Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

MLK Would Have Supported Striking Amazon Workers, Not an Auditorium Named After Jeff Bezos in His Library

After public backlash, Jeff Bezos withdrew his name from having an auditorium named after him at the Martin Luther King library in Washington, D.C. MLK himself would have been out on the picket lines, supporting the unionization campaigns of Amazon workers.

Daniel Werst

February 8, 2022
Facebook Twitter Share
Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

On January 26, the director and board of trustees of the Washington, D.C. Public Library system (DCPL) decided to rename the auditorium of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library “the Bezos Auditorium” in honor of Jeff Bezos, the third richest capitalist on Earth.

The Amazon owner, whose personal wealth is estimated at $184 billion, bought this self-celebration by donating $2.7 million to the D.C. Public Library Foundation (DCPLF). However, the auditorium rechristening quickly threatened to bring Bezos more embarrassment than positive PR.

The library’s namesake was no fan of capitalists. In 1967 MLK declared that “capitalism was built on” Black slavery “and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor – both black and white, both here and abroad.”

A few local politicians derided the renaming. The MLK Library Friends said that Bezos’s business practices run counter to King’s principles. The group’s president accused the DCPL Board of sneaking the renaming through by voting on a motion in an online “public meeting” without discussion or public comment, and without mentioning Bezos’s name. 18,000 people sent letters opposing the move via an online campaign that argued, “Bezos is on a world tour to launder his reputation.”

On February 4, Bezos beat a diplomatic retreat and emailed the DCPLF declining the honor. Denying that he had “sought naming rights” with his $2.7 million donation, Bezos suggested naming the MLK Library auditorium instead for Toni Morrison, whom he described as a personal friend — apparently because she taught his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott at Princeton University. The DCPL director immediately applauded Bezos’s suggestion.

Martin Luther King was emphatically in favor of union struggles. He embraced the interracial dockworkers union ILWU in the Bay Area, and he was supporting a strike by Black garbage collectors in Memphis when he was assassinated.

Bezos, in contrast, is the biggest union buster in the United States. Jobs at Amazon are so exhausting, insulting, low-paying, and precarious that 150 percent of its workforce turns over annually. 6,100 workers at the Bessemer, Alabama Amazon warehouse are voting right now on whether or not to unionize. They are re-running the election because even the National Labor Relations Board says Amazon cheated. Black workers make up a huge section of the Amazon workforce nationwide — and in Bessemer about 85 percent.

Thousands of workers have signed in support of unionizing at two major Amazon warehouses in New York City. Amazon was just exposed for illegally firing Daequan Smith for organizing on the job there. The company routinely employs captive audience meetings, automated text messages, and signs inside bathrooms for anti-union propaganda. It sent a threatening letter to Isaiah Thomas in Bessemer for walking around the warehouse during his break to talk with co-workers about unionizing.

The DCPL Foundation’s website spotlights a photo of D.C.’s Carnegie Library. In the early 1900s, Andrew Carnegie, once the richest man on Earth, funded the creation of 2,500 public libraries in the U.S. and Britain. The DCPLF calls Carnegie a “philanthropist and library enthusiast.” Obviously, that is how the steel magnate wanted to be remembered — not as a robber baron who stole workers’ sweat and blood and was responsible for the murder of seven workers in the 1892 Homestead Strike.

Jeff Bezos is following Carnegie’s script. Like the robber barons of 1900, Bezos is also concerned with buying political influence. This past November, he donated $100 million to Obama’s foundation (and made the gesture of asking to name a pavilion in honor of 1960s civil rights leader and subsequent congressman John Lewis). Bezos, who last year officially retired from managing Amazon, has so far kept 99 percent of his wealth.

What is he spending his money on? $500 million is going to the world’s largest yacht. MLK held that, because of the profit motive, “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism” oppress African-Americans, the people of the Global South, and all poor people inside the U.S. Honoring MLK’s goals means fighting against Jeff Bezos and for Amazon workers.

Facebook Twitter Share

Daniel Werst

Daniel is a teacher, former carpenter, and long-term socialist living in Indianapolis.

Guest Posts

Republicans’ Legislation Against Drag Shows Is Part of their Anti-LGBTQ+ Agenda

Right-wing reactionaries are taking aim at drag shows as part of their attack on LGBTQ+ rights. These proposed bills will undoubtedly open the floodgates for more and more explicit attacks against queer people across the country.

Sawyer Smith

June 14, 2022

We Need a Militant Mass Movement for Reproductive Rights and We Needed It Yesterday!

We need a mass movement for abortion rights.

Mary Nicole Reeves

June 10, 2022
A hand catching grain coming from a machine.

Food, Famine, and War

If anything proves that famine and food insecurity are man-made, it is the current food crisis that is putting millions globally close to starvation.

Michael Roberts

June 7, 2022
A protester waves a sign that read "unionize" near the Country Club Plaza Starbucks store where dozens of Starbucks employees and union supporters protested alleged anti-union tactics by the company Thursday, March 3, 2022.

El Paso Starbucks Workers Are Organizing in the Face of Relentless Union Busting

Starbucks’s preemptive union-busting tactics in El Paso, Texas, have backfired and inspired workers at the Fountains to unionize.

Paul Ginestá

May 20, 2022


We Need Socialist Feminism. Join Bread & Roses

Faced with reactionary attacks from the Right and increasing economic and political crisis, we urgently need a feminism that fights for all the oppressed and exploited. We need a feminism that harnesses our power as those who make society run to fight for a better future. We need socialist feminism. Join Left Voice in building Bread & Roses today.

Left Voice

June 24, 2022

Unions, Left, and Activist Groups in New York City Organize Coalition and March in Response to the Supreme Court’s Decision to Overturn Abortion Rights

A new coalition of over 30 left groups, rank-and-file workers organizations and unions, and activists including Left Voice, Starbucks workers, teachers, socialist and housing justice organizations, and others have come together to organize a march and rally today in response to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and to protest the attacks on abortion rights by the State and the Right.

Left Voice

June 24, 2022

Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade. Organize, Mobilize and Fight Back.

Join Left Voice and a coalition of unions, left, activist, and reproductive rights organizations for a rally and march in New York City to defend the right to an abortion. Gather at 6:30 pm in Washington Square Park.

Left Voice

June 24, 2022
Members of Trotskyist organization Revolution Permanente at a protest.

Trotskyists in France Are Reconstituting a Fighting Revolutionary Left. There Are Important Lessons for the United States

The Far Left in France, which has grown complacent at best and has crossed the class line at worst, is being resuscitated with revolutionary politics thanks to the efforts of Révolution Permanente — which include launching a new organization. There are lessons for the United States in what has happened in France and in the opportunities to come.

Scott Cooper

June 23, 2022