Felix Stalder on 11 Feb 2001 01:04:30 -0000

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Re: <nettime> More on Amazon


The New Republic has a very interesting (but very long) article on how
Amazon turned from a freewheeling Internet pioneer (individual
responsibility, flat hierarchies etc) into a manager-controlled, regimented
company. The article is mostly about how these changes affected workers and
created the atmosphere for unionization. Below is a what happened inside
Amazon once the union was announced:

" The workers who had attended the Day 2 meeting earlier in the week had a
rather different reaction. As it happened, one of the promotional materials
WashTech had circulated was an old yellow pamphlet titled "Our Boss Said We
Didn't Need a Union ... What Will Yours Say?" With its photos of men with
wide lapels, bushy mustaches, and Afros, it looked like something that had
been printed in the 1970s--something, as Buss puts it, "so corny the Brady
Bunch wouldn't get near it." Yet, sure enough, just about every argument
Amazon supervisors had made against the union was right there in the
pamphlet, along with a rejoinder. Amazon, the great Internet pioneer, was
literally taking a page from the '70s anti-union playbook. "There was more
support right after that meeting than any other time, because employees
realized that management was trying to scare us," said Tricia Phillips, a
senior member of the customer service department. "It was really insulting.
It was like being in elementary school."

It was only the beginning of Amazon's campaign against the union. Mindful
of their public image, Amazon officials kept their appeals in the press
high-minded: "We think there's a role for unions in society," Bezos told
CNN, "but we don't think we need them at Amazon.com." Inside, they were
less delicate. They distributed pamphlets that said, "Be Smart. Don't Sign
a Union Card," and they set up an internal website alerting supervisors to
warning signs that workers might be plotting to organize. Among those
listed: "hushed conversations when you approach which have not occurred
before," or "small group huddles breaking up in silence on the approach of
the supervisor," or excessive time spent in the rest rooms. The material
was meant for management only, but it found its way into the hands of The
New York Times, which called the site "a rare internal glimpse at how a
company is fighting off a union." "

Les faits sont faits.

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