, CEO, OMIDYAR NETWORK
Nearly 85 years ago, a group of United Auto Workers members gathered on an overpass just outside of the Ford Motor Company’s massive plant in Dearborn, Michigan. Their demands were simple. They wanted the notoriously anti-union Henry Ford to provide employees with better wages, reasonable hours and decent working conditions.
As the organizers handed out leaflets emblazoned with the slogan, “Unionism, Not Fordism,” men from Ford’s Service Department (an internal security force) violently attacked them in what later became known as “The Battle of the Overpass.” Ford won the battle—the union stopped distributing pamphlets—but lost the movement. Journalists on the scene captured the truth, prompting severe public and congressional backlash against Ford, and increased support for the UAW. Ultimately, Henry Ford relented and signed a contract with the union.
We have arrived at a similar moment. Another battle—less violent but no less important—took place last month at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. After a long organizing campaign, the people working at the Amazon facility finally voted on the question of unionization. When the ballots were counted, it seemed that Amazon had won (although that win and the aggressive tactics they used to secure it are being disputed by the union at a hearing this week). While the Battle of Bessemer may be lost, the fight has captured the attention of the nation—and even a sitting U.S. president—and added ballast to a growing national movement to empower working people.