Thursday, August 20, 2015

The eighty-hour workweek at Amazon

Every year corporations in the United States spend hundreds of billions of dollars on advertising.  Understanding this fact, we might also consider that one out of every six people in this country doesn’t have enough food to eat.  This atmosphere has intimidated the editors of the capitalist media from launching criticisms of large corporations.

This past Sunday (8-16-2015) the New York Times published an article that was an exception to this apparent rule.  In a front-page article titled, Amazon’s Bruising, Thrilling, Workplace by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, readers viewed some of the horror stories of what it means to work for Amazon.  We might keep in mind that Jeffrey Bezos, the C.E.O. of Amazon, also owns the Washington Post that is a competitor to the New York Times.

The facts of the article

·      Last month Amazon became the most valuable retailer in the country eclipsing Walmart with a market valuation of $250 billion.

·      The C.E.O. Jeffrey Bezos is the fifth most affluent person in the world.

·      The median employee tenure at Amazon is one year.

·      Amazon stated that only 15% of employees work at the company for more than five years. 

·      A woman who was an employee at Amazon suffered from breast cancer.  She was placed on a “performance improvement plan.”  These are code words for, “you’re in danger of being fired.”

·      Unlike other corporations Amazon currently has no women on its leadership team.

·      Molly Jay was a member of the Kindle team and needed to care for her father who suffered from cancer.  The company blocked her from transferring to a less pressure-filled job and a manager told her she was a problem.  She said that, “When you’re not able to give your absolute all, 80 hours a week, they see it as a major weakness.”

·      In an eastern Pennsylvania warehouse, workers toiled under 100-degree heat.  Electronic systems monitored the workers to ensure they were packing enough boxes every hour.  Ambulances waited outside to take workers away after they fell out.  Only after a local newspaper reported on this story did Amazon install air-conditioning at the warehouse.       

·      An Amazon worker thought that she was on vacation only to spend her days at Starbucks using the wireless connection to get work done.

·      Jason Merkoski, who was an Amazon engineer, had this to say about working at the company.  “It’s as if you’ve got the C.E.O. of the company in bed with you at 3 a.m. breathing down your neck.”

·      Bo Olson a former book marketer said that, “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

The myth and reality of Amazon

Why is Amazon pushing workers to these inhuman levels of productivity?  They argue that their focus is on a relentless striving to please customers.  Their jargon for this is called “customer obsession.”

Personally, I have never known one of the wealthiest people in the world.  I have associated with people who work for a living during my entire life.  These are the same kinds of people Amazon views as customers.  My experience is that working people have completely different priorities from those of Jeffrey Bezos.

We would like to have a lifetime right to both healthcare and education.  We would like to have an adequate amount of time to enjoy our lives.  Because of the advances in technology, the actual production costs of commodities have gone down.  Therefore, it isn’t unreasonable to expect that prices should also go down.

As one of the most affluent people in the world, Jeffrey Bezos is completely indifferent to these facts.  He can buy whatever he wants whenever he wants.  His family can have the very best health care and education that money can buy. 

I used to enjoy spending time in area bookstores.  Electronic readers have made many of those bookstores unprofitable and many have closed.  Although E-readers allow customers to look at a wide variety of books, they aren’t a substitute for the bookstores that have closed.  This is another fact that Amazon is indifferent to.

Why is this happening?

Before and after the Second World War there were continuous strike waves in this country.  These strike waves were the reasons why the standard of living was vastly improved.

However, as we have seen with Amazon, corporations are not in business to improve the standard of living of working people.  In order to satisfy their obsession to cut costs, corporation after corporation moved their factories to nations where wages might be two dollars per day. 

The labor movement needed to counter this exodus by organizing a labor party.  This party could have worked to stop the manufacturing exodus from this country.  This kind of party would have supported both immigrant workers as well as the rights of workers all over the world.  Instead, the labor movement went on a self-destructive campaign to “Buy American.”

How would a workers government utilize advances in technology?

This story begs a basic question that the Amazon Corporation and the New York Times refuse to consider.  Can advances in technology be utilized differently if a workers government had political power?

We can see the possibilities of a workers government by how it might handle the invention of the E-reader.  Clearly everyone doesn’t like these mini-computers and would rather read books made of paper.  However, I’m not the only person who prefers reading with an E-reader.

The increased usage of E-readers means that there is less of a need for printers, transportation workers, or cashiers in bookstores.  Since the number of workers required to produce this commodity has been reduced, a worker’s government could reduce the number of hours of a workweek with no cut in pay.

Amazon has done the complete opposite.  They have responded to reduced production costs by increasing the workweek to eighty hours.  This is in a company where only 15% of the workers last for more than five years.

What are the lessons of this story?

Amazon is not the only company that is making life increasingly difficult for workers.  This story points to the direction all corporations are going in.  Capitalism is a political economic system that needs to collapse.  Sooner or later there is no force on this earth that can prevent this collapse.

This story points to just one more reason why we need a workers government.  Sooner or later masses of workers from all over the world will draw this same conclusion.

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