SEATTLE – Amazon’s flagship annual sales event, Prime Day, encountered a tangle of difficulties starting Monday as aggrieved workers, boycotts, and a range of technical glitches brought new attention to the online retailer’s troubled internal regime.
For four years now, Prime Day has grown as the company’s top promotional event, bringing billions in revenue on a level comparable only to the holiday season’s Black Friday. For the past several weeks, the company has promoted the event widely across its site and various online media. The promotion is a 36-hour event.
Yet sales expectations are being tempered this year by the fact that mere minutes after Monday’s sale began, the site and its mobile app suffered a 45-minute outage – one of the company’s worst to date – with the app simply reading “UH-OH, something went wrong on our end,” discouraging shoppers who were chomping at the bit over the limited-time sales.
The company’s Prime Day troubles were also compounded by widespread labor unrest in Europe, where Amazon employees used the event to hold work stoppages and strikes in a bid to amplify their demands that the company cease enforcing its tough working conditions while slashing health benefits and wages.
Profits for shareholders, no rights for workers
The wave of labor actions began with a call to strike by Spanish union Comisiones Obreras, which represents 1,800-workers. In their announcement of the transnational strike, the Amazon workers of Spain wrote:
In Poland they are using a hard anti-strike law to impose miserable salaries. In Germany the struggle for a collective agreement guaranteeing the rights of all workers independently of their centre continues. In France the very demanding measures to control times and efficiency remain in place. In Spain the working conditions were unilaterally imposed by the company in its main logistic centre once the previous collective agreement expired. In Italy, where fixed-term contracts are the norm, there are thousands of casual workers in its logistic centres. In the rest of the world Amazon is making history, but hardly distributes its millions in profits.”
The Spanish workers continued to note that on their own, they are unable to win their demands, owing to the massive logistics network Amazon maintains in Europe, which opens new warehouses or Fulfillment Centers in regions with less trade union activity. As such, “only with a joint action at a European level will workers organize in those places where there is no union representation yet.”
The strike call quickly resonated, as workers in England, France, Germany, Italy and Poland united around the call to hold a transnational strike.
Despite Amazon’s history of union-busting activities and employee mistreatment in the United States, the company has struggled to cope with the activities of Europe’s organized workers’ movements.
Workers in Europe have complained of a physically strenuous pace of work, as well as poorly heated and ventilated warehouses that are strictly regimented by third-party security firms contracted by Amazon. The holiday season has typically seen upswings in militant actions by workers.
On Tuesday, German union Verdi joined the strike, announcing that on a day when prices are slashed by millions while “the profits are bubbling,” the workers would hold a work stoppage and demand a collective health-care agreement in light of the “severe physical and mental stress” caused by work conditions.
This morning I sent Jeff Bezos a letter asking why Amazon is selling content and products that promote and enrich white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. https://t.co/vZxvSoRunr pic.twitter.com/kSAroJTBnN
— Keith Ellison (@keithellison) July 17, 2018
The company is also facing boycott calls in the United States, where racial justice and anti-white-supremacy groups plan to hold rallies through Tuesday in protest of the sale of Nazi German, Confederate, and white-nationalist books, music, paraphernalia and clothing through Amazon’s network of around two million independent vendors.
Last week, a report by The Partnership for Working Families and Action Center on Race & the Economy noted that Amazon sells a plethora of pro-fascist, white-supremacist and anti-Black, anti-Jewish, Islamophobic and anti-gay merchandise despite its policy to ban content that promotes or glorifies “hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance” or organizations with such views.
Yet the researchers note:
A close examination of Amazon’s various platforms and services reveals that for growing racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic movements, the breadth of Amazon’s business combined with its weak and inadequately enforced policies provides a number of channels through which hate groups can generate revenue, propagate their ideas, and grow their movements.
Profits keep growing
Despite stumbling out the Prime Day gate, the company remains the default “everything store” for most U.S. online shoppers – a fact that is unlikely to change anytime soon.
With 44 cents of every e-commerce dollar being spent on Amazon.com, an 83 percent commanding share of the e-book business, and a majority of the cloud-computing industry nestled in its Amazon Web Services, the company is sure to continue raking in record profits like the $1.9 billion made in the last three quarters of 2017.
On Monday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ net worth exceeded $150 billion, making him the richest man in modern world history. This is due, in no small part, to the hideous conditions Amazon’s global workforce suffers.
These workers are also contending with attempts to foist labor-saving technologies, such as tracking wristbands, on them, as well as legal constraints that control their activities outside the workplace. For example, fulfillment center workers — including temporary workers — are forced to sign contracts that include a clause that appears to bar a wide swath of employment possibilities following their departure from the company:
During employment and for 18 months after the separation date, employee will not … engage in or support the development, manufacture, marketing or sale of any product or service that competes or is intended to compete with any product or service sold, offered or otherwise provided by Amazon.”
In the meantime, suppliers are also being asked to shoulder the transportation costs that the retailer had previously paid in its drive to shoulder out Walmart and other retailers as a daily provider of household goods.
Amazon is doing all that it can to boost its profit margins across the board, and keep its stock soaring. But as Prime Day 2018 clearly showed, Amazon is hardly immune to the side-effects of its Godzilla-like growth into the form of a monopoly-sized entity.
Top Photo |
Amazon workers protest ahead of the annual Axel Springer award ceremony in Berlin, April 24, 2018. Fabrizio Bensch | Reuters
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast