Friday, 29 November 2019

Activists Build a Grass-Roots Alliance Against Amazon

quote [ “Every day, ships, trucks, trains and airplanes bring an estimated 21,500 diesel truckloads of merchandise to 21 Amazon warehouses in the four-county region,” the Economic Roundtable report said. It calculated that Amazon trucks last year created $642 million in “uncompensated public costs” for noise, road wear, accidents and harmful emissions. ]

They are really big in the US, right?

Full article + the Sears anecdote in extended.

Fun fact – in a Metafilter thread on the music industry someone noted that Sears deliberately opted out of its mail order biz around 1993. Talking about bad timing.

Full article:
Reveal

SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon flourished over its first two decades with little opposition and less scrutiny. A new coalition and a report unveiled on Tuesday make clear that era is over.

The coalition, Athena, comprises three dozen grass-roots groups involved in issues like digital surveillance, antitrust and working conditions in warehouses. The goal is to encourage and unify the resistance to Amazon that is now beginning to form.

The report, from the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research group that focuses on social and economic issues in Southern California, delves into the largely unexplored topic of what Amazon is costing the communities where it has warehouses. The short answer: a lot.

While the simultaneous arrival of Athena and the report are a coincidence, they are linked by their attempts to understand and ultimately influence Amazon’s push into almost every aspect of modern life. The internet conglomerate hired 97,000 employees over the summer, nearly the total employment of Google. The report is bluntly titled “Too Big to Govern.”

“This is a company functioning at a scale that was previously left to government,” said Tom Perriello of the Open Society Foundations. Founded by the billionaire George Soros, Open Society is providing some of the seed funding for Athena. The coalition is raising $15 million to cover its first three years.

“It has incredible impact,” Mr. Perriello said of Amazon. “Who could possibly shape its future and direction?”

Amazon, like Facebook, Apple and Google, has drawn the attention of Washington regulators, state attorneys general and at least a few politicians in the last year. The central question being asked about all of the companies: When does a tech platform become too big and powerful, ultimately hurting the society it once dazzled?

In Amazon’s case, the situation is particularly complicated. Its aspirations long ago exceeded online retail to encompass fresh groceries, devices that connect your home to the internet, front-door and neighborhood surveillance, professional services like plumbing and contracting, health care, government procurement, internet infrastructure and Hollywood entertainment. Just about everything, really.

Amazon declined to comment for this article.

Athena springs out of several unexpectedly successful grass-roots efforts to rein in Amazon’s power.

Last fall, the retailer was forced to begin paying a $15 hourly minimum wage nationwide. In February, it abandoned plans to establish a new headquarters in New York after opponents mobilized against Amazon and the politicians who had approved the deal. This month, an attempt to stack the City Council in Seattle, the company’s hometown, with members more acceptable to Amazon backfired with voters.

These setbacks could be attributed to many factors, but one of them was the influence of labor and immigrant organizations. Now some of those groups are joining together under Athena.

“We’re learning from what makes Amazon back down, and looking to replicate that as much as possible with as many people as possible,” said Dania Rajendra, the Athena director.

Athena will be run from New York, but the real work will be done out in the field where most of the member organizations are. They include the Awood Center, a Minneapolis nonprofit that has organized Amazon workers from East Africa; Warehouse Workers for Justice, which is based in Chicago; and Fight for the Future, a group that focuses on digital issues, in Massachusetts.

In a separate move on Monday, Fight for the Future and other groups called on Congress to investigate Amazon’s surveillance products, including the Ring front-door monitor and Rekognition facial tracking software. The products threaten “our privacy and civil liberties, especially in brown and black communities,” the groups said.

The effort against Amazon will not be easy, said Lauren Jacobs of the Partnership for Working Families, a coalition member in Oakland. Amazon is projected to have $238 billion in sales this year with 750,000 employees.

“This is a David and Goliath story,” she said. “David took what he had and turned it into a winning strategy. We’re taking what we have — the voices of the members of our various organizations, our collective knowledge and experience and deep understanding of the economy around Big Tech, and the experience we’ve had with making this company shift its behavior — and trying to build a more humane economy.”

