Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Damning the Amazon

It's a toss-up which would be easier: bring the river to a halt, or bring the world's most popular online retailer to its senses and make it behave with something approaching common decency. I'd heard of Amazon's use of union-busting tactics before now, and have tried to use publishers', authors', and independent booksellers' websites when linking to particular titles. However, I hadn't been evangelical about it until I found this on my Blogger dashboard:
Do you link to Amazon in your blog posts? Our Amazon Associates integration makes linking easier and can even earn you some money! Details here.
I'm leery of such propostitions anyway: who, I think, is using whom here? Is this an offer of payment, or a bribe? Am I being invited to do Amazon's work for them, pretty much for free? How easy is it to de-integrate if you decide to withdraw? (The penny first dropped twenty years ago when I read, in a portrait written by Harlan Ellison, that Steve McQueen would cut the little red tab off his Levi's. I did the same, wincing. The Levi's 501 is the only product I've ever consciously bought as a result of advertising - the coolest being the one with the Screamin' Jay Hawkins cover of a Tom Waits song. Waits sued, successfully.)

Well, I took a look at Amazon's record on unionisation, and it's not pretty. In 2001 the GMPU had a go at getting the 500 workers at Amazon's Milton Keynes warehouse to sign up; Amazon responded by (allegedly, our lawyers advise) improving terms and conditions while at the same time spreading black propaganda about the union; by constructive dismissal of organisers - sorry, agitators; and by arranging and simultaneously undermining a ballot of the workforce on union recognition. The tactics worked, the ballot failed and the GMPU was driven off, all under the appearance of consultation, democracy and corporate avuncularity on Amazon's part. The details can be found on the Guardian, The Register and on an article at the Word Power Books site.

Now I know this is all some time ago, and one could be forgiven for thinking, well, what's the point now? But no, no no no...just because this shmuck is coming late to this particular party dun't mean the party isn't still going on. One thing I know from bitter experience is that a corporate culture which is this malign doesn't just fade away with time: it's embedded, it permeates the structure, the practices and the souls of the people of work for the company - especially in management, and regardless of who goes and who stays. And so in a Sunday Times (hardly a firebrand publication of the hard left) report from late 2008, we find that the working practices and the attitude towards the workforce are...well, as you'd expect.

Of course, there was a total contradiction between what Amazon said and what they did in 2001, but I still can't help being shocked and enraged by it. I mean, treating your workers like shite is one thing - it's to be expected that employers will try that and get away with it whenever they can, and of course it is always unacceptable and should always be fought against - but bare-faced lying and manipulation is something which drives me to a fury beyond reason.

So from henceforth this will be an Amazon-free zone. Neither by link nor by reference nor by passing comment will they be acknowledged.

Yeah, that'll bring 'em to their knees...but what else can you do?

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