Amazon Robber Baron Jeff Bezos’ Abusive Labor Practices

On October 31, 2017, Nick Stender writes on Liberation:

Amazon, the multi-billion dollar tech company founded by Jeff Bezos, has a long history of abuse of its employees. Guided by the plutocratic hand of their chief, Amazon executives routinely quash worker-led efforts to improve conditions in the workplace and achieve a living wage.

Under our current economic system, capitalism, workers that sell their labor power on the market are treated as a disposable means to create further profit for the owners. Just like machinery and raw materials, the bosses see us as interchangeable producers of value. Amazon takes this capitalist logic to its extreme with its dehumanization of workers in a way that is remarkable for an already brutally exploitative system.

Amazon also maintains a highly segregated workforce continuing and deepening the U.S. legacy of white profit from Black labor as the company’s demographics makes clear. Amazon’s 2016 Employer Information Report for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reveals a stark difference in employment numbers between the highly-paid white collar employees and the poorly-compensated blue collar workers.

Of 105 executives, 78 are white males and 20 are white women — i.e., 93 percent of Amazon executives are white. Next comes Amazon’s first or middle managers. In this group, 51 percent are white males. Below the managers on the pecking order lies the professional bracket made up of 38 percent white males and 29 percent Asian males. Women make up only 21 percent of managers and 26 percent of professionals, reflecting generalized trends across the technology sector, which has long been censured for its lack of diversity.

The numbers become even more telling when we look at how Black and Latino workers are represented. We see that 19,411 of the 22,794 Latino workers at Amazon do manual labor in Amazon’s warehouses; that is 85 percent of the total number of Latino workers at Amazon. The percentages are similar for Black workers. Of Amazon’s 37,463 Black workers, 33,379 work in the warehouses. This represents 89 percent of total Black workers. The class lines in the United States often mirror those of race. Amazon is no different with a whitewashed corporate headquarters and racially diverse underpaid warehouse workforce.

Jobs in the warehouses are notorious for their draconian discipline measures, unsafe conditions and poor pay and hours. Jeff Bezos has gone on record as claiming that unions, which protect workers from abuse by their employers, are unnecessary while stressing that in a company like Amazon an open door is needed between management and employees. In his words, flexibility is key to keeping Amazon running. “Flexibility” in this case means firing workers with little warning and hiring many precarious positions during peak shipping season.

Part and parcel of working at Amazon is intense scrutiny of every aspect of the workday. Marxists have long known that the amount of surplus value extracted from labor power can be increased in a number of different ways. One: the workday can be lengthened leading to an increase in what’s called absolute surplus value produced. Two: the capitalist can invest in a new technology making each hour of labor that the worker performs more productive. Three: the capitalist, through cajoling and threatening, can increase the intensity of the work being performed.

It is this final tactic that is the preferred method of the capitalist behind Amazon, Jeff Bezos. By carefully watching every second of the workday, from the time a worker clocks in to when they clock out, Bezos and Amazon are able to amass an enormous amount of data regarding how hard each individual works. This “big data” is eventually used against labor as management culls those who don’t work as hard as their neighbor during weekly progress reports. This frenetic pace of work is directed for the benefit of Bezos and other executives.

Amazon also engages in attempts to divide workers by pitting them against one another, a longstanding tactic of the bosses who foster fierce competition between fulltime Amazon workers and contract workers who receive lower wages and fewer benefits. Lured by the prospect of a fulltime job, contractors like Integrity Staffing Solutions bring on more workers during peak shipping seasons like Christmas only to let the vast majority go when they are no longer needed. These workers are given no severance and have little to show for their time at Amazon. In fact, most do not deal directly with Amazon, but with Integrity, who does much of the dirty work of firing so that Amazon can keep its hands clean.

Even with that said, the attrition rate among fulltime Amazon employees is high as well. Amazon’s warehouses are often poorly heated or overheated, with many workers complaining of fainting from heat exhaustion and overwork. It is not uncommon for warehouse employees to tell of sorely crawling into bed after getting off the job, just hoping that they will have the strength to pull their broken bodies to work in the morning. They state that taking a sick day is tantamount to a death sentence at Amazon.