Athena’s $15 million budget is modest for the scale of change it hopes to bring about. “This is grass-roots democracy,” said Barry Lynn of Open Markets Institute, a Washington think tank and coalition member focused on antitrust issues. “There’s no money in it. Just people.”

Mr. Perriello of the Open Society Foundations said updating protest movements for the digital era was an interesting challenge.

“Uncertainty is now baked into the model,” he said. “You don’t know where the fight is going to be two months from now or two years from now. So you need the ability to organize citizens of very different political stripes across geographies and across demographics, where traditionally you had to organize in place.”

The name Athena is associated with democracy, freedom and wisdom. But it has another advantage for the coalition.

“We didn’t want to have Amazon in the name — People Against Amazon or whatever — because part of the strategy is to offer a better vision for how the economy could work,” said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit in Maine that opposes corporate concentration and advocates local community development. “To be for something, not just against.”

Sheheryar Kaoosji of another coalition member, the Warehouse Worker Resource Center in Ontario, east of Los Angeles, said Athena was not planning a boycott of Amazon but more interested in trying to sway it — including its employees and customers.

“Half the households in America have an Amazon Prime account,” Mr. Kaoosji said. “That gives them a huge amount of power to change the company.” His group is dedicated to improving conditions in what is sometimes called “the goods movement sector.”

The resource center is in California’s Inland Empire, where the work gets done to process those packages that appear on porches in Santa Monica and Newport Beach as if by magic.

Amazon workers and Amazon customers exist in two different worlds, the Economic Roundtable said. The report calculates that a little over half of Amazon warehouse workers in Southern California live in substandard housing. And for every $1 in wages, they receive 24 cents in public assistance.

“Every day, ships, trucks, trains and airplanes bring an estimated 21,500 diesel truckloads of merchandise to 21 Amazon warehouses in the four-county region,” the Economic Roundtable report said. It calculated that Amazon trucks last year created $642 million in “uncompensated public costs” for noise, road wear, accidents and harmful emissions.

Almost as an aside, the report indicated how adept Amazon, with a stock market value of nearly $900 billion, is at getting funding from California and local communities. This included $25 million from the California Film Commission to subsidize six productions, including the third season of “Sneaky Pete,” an Amazon crime drama, and $1.2 million from the California Office of Business and Economic Development toward an office building in Irvine for programmers.

The report noted on its title page that it was underwritten by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents more than 800,000 members of 300 unions. The Economic Roundtable said that did not affect the results.

Among the report’s suggestions: that Amazon raise its minimum wage to $20 an hour, that it require its logistics subcontractors to do the same, that it provide child care at its warehouses and that it build affordable housing in its logistics communities.

The report draws on California Public Records Act requests filed with communities with Amazon facilities. Many of them nevertheless came up empty. The report noted that very little of Amazon’s business was known to anyone but Amazon. Communities are in the dark.

“Our conclusion is that it’s time for Amazon to come of age and pay its own way,” said Daniel Flaming, a co-author of the report. “This means paying its full costs to the communities that host it and the workers who create its profits.”

David Streitfeld has written about technology and its effects for twenty years. In 2013, he was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 26, 2019, Section B, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Amazon Behemoth And Its Would-Be David.
[SFW] [business] [+1 Interesting]
[by Paracetamol@8:31pmGMT]

Comments

snowfox said @ 6:57am GMT on 30th Nov [Score:1 Insightful]
I can't get a pizza delivered to where I live, but via Amazon, I can get snacks shipped direct from Japan in less than a week. Everything I consume is built on human suffering. Is this the line because it affects the first world? Fuck that.

Look at your shoes.

They contain a variety of fabrics, whose raw materials must be sourced, processed, and turned into fabric. They contain the materials for the inner and outer soles, which undergo the same process. They have laces, eaglets, eyeholes... same deal. They have a cardboard tag attached with an elastic band, come packed with paper and chip board inside, wrapped in tissue paper, inside a printed cardboard box. All of these things must be assembled.

Then they must be packed, shipped, unpacked, shipped again multiple times, and stocked.

At some point, your shoes involve slavery. It's not good, but what are you going to do? Make your own shoes? Will you make your own everything from start to finish? We already know fair-trade, etc is often violated and BS.

I am not saying these things are good, but they do seem to be how the world works. Why is Amazon the level at which people care? Because, now, it's in THEIR world? They can see it in their own backyard? Jingoism. Not humanism.

