Amazon Struggle Spreads to Virginia

By John Steffin
March 5, 2019

When Amazon announced it would build two new headquarters, one in New York City and the other near Washington, D.C., most people assumed that it was a done deal. This was not only because of Amazon’s sway as a powerful transnational corporation, but because of the company’s close ties with finance capital and the military-industrial complex. Of course, Amazon’s executives would choose to locate near Wall Street and the Pentagon to further develop those ties.

But then the people of New York City loudly said, “Hell no!” After the uproar went on for three months, Amazon’s seemingly inevitable arrival was stopped. Now, this people’s victory is inspiring others to take matters into their own hands.

Since Amazon reversed its decision about opening a New York headquarters, activists in Arlington County, Va. — where Amazon plans to set up HQ2 —  have been holding meetings and demonstrations to raise awareness about the negative impact the company would have on the community and to build support for a campaign to prevent its arrival.

Protesters raised issues such as gentrification and rising rents for area residents, which have accelerated since Amazon announced the new headquarters in Crystal City in northern Virginia. They have also exposed Amazon’s lie about providing 25,000 new jobs, most of which would be filled by people from outside Virginia. Additionally, they oppose Amazon’s ties to Immigration, Customs and Enforcement.

Momentum is building

On Feb. 28, activists disrupted a meeting between Amazon and local businesses — which cost an outrageously prohibitive $200 to attend. They demanded a public hearing on the deal. Much like the one in New York, the deal in Virginia was brokered behind closed doors with no community input — despite city officials’ multimillion-dollar offer of public money to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world.

In response to the agitation from below, politicians in the area are starting to speak up. It’s a similar cycle as occurred in New York. While Amazon has yet to release a warning that it’s reconsidering the deal, as it did in New York, the situation remains fluid.  Its outcome is far from certain.

When residents of New York City went up against Amazon, activists from Seattle and Germany — who were were engaged in their own battles against Amazon — came to the city to build connections and share their experiences. Learning how Amazon had undermined all its commitments to the people of Seattle, when opening its headquarters there, made the stakes very clear. But hearing how Berlin activists had successfully beaten back Amazon made the task at hand in New York City seem all the more possible.

As the struggle against Amazon spreads, it’s important to note that this is just one example of struggle that is inspiring others. The victory of the West Virginia education workers in the spring of 2018 inspired a cycle of education workers’ strikes that is still playing out today, from Los Angeles and Oakland Calif., to Ohio and Kentucky.

After decades of a capitalist offensive against the working class, with its dismantling of critical social service programs, union busting, prison expansion, low wages, mass deportations of im/migrants, among many other attacks, the conditions for mass outrage exist. Under these conditions, struggles can spread like wildfire.