I’ve always disliked the fact that Jeff Bezos chose the name Amazon for his new online source for buying books (Remember that? It was 1994). I felt it profaned the mythological tribe of fierce warrior women, or even the name of the great South American river. I also worked for a women’s newspaper called Amazon during the 1970s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was poetry editor for Amazon Quarterly, a feminist journal of the same era.
In recent years, I’ve had other reasons to be ambivalent about the company, which helped drive many local bookstores out of business, and grew to be a monopoly whose tentacles reached almost daily into our lives. (See article “Amazon Doesn’t just Want to Dominate the Market, It Wants to Become the Market”)
From ordering toys my grandson wanted, costumes for dance, or music I couldn’t find elsewhere, and as a source for books (including several of my own), I have been a somewhat cautious customer. In 2017, I so much wanted to watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” that I subscribed to Amazon Prime for only a month so I could binge-watch that amazing comedy.
But I think I’ve come to the end of my Amazon.com affair. It’s not just that it has become the second publicly traded company to hit $1 trillion in market value, and that Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world (increasing by $250 million a day). It’s that with so much incomprehensible wealth, the behemoth enterprise pays its warehouse workers so little they need to apply for federal health care aid and food stamps. And there have been ongoing strikes worldwide. In an interview with Amy Goodman, James Bloodworth, describes his time working undercover as a “picker” in an Amazon order fulfillment center, where he found workers were urinating in bottles because they were discouraged from taking bathroom breaks for efficiency’s sake.
This week Bernie Sanders is partnering with prominent House progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) on the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOS) Act, which would enact a tax on large corporations equal to the federal benefits their low-wage employees receive in order to make ends meet. This would apply not only to Amazon, in spite of the acronym, but also such companies as Walmart and others whose low pay makes it necessary for employees to apply for government aid. The Sanders bill would require that the government be paid back for subsidizing these companies’ huge profits.
Wouldn’t it be easier, and better for the economy, to raise the wages of those who made Amazon great? Something to think about when you’re about to hit that “order with one click” button.