There is a problem deeper than Amazon. If we can fix that entire chain, the problems with Amazon would also be addressed. As long as we fail to address these issues, whether you get them from Amazon or not, your goods are bathed in blood.

Maybe there is no way around that. It does seem our entire society, both local and global, are based on pyramid schemes and wealth disparity. The only way to eliminate it, quite possibly, is for ALL OF US to live far less decadent lifestyles. Are we willing to give up the very devices that allow this site to run and us to access it? We'd have to if we were going to eliminate the horrific mining practices that lead to our boards, circuits, batteries...

The world is a terrible place. I don't see the logic in these arbitrary cutoff points other than tribalism.

Can anyone explain it to me?
Paracetamol said @ 5:30am GMT on 2nd Dec
Yep, true. First, I don't get many things about US Infrastructure.

But second, it's not about the goods/supplier but the distributor chain.
Admittedly, there have always been more retailer alternatives in Europe due to the higher density. But people amazingly still choose Amazon for many services over competitors. I wonder if oligopolies build trust or something
conception said @ 6:59pm GMT on 2nd Dec
Amazon's advantage is convenience. It's just so easy to order and get things from Amazon. They have everything. In one spot. And it arrives in a couple of days or less, 2 hours for food! It's really a marvel if it wasn't terrible beneath the facade.
conception said[1] @ 6:57pm GMT on 2nd Dec
It is NIMByism I feel like more than Jingoism. I think it's "See no here, hear no evil" more than 'Merica! At the Amazon level, like the Walmart level before it, scales tip so far in Amazon's favor that they can begin to do monopolistic behaviors that bring the suffering up the supply chain. And suppliers can either service Amazon and their demands or go out of business because Amazon is such a large player in the game.

The best writeup of this phenomenon is the Walmart Gallon of Pickles - https://www.fastcompany.com/47593/wal-mart-you-dont-know

So, yes, the supply chain is covered in blood almost always as the bottom levels but with companies like Amazon, they can push and push margins to force that ruthlessness up the chain (e.g. first world warehouse workers whom are people "just like you") which is why people are starting to care about it.

steele said @ 5:44pm GMT on 30th Nov [Score:1 Underrated]
Last fall, the retailer was forced to begin paying a $15 hourly minimum wage nationwide.

Forced by who, NYT?
steele said @ 5:50pm GMT on 30th Nov [Score:1 Insightful]
the circus said @ 10:00pm GMT on 30th Nov [Score:1 Insightful]
Admittedly rambling…

Unless we're stuck in 19th century thinking, Jeff Bezos has a monopoly. A huge one. (I'm also noticing I'm the first person mentioning the actual person. Amazon doesn't do anything because it's not an active agent, it's just a brand name. Amazon wasn't forced to pay a $15 minimum wage, Jeff Bezos was.) I'm not aware of a website I can go to that offers the goods I can get on Amazon offered by multiple sellers. Insofar as Amazon also acts as a marketplace, it's virtually monopolized the marketplace as a whole.

I suspect Amazon's cutting back on packaging material had nothing to do with environmental complaints, but executives realizing if they could cut the work in safely packing boxes and the material then Bezos could make another 100 million a year. Just give 50K to a "charity" set up for the kid of a friend or executive who spends all their time on social media. Collect 25K for running the charity and spend the other 25K making as much noise as possible about Amazon's wasteful packaging. Then when people get mad about their items arriving beat up, blame those damn dirty hippie liberals.

So much of this equation is shipping. I suspect businesses like grubhub and uber eats weren't even setup intending to turn any profit. They just know the market forces driving the rich to demand automated delivery will mean they better get an infrastructure in place now and work the bugs out of it for when they can swap out human deliverers for automation.

I can't give up necessities. Heck I worry about keeping my small condo on what I earn even knowing automation is currently gutting my industry and driving me towards job elimination. But I can control what I spend on my tabletop gaming hobby. China has a near lock on tabletop gaming manufacturing, and more and more China is sounding scary for it's actions both within and without. Like Germany in the 30's scary. I can at least not buy games that profit China. It's not like game publishers can't make their games anywhere else except China.
steele said @ 5:50pm GMT on 30th Nov

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