Bezos’ opinions on unionization are commensurate with his actions and opinions on the nature of business in general. A self-described “libertarian,” Jeff Bezos cultivates a culture of vindictiveness not only in the warehouse, but even in the white-collar work environment of the Amazon offices. It is there that workers are encouraged to rip apart each other’s ideas, clandestinely report on their coworkers to their bosses, and work from home on the weekends, all the while enduring round-the-clock surveillance of their work practices and the attendant weekly performance exams that constitute life in the warehouses.

Bezos takes personal pride in cultivating this atmosphere of terror and dysfunction. Speaking at a Business Insider conference, Bezos explained, “My main job today: I work hard at helping to maintain the culture.” If that is the kind of culture Bezos wants to maintain, then we do not want it coming to our cities.

Bezos has already been well-compensated for his efforts to keep down the working class. His net worth is currently estimated at $93.9 billion making him the richest person in the world. It would take an Amazon warehouse worker, making the average wage of $13/hr, more than 3,600 years to earn that much money. There can be no justification for a single CEO to own as much wealth as generations of working families. This is why, Bezos has shown himself to be an enemy of the working class, who parasitically profits off the immiseration of thousands of working people.

No to the Amazon HQ! No to the dictatorship of capital! No to inhumane working conditions!

https://www.liberationnews.org/tech-robber-baron-jeff-bezos-exploitative-labor-history/

Gary Reber Comments:

What we are experiencing is the ever-greater substitution of machines for human labor and at the same time greater world-wide competition to produce goods, products and services at the lowest cost. This makes for a poor position for those (the vast majority) who can only depend on their labor to earn income. That being the reality, what really makes wage slaves is being without capital ownership in any significant degree. Capital is the non-human factor of production. Fundamentally, economic value is created through human and non-human contributions. In simple terms, there are two independent factors of production: humans (labor workers who contribute manual, intellectual, creative and entrepreneurial work) and non-human capital (land; structures; infrastructure; tools; machines; robotics; computer processing; certain intangibles that have the characteristics of property, such as patents and trade or firm names; and the like which are owned by people individually or in association with others). With capital carrying out most production these days, and the market rate of wages declining in value relative to the cost of capital, what locks people into the wage system in which most people get the bulk of their income from wages is lack of access to capital credit, not the wages, per se.

Yet a just wage is mandatory in any system. Non-owning labor must be compensated fairly, but it is time for the abolition of the wage system, not the abolition of wages. And while ideally a just wage should be defined as the rate determined by the free market, this can only be achieved with equality of bargaining position, with the employer (owner) and the employee entering into free agreements.

What about the exceptions, however? What happens when the free market rate is insufficient for the worker to meet ordinary expenses, or something interferes with the free market in labor, e.g., when the propertyless laborer is forced to take less than justice demands simply because he is in a bad bargaining position?

The difference must be made up of employer charity to ensure that the worker is able to meet ordinary expenses adequately, so that justice is completed and fulfilled by charity.

But, of course, this is not reality. Employers are always seeking to produce at the lowest possible cost, while maintaining the level of quality demanded by the market. From the employer-owner’s perspective, the problem with paying workers more than the free market rate of wages is it increases costs to the consumer (who is usually the worker under another hat). After all, full employment or paying wages higher than the market rate are not objectives of businesses nor is conducting business statically in terms of geographical location (outsourcing). Companies strive to achieve cost efficiencies to maximize profits for the owners (the reason the owners are in business), thus keeping labor input and other costs at a minimum. They strive to minimize marginal costs, the cost of producing an additional unit of a good, product or service once a business has its fixed costs in place, in order to stay competitive with other companies racing to stay competitive through technological innovation. Reducing marginal costs enables businesses to increase profits, offer goods, products and services at a lower price (which people as consumers seek), or both. Increasingly, new technologies are enabling companies to achieve near-zero cost growth without having to hire people. Thus, private sector job creation in numbers that match the pool of people willing and able to work is constantly being eroded by physical productive capital’s ever increasing role.

