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The Amazon Union’s President Knows How Powerful an Outfit Can Be

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Chris Smalls arrived at today’s Senate Budget Committee hearing in a jacket with a very special message.

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Christian Smalls, founder of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), speaks to members of the media after a Senate Budget Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, May 5, 2022. The hearing is titled “Should Taxpayer Dollars Go to Companies that Violate Labor Laws?” Photographer: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBloomberg

Today, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing to review Amazon’s labor practices. During the proceedings, senator Lindsey Graham sparred with Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls, who accused Graham of prioritizing businesses over people. But nothing made a louder statement than Smalls’s clothes: a New York Yankees baseball hat and a red-and-yellow spotted black jacket with the phrase “Eat the Rich” printed on both the front and back.

In many ways, Smalls’s clothes said what he could not. (It’s hard to lean into a mic in the Chamber of Commerce and declare, “eat the rich.”) Instead, Smalls’s jacket serves as an ever-present reminder of his politics and his intentions. Unlike most who show up at these hearings, dressed to minimize any possibility they stand out, Smalls took the opposite approach.

But wearing bright-red clothes isn’t the only way to send a political message. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos appeared buttoned up in a nice suit when he was called to a 2020 hearing about Amazon’s labor practices. Smalls, meanwhile, uses his hat and satin jacket to casts himself in opposition. He doesn’t look like a politician or an executive. He looks like a real person, a New Yorker. Or, as he put it in the hearing, like one of the workers who makes companies like Amazon go.

Smalls at the rally in Staten Island

Andrew Lichtenstein

This isn’t the first time Smalls has worn his “Eat the Rich” jacket. The piece of outerwear, made by Roku Studio, has become something of a visual signifier for Smalls. (The brand did not immediately respond to messages.) He wore it to a rally outside Amazon’s sorting center in Staten Island before the employees at that location voted on unionizing (the vote didn’t pass) in late April. He also wore the jacket during his appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show last month.

Smalls seems to understand his appearances on Fox News, at a rally, or in front of the Senate Budget Committee provide him the chance to send a message. And he knows exactly the message he wants to send.

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