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Hollow victory

Hollow victory
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In what can be seen as a major victory for Amazon, its warehouse workers in Alabama apparently voted against the formation of a union. If it had succeeded, Alabama could have been a watershed moment for a brand that has been famously anti-unionisation. The National Labour Relations Board counted 1,798 votes against the formation of a union and 738 votes for. While proponents of unionisation have vowed to dispute the result due to certain 'irregularities', a hand count of the disputed votes has shown that there are simply not enough of them to change the result. In response, Amazon's shares rose 1.8 per cent after the shadow of unionisation passed. But as 'democractic' a process as it may seem, this is a victory for Amazon and its shareholders alone. This win comes after unusually forceful attempts by Amazon to keep its workers from unionising. This involved an almost attack dog mentality with Amazon even using its official accounts to lash out at US politicians who supported unionisation like Bernie Sanders. Indeed, the Trumpian dialogues that came out of the official Amazon account attacking the politicians was so egregious that Amazon's own online teams thought their account had been hacked or otherwise misused. It turned out that this was not, in fact, a hack but rather a planned change of tone that was dictated by none other than Jeff Bezos who wanted a more aggressive pushback even if it risked antagonising politicians. Admittedly some of the attacks fell flat, like very flat. Consider a tweet where Amazon tried to humorously debunk the 'myth' that its warehouse packers and delivery drivers defecate in Amazon boxes and urinate in bottles as they are not given the time to take toilet breaks. Amazon stated that this could not possibly be true or people would not continue working for them. Turns out it was absolutely true and the proof of the matter came from internal company documents being leaked that showed that not only was the whole thing true, but higher-ups in the organisation were also actually aware its a fairly common problem as they came up with a host of penalties related to leaving your pee in a bottle and such. Amazon later 'apologisied' for lying about the cover-up but it prominently did not apologise for creating a work environment where such a thing is required. But this was not new news at all. Former Amazon workers have been posting their horror stories online for quite some time where they spoke of the reckless pace of work and the fact that many had to wear adult diapers to continue working or risk being fired in the middle of a pandemic. It is precisely these unsustainable and inhumane practices that likely form the secret of Amazon's fast and convenient delivery system. It is because Amazon wishes to continue micromanaging its workers that it cannot have unions be a part of the equation. Unions you see would likely have something to say about the toilet brakes or the tracking wristbands or the whole host of other problematic ways through which Amazon controls its workers and their workflow. It is to guard against the possibility of unionisation that Amazon has employed an even more robust system of employee surveillance that has allowed them to keep an eye on employee activism wherever it may go in both the online and offline context. Amazon employees have often had to go to great lengths to gather anonymously or risk losing their jobs as the company zealously monitors them. If Amazon is not surveilling its employees, it is employing tactics to dissuade unionisation by making all employees attend compulsory meetings which are heavily anti-union in rhetoric. Another shamelessly on the nose tactic Amazon apparently employed recently was putting up anti-union hoardings inside toilet cubicles that remind employees of the harms of unionising. And there is so much more. You could likely read entire books about how not just Amazon but other major corporations exploit their employees to bring all of us the life of modern convenience we are now used to. Do any of us question how fast deliveries work and who suffers for our convenience? Probably not. It is inconvenient to think about it and certainly one does not want to think about whether those delivering their packages have adequate time to use the bathroom throughout the workday. This is Amazon's biggest success, making us all complicit in their questionable practices. But maybe there is some hope. The Democrats who wanted the unionisation to go through are not willing to give up and let Amazon have the victory. They are pushing hard for legislation that would make it harder for companies to interfere with unionisation attempts. Perhaps Amazon's bold and unashamed anti-union campaign may yet come back to bite it.

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