This is a nice reprieve from the drudgery of the news cycle. Here is a quick two act play that serves as unimpeachable proof that politicians can influence billionaires’ actions through constant shaming.
Act one: the shaming.
Act two: Bezos finally caves.
Effective Nov. 1, Amazon will raise its minimum wage for all U.S. workers to $15 an hour. It includes all subsidiaries like Whole Foods, and will cover 250,000 employees and 100,000 seasonal employees, according to Amazon. This comes on the heels of attempts by Whole Foods workers to unionize, so giving Senator Sanders all the credit does a disservice to the work those laborers did before Bezos finally caved.
This is a victory for collective shaming. Bezos practically said so when announcing the new policy.
“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead.”
This is but one small step that Bezos must take if he really wants to lead. It’s not just the low pay that makes Amazon a miserable place to work for many lower-paid workers, but the overall conditions where laborers are practically treated like cattle. Here is but one example of how extreme Amazon’s warehouse conditions are, per Allentown, PA’s local paper, The Morning Call:
He got light-headed, he said, and his legs cramped, symptoms he never experienced in previous warehouse jobs. One hot day, [Elmer] Goris said, he saw a co-worker pass out at the water fountain. On other hot days, he saw paramedics bring people out of the warehouse in wheelchairs and on stretchers.
“I never felt like passing out in a warehouse and I never felt treated like a piece of crap in any other warehouse but this one,” Goris said. “They can do that because there aren’t any jobs in the area.”
Goris’ complaints are not unique.
Over the past two months, The Morning Call interviewed 20 current and former warehouse workers who showed pay stubs, tax forms or other proof of employment. They offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it’s like to work in the Amazon warehouse, where temperatures soar on hot summer days, production rates are difficult to achieve and the permanent jobs sought by many temporary workers hired by an outside agency are tough to get.
The defining battle of our time (and, well, almost all times in human history) is labor versus capital. This is a big symbolic victory for labor over the man with more capital than anyone alive, but it is a small victory in the larger war against Bezos’ ilk. Portraying this as “leadership” on Amazon’s part instead of finally paying a good chunk of its workers what they’re worth does a disservice to that struggle, as it took a lot of cajoling and shaming to get the world’s richest man to give up an infinitesimal sliver of his wealth. There is much more that must be addressed in our inherently unequal economic system, and shaming Jeff Bezos into actually doing something is a good way to communicate to the rest of America’s oligarchs that they’re all officially on notice.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.