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Act against Amazon!


If Amazon.com executives had their way, they would no doubt have trained public attention on some of the upbeat news that has appeared in recent months: headlines such as ‘Amazon Passes Walmart as Biggest Retailer by Market Value’ or ‘Amazon Launches Full Operations in Mexico’.

Instead, the online superstore has been forced to contend with a damning exposé published in the New York Times. The article described the office culture at the company’s Seattle headquarters as an ‘experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable’.

The Times reported that having a job at Amazon means 80-hour working weeks, fierce competition among co-workers, and punishingly critical performance reviews. Employees are ranked, and those at the bottom each year are eliminated. Some who had to care for sick family members or fell ill themselves told reporters that they quickly found themselves heading for the exit, driven out due to an insufficient focus on work.

And these are college-educated professionals who had secured well-paying jobs at the corporate office. In Amazon’s warehouses, wages are low and stock options – like unions – are nonexistent. The movement of workers is monitored electronically to ensure that they load trucks and pack boxes with unending haste. In one notorious incident in 2011, Amazon neglected to install air conditioning in a Pennsylvania warehouse, instead opting to park ambulances outside to treat workers who collapsed while labouring in 100-degree heat.

Following the most recent revelations, some have asked whether it’s finally ‘time to break up with Amazon’.

I can attest that doing so isn’t easy. For years I have managed to avoid setting foot inside Walmart, but a personal boycott of Amazon somehow seems far more difficult. If Amazon is an evil company, it is also devilishly convenient.

In the US, the online retailer does not merely dominate the book business. It has become a place where, as long as your laptop or smartphone is within reach, you can order anything from wireless stereo speakers to cinnamon dental floss to camouflage sleeping bags to… well, basically anything. And you can have the stuff delivered to your doorstep for free, usually before the cock crows twice.

The company is said to be working on using drones to deliver packages within 30 minutes of purchase. If it succeeds, its world domination will be complete.

Amazon is already well established in Britain and much of Europe. Besides Mexico, it is expanding its business in India and investing heavily in China.

The company has often advanced its prodigious expansion by using a position of market dominance to weaken and then buy up smaller rivals. It has attempted to outdo even Walmart in bullying suppliers into providing goods for less. This means that it’s not just Amazon’s own workers who are squeezed, but employees throughout the supply chain.

Also helpful in Amazon’s success has been a pricey lobbying operation, designed to ensure that its tax bill is low and that anti-monopoly laws in the US remain hopelessly obsolete.

The end result is that prices on the site are cheap for individual consumers, but society as a whole must bear the true cost of the company’s misbehaviour.

In this context, ‘breaking up’ with Amazon might be the wrong way of thinking about it. What we need are not people individually choosing to sever their relations. We need collective action and public muscle.

European regulators have set a fine example by shutting down Amazon’s tax-avoidance schemes involving havens such as Luxembourg. To expand on this, we need to support warehouse workers’ drives to organize and demand that officials in the US bolster anti-trust regulations.

As it redefines the limits of acceptable corporate behaviour, Amazon is conducting an experiment in how far it can push us all. We should take this as an opportunity to push back.

Mark Engler’s new book This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-first Century will be released in early 2016. He can be reached via the website DemocracyUprising.com

2 Comments

  1. Joseph Val December 2, 2015 2:56 pm 

    only in a country which treats everyday like it’s x-mas does a boycott of amazon seem difficult…
    perhpas it’s more than time to rethink our uber-consumerist insanity and start paring down our lifestyles…we should throw away all of our ridiculous electronic gizmos, including computers and internet access, since they distract us from really existent actual reality in favour of virtual life with virtual needs and virtual satisfaction which is never complete; but then, that’s the point of the whole charade now, isn’t it?
    no wonder we’re doomed: we’re pathetic

    • avatar
      James December 3, 2015 6:28 am 

      The hard thing is Joey, trying to establish the point when “we” should have had the foresight to stop. The collective “we” that is. Now I’m wondering about the collective “we”. Who it actually is/was and when did it start? Did it ever? Maybe now is the human species first crack at a collective “we” and like my friend going for a piss in public, like a football match (yes, that’s right Joey, a mindless pointless testosterone fuelled sporting event ) “we’ve” all got stage fright and just can’t do it. Probably because “we” just don’t like each other!

      The great petit-bourgeois small “c” capitalist, capital “L” liberal, iconoclast dadaist composer/guitarist Frank Zappa once said that stupidity is the most prolific element in the universe, not hydrogen. He might have been right. Although he seemed smart, at least to me, just like you do Joey. You’ve read Hegel and I assume, even understood him.

      And screw it, really. We’re doomed and pathetic so I’m going down with my electronic gizmos and computer. I dig’ em. You want to worship a tree, go for your life. Each to their own now “we” know we’re both pathetic and doomed. I mean you’re really just stating the obvious. Most people I know (I don’t know the collective “we” nor what it thinks), realised quite early they were doomed and pathetic and have never really tried to pretend otherwise nor endeavour/ed to do anything to change this seeming fact. They just figure that, like a cockroach, the human species has capacities and limitations and more than likely one of the limitations is not knowing, and never being able to, like a cockroach, what those capacities are.

      I mean, Joey, have you lived up to your full capacities? Do you know what you are actually capable of? See, they’re trick questions. How the fuck would you ever know? And then you just die anyway. Then the whole thing just starts all over like ground hog day. Not you in another life. I’m no dualist. There is no spiritual side. That’s just hocus pocus, like the idea of real magic or shamans. Just another self aware consciousness, popping up some place, lucky or unlucky, making pathetic comments on some erroneous marginal website in cyberspace about how pathetic and doomed “we” all are. But probably not the cockroach. Fun.

      And by the way, what you call the virtual world, I reckon, is as real as anything else going round. If you reckon it isn’t then you switch off first, dude. I’ll be watching and waiting to see if you fold and just can’t resist one last little shot. Gives me something to do other than pretending to play friggin music or that I remotely care about some pathetic doomed species living on some speck in the middle of nowhere. But the truth be known, you probably like it, at least secretly. Like a troll who’s read Hegel and Marx and can correct people about who is actually using barrel bombs. It’s an itch you just have to scratch.

      The truth is, the whole thing is actually quite entertaining, or you wouldn’t be here dropping your wisdom all over the shop. You’d be out there, “in nature” , because nature is out there to be in, cupping up water in your hands and licking it up like a cat. Or worshipping a tree and telling the neolithic folk to piss off with their primitive wheat farming innovations because you don’t need to know how to make bread. Or telling the first fish that crawled onto land to get back to where they came from, and to not even think about setting off the whole evolutionary process that gave rise to you yourself, Joey. “Get back in the sea you finned c#%£t.” (With thanks to Stewart Lee)

      Try listening to Frank Z’s Dumb All Over on some electronic gizmo, like your computer. Otherwise you’ll just have to use one of those devices they use in the fifth world where things are really tough, like I suggested in my previous reply to one of your comments. I mean shit Joey, you make me think. But in a good way, not the shit way I usually do. I used to think everyday was like xmas, but now I realise everyday is just another day closer to my doom. Your like a Buddhist master telling me that I should never ever think for one moment that I am not going to die. And for that I am truly grateful. Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Pema Siddhi Hung. And many hundred syllable mantras and Heart sutras to ya. The long hard road to the little red cushion, the preliminary practices and cucumbers in spring time, with an emphasis on the hard.

      Please don’t switch off Joey. Seriously, there’s no point.

      Well, that’s about 30 minutes of my life taken care of.

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