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The World According To Amazon

Amazon online; it all seemed so great.

A few years ago I wanted to use my Amazon account to try and make a living. I’d seen a few people in the unemployment support industry including the Shaw Trust, and a group called First Step (they are all called ‘step’ or something ‘step’). Nothing came of it other than vague promises of moral support, but no actual help getting anything off the ground (i.e. money, since stock doesn’t come free – unlike said moral support).

Perhaps that’s just as well as recent journalistic incursions into the secret world of Amazon’s elves paints a very grim picture. I still have my Amazon account and I had used it quite recently to sell a DVD. Unfortunately it’s the only game in town; like the big supermarket chains it has been allowed – even financially assisted – to creep into and take over our lives. In fact one o the reasons I liked using them was because I didn’t have to take my credit card details to other internet sites and increase the risk of fraud (though I have no idea how secure Amazon accounts are).

Now I wonder if it’s really worth supporting this company – even through third party sellers such as I had hoped to become. For instance, I can buy a second hand novel for pennies and postage. Amazon’s cut is around 20% so they aren’t making much from such sales at all, though they still make something. More importantly those are not orders that have to be picked by people run ragged in their appalling workhouses.

It shouldn’t be such a conundrum: anyone with any morality should realise, myself included, that this organisation is yet another corporate exploiter. They are clearly and obviously abusing staff. But convenience is such an aphrodisiac – where else can I legally acquire MP3 albums, even though Amazon charges a fortune for such things? How else can I offload books games and DVD’s I no longer want? I suppose that’s what charity shops are for.

I have wondered why charity shops don’t adopt a more business like regime, and actually buy stuff. Rather than rely on donations, they could pay a nominal fee – it doesn’t have to be much at all. That way they can attach a few stipulations, insisting, for example, sellers at least wash the clothes they intend to offload. This would also prevent people just dumping bin bags full of stuff (of any quality) outside the shop for the staff to pick up and sort through the next day. Given the perks and the profit margins charity shops enjoy I don’t see this as a problem.

But back to Amazon; we now have a society that is so compliant to the pseudo-Christian work ethic that anyone who shows even momentary reluctance to slave themselves into blistery skinned oblivion is permanently marked as indolent. Even if your reluctance is founded on genuine concerns of being able to cope with the insanity of the workload you’re told that other people manage – and patently they do so the question then becomes: why can’t you? The lad on the recent Panorama documentary walked 11 miles around the warehouse – and that was just one day’s night shift! It’s the mob mentality, the herd: don’t think you’re unique or special, if other people can slog their guts out then you can cope too, even if you actually can’t.

This is the race to the bottom. Amazon pays the minimum wage (a bit more for night shift work, graciously). In other words they are a company that doesn’t value workers and begrudgingly gives them a wage – as little as they are legally allowed to pay. This increasingly is the norm; those defending this system, like the CBI, will ask “why should we pay more than we have to?” just as their accountants do when avoiding tax. Something else Amazon excels at.

In fact I would suggest that Amazon is more focussed on minimising its responsibility to society than paying its staff a wage many I’m sure would feel more represents the dismal unremitting nature of the job. Meanwhile Amazon has benefited tremendously from society: enjoying tax breaks and massive state investment to ‘encourage’ them to come to places like south Wales where it has a cowed and responsive labour market, due to years of deprivation. This is capitalism in action: benefits for the rich and the powerful, insecurity and a dog eat dog world for the rest. Amazon’s corporate masters can command the taxes paid by society through the state, but contributes as little as possible.

This is all defended by the Tories who think that, just because they are an employer, everything they do is acceptable. Once the government thinks that, the media thinks that (or perhaps it’s vice versa), and once the media and the government are on the same page public thinking is shaped. Consequently people are given no choice but to apply to Amazon if they come to town. No one will examine the ethics of the company and because others are desperate enough to accept the terms of conditions of their modern slavery (and who knows, some might enjoy it) the rest will have to like it or lump it, even though some will simply not be able to cope. The price of capitalism is your body and soul and what do you have to show for it? How likely is it that any one Amazon workhouse employee will ever get a seat at the top table?


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