The result is that the price of products and services are extremely competitive as consumers will always seek the lowest cost/quality/performance alternative, and thus for-profit companies are constantly competing with each other (on a local, national and global scale) for attracting “customers with money” to purchase their products or services in order to generate profits and thus return on investment (ROI).

Over the past century there has been an ever-accelerating shift to productive capital — which reflects tectonic shifts in the technologies of production. The mixture of labor worker input and capital worker input has been rapidly changing at an exponential rate of increase for over 239 years in step with the Industrial Revolution (starting in 1776) and had even been changing long before that with man’s discovery of the first tools, but at a much slower rate. Up until the close of the nineteenth century, the United States remained a working democracy, with the production of products and services dependent on labor worker input. When the American Industrial Revolution began and subsequent technological advances amplified the productive power of non-human capital, plutocratic finance channeled its ownership into fewer and fewer hands, as we continue to witness today with government by the wealthy evidenced at all levels.

People invented “tools” to reduce toil, enable otherwise impossible production, create new highly automated industries, and significantly change the way in which products and services are produced from labor intensive to capital intensive — the core function of technological invention and innovation. Kelso attributed most changes in the productive capacity of the world since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to technological improvements in our capital assets, and a relatively diminishing proportion to human labor. Capital does not “enhance” labor productivity (labor’s ability to produce economic goods). In fact, the opposite is true. It makes many forms of labor unnecessary. Because of this undeniable fact, according to binary economist Louis Kelso, “free-market forces no longer establish the ‘value’ of labor. Instead, the price of labor is artificially elevated by government through minimum wage legislation, overtime laws, and collective bargaining legislation or by government employment and government subsidization of private employment solely to increase consumer income.”

Furthermore, according to Kelso, productive capital is increasingly the source of the world’s economic growth and, therefore, should become the source of added property ownership incomes for all. Kelso postulated that if both labor and capital are independent factors of production, and if capital’s proportionate contributions are increasing relative to that of labor, then equality of opportunity and economic justice demands that the right to property (and access to the means of acquiring and possessing property) must in justice be extended to all. Yet, sadly, the American people and its leaders still pretend to believe that labor is becoming more productive, and ignore the necessity to broaden personal ownership of wealth-creating, income-producing capital assets simultaneously with the growth of the economy.

We need to shift to a democratic growth economy. Such a future economy,  based on Kelso’s binary economics (human and non-human productive inputs), the ownership of productive capital assets would be spread more broadly as the economy grows, without taking anything away from the 1 to 10 percent who now own 50 to 90 percent of the corporate capital asset wealth. Instead, the ownership pie would desirably get much bigger and their percentage of the total ownership would decrease, as ownership gets broader and broader, benefiting EVERY citizen (children, women and men), including the traditionally disenfranchised poor and working and middle class. Thus, productive capital income, from full earnings dividend payouts, would be distributed more broadly and the demand for goods, products and services would be distributed more broadly from the earnings of capital and result in the sustentation of consumer demand, which will promote economic growth and more profitable enterprise. That also means that society can profitably employ unused productive capacity and invest in more productive capacity to service the demands of an environmentally responsible growth economy. As a result, our business corporations would be enabled to operate more efficiency and competitively, while broadening wealth-creating, income-producing ownership participation, creating new capitalists and jobs and “customers with money” to support the  goods, products and services being produced.

And how to bring about this state of affairs? Capital Homesteading suggests one way.

Support the Capital Homestead Act (aka Economic Democracy Act and Economic Empowerment Act) at http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/, http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/capital-homestead-act-a-plan-for-getting-ownership-income-and-power-to-every-citizen/, http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/capital-homestead-act-summary/ and http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/ch-vehicles/.

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