I don’t expect any criticism of Amazon to go on for very long. There are things in the world you’re allowed to criticize, and things you’re not allowed to criticize, and Jeff Bezos is solidly in the latter category.
More than 400 legislators from 34 countries, spanning all six continents, have signed a letter demanding that Amazon take action to change the company’s policies to better protect workers and the environment.
The message, which is addressed to chief executive Jeff Bezos, says that the world knows that Amazon can afford to pay its workers, its taxes and its environmental costs, but that the company has dodged and dismissed its debts to workers, societies and the planet.
The signatories point towards the 25 “Common Demands” that the group say Amazon should implement to improve. These include raising workers’ pay in all Amazon warehouses in line with the increasing wealth of the corporation, including hazard pay; committing to zero emissions by 2030; and guaranteeing transparency over the privacy and use of consumers’ data.
The letter was signed by a number of MPs in the UK – including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell, Nadia Whittome, Zarah Sultana – as well as Sein Fein MPs.
US congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, Turkey’s HDP spokesperson Ebru Günay, leader of France’s France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of Greek party MeRA25 Yanis Varoufakis, and European Parliament vice president Heidi Hautala also added their names.
The letter points out that Mr Bezos’ wealth increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, during which millions of people lost their jobs.
At the same time, Amazon has been criticised for its actions against its staff, which the letter claimed worked in dangerous conditions, had received little or no increase in pay and faced retaliation for efforts to defend themselves and organise their colleagues.
The wages that Amazon pays workers are not really the point. The wages are an effect from a larger problem.
The reason that Amazon is able to pay people so little money is that they’ve obtained a virtual monopoly status, which gives them incredible power in the economy. If you simply forced them to pay the peasants higher wages, that would do nothing to address their underlying power, and eventually, they would simply be able to revert the wages to what they were, because they have such incredible control.
People who are complaining about Amazon will often talk about “capitalism.” But this is actually the opposite of capitalism. The original doctrine of capitalism stated that it was the government’s job to prevent monopolies, as monopolies destroy the market of competition, and the market of competition is the purpose of capitalism.
We haven’t had capitalism in the West in a very long time. Part of the reason is that we’ve been derelict in monitoring the behavior of the government, and the government has been bought out by big business. The underlying problem there, however, is the fact that technology has enabled the centralization of production and distribution, making old fashioned capitalism impossible.
I don’t want to argue for a return to capitalism in the old sense, because I think that is probably not possible. However, we do need some form of a market economy. The concept of a market economy is being abandoned in favor of a planned economy managed by corporations, in cooperation with governments.
Those are the dynamics in play when the government is asked to force corporations to pay higher wages. There is no market involvement here at all. There are dynamics which are always going to lead to corruption. You have to have a market that is capable of allowing people to become actors in the economy, or you’re left at the mercy of corporations, begging the government to help you.
What we actually need is antitrust. These companies never should have been allowed to become this large, and now that they are this large, we need to break them up into many smaller companies, which will allow for competition to emerge.
There are arguments that something like Facebook, and certainly something like Google, are “natural monopolies.” If that is decided to be the case, then they need to be regulated as any other natural monopoly.
However, Amazon is a retailer, and a retailer can never become a natural monopoly. That means that Amazon should not be allowed to exist at all, based on our own laws, which are on the books (written by capitalists, by the way) and simply never enforced!
This is all fundamentally dystopian, and we are getting to the point where we are going to pass the point of no return, where these corporations have so much power that the government doesn’t have the ability to regulate them, and we’re living in a feudal system where we are directly enslaved to corporations and the only purpose of the government is to regulate the social order (effectively mercenaries of corporations).
We all just witnessed the corporations order the governments of the West to lock down all small businesses so they would go under and all of that wealth would then be transferred to the billionaire class. This is happening right in front of us.
We need to figure out language to communicate all of this to conservatives who have been brainwashed by libertarian nutjobs, and we need to do it quickly.