Amazon Is a 21st-Century Digital Chain Gang
(Alternet) When Amazon announced plans to locate a $5 billion, 50,000-employee complex as its second headquarters somewhere in North America, state governments and municipalities fell over themselves offering billions of dollars in tax abatements and corporate subsidies to secure the prize. It might behoove the remaining 20 cities that have made the final cut to heed the warning from Virgil’s Aeneid: “I fear the Greeks, even when they are bearing gifts.” Especially when the gifts come in the form of a modern-day digital chain gang.
Amazon likes to see itself as a cutting-edge, 21st-century growth company, always working to expedite delivery to its customers, whether by means of a drone, or eliminating queueing and bagging at its newly acquired Whole Foods stores with a new smartphone app. Beneath this high-tech sheen, however, the online retailer and tech giant engages in labor practices that provoke comparisons to a 19th-century sweatshop. The company routinely pays wages barely above the poverty line, while using intrusive surveillance systems to monitor the workforce, fence them in with elaborate rules, set target times for their warehouse journeys, and then measure whether targets were met. All of this information is made available to management in real time, and if Amazon’s “employee-athletes” fall behind schedule, they receive a Big Brother-like text message pushing them to reach their targets or suffer the consequences. Failure to do so is met with a “three strikes and release” discipline system—being a euphemism for getting sacked.
In essence, you’ve got a $550-billion-plus global conglomerate with virtually unchecked market power and no sign that its legally advantageous position will be challenged anytime soon via vigorous anti-trust enforcement—and certainly no encouragement of unionization to combat its abusive and intrusive work practices.
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