. Letwin
–Power to the Poor: Black-Brown Coalition and the Fight for Economic Justice, 1960-1974 by Gordon K. Mantler
–Labor Under Fire: A History of the AFL-CIO since 1979 by Timothy J. Minchin
–Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision by Barbara Ransby
–Gastonia 1929: The Story of the Loray Mill Strike by John A. Salmond
Find our full list of books on labor history here.
During our American History Sale that’s currently running, save 40% on all UNC Press books with discount code 01DAH40.