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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer. katherine molé mfa ... art director
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Bezos Building a DYSTOPIAN United States of Amazon
You’ve no doubt seen the new Amazon corona-ads, including the one thanking its workers — “heroes” in the warehouses, the skies, the trucks, pledging that the company “will continue to do everything we can to keep” their frontline workers “healthy, safe and protected.”
That ad, which debuted nationally on March 31, features barefaced workers. Not one wears a mask.
My favorite is more recent. Called “Rainbows of Hope,” a little girl is seen drawing a rainbow in chalk, then writing “Thank you!” with hearts below and waiting by the window for her Amazon delivery man — who by now has been given a mask and gloves — to see her tribute and get choked up.
All while “This Little Light of Mine” plays in the background. Subtle it is not.
Contrast this schmaltz — really, who knows or even sees their Amazon delivery person? — with the blistering open letter by Amazon engineer and vice president Tim Bray, who quit his million dollar-plus job last Friday “in dismay” over the company’s heartless firings of warehouse whistleblowers begging for workplace safety.
“Chickens—t” and “kill the messenger” are two ways Bray described the company’s cowardly firings of these activists, followed by internal attempts to smear at least one, Staten Island worker Chris Smalls, as “not smart or articulate.”
That’s a dog whistle, a coded racist description of an African-American blue-collar worker.
“I’m happy to see that someone in such a prominent position with the company decided to … speak out,” Smalls tells the Post. “There are people who are sick and who have died working for this company.”
Bray wrote that before quitting, he went through the proper channels to make his concerns known. While Amazon, he says, takes care to make sure their white-collar workers have a healthy work-life balance, the frontline workers, those packing and shipping and delivering the products Americans so desperately need, are treated not as human beings but as “fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.”
And, Bray points out, “It’s not just workers who are upset. Here are attorneys general from 14 states speaking out. Here’s the New York State attorney general with more detailed complaints. Here’s Amazon losing in French courts, twice.”
What more has to happen for Amazon, and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, to be held accountable here in the US? As retail dies off, as nearly every sector besides Big Tech is on life support, as more than 30 million Americans find themselves unemployed over a mere six-week span and counting, it’s undeniable that our post-COVID economy will be remade in the image and likeness of Jeff Bezos.
It’s way past time for the federal government to ask: Would this be a recognizable America? A fair one? An acceptable one?
As NYU professor and Big Tech critic Scott Galloway recently wrote, “Bezos, worth $139 billion, who is in the midst of the mother of all midlife crises, could buy every top football team (the top three European soccer teams plus every team where they give each other Parkinson’s) and still have the cabbage to buy ViacomCBS (post-acquisition) and take his date to (Paramount) movie premieres in style, after purchasing Ferrari ($28 billion).”
Yet Bezos wants credit for giving his warehouse workers $2 an hour raises as hazard pay — up $17 from $15. And that’s temporary.
The company also announced it will be hiring 100,000 new workers, such is the COVID-19 consumer demand. That is a staggering number, one that will surely increase.
Amazon will emerge from this crisis stronger, bigger and more powerful than maybe even Bezos thought possible. As American retailers circle the drain — institutions such as Macy’s, J.C. Penney, the Gap, J. Crew, Sears — Amazon will feed off their carcasses and further our dependence.
Think about it: Amazon is already the world’s number one retailer. It has the biggest cloud computing operation on the planet, and couple that with its in-home spy Alexa, it knows way too much about you, your spending habits, the state of your mind, your marriage, your monthly income. It creates and streams films and programs that (rivaled only by Netflix) will dominate the cultural landscape as movie theaters go to their graves. He is more powerful, arguably, than any president.
As I’ve said before: If we’re not already, we will soon be living in the United States of Amazon.
Meanwhile, Chris Smalls sits at home jobless, with no health insurance, unable to file for unemployment, though he tries to get through an overloaded system every day. He sees those new Amazon ads on TV and says they’re disrespectful.
“That’s not the reality of the situation — [Amazon is] trying to make the public think they protect their workers,” Small says. But with Bray’s public resignation, Smalls has hope.
“Whatever they do in the dark,” he says, “is coming to the light.”