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The Amazon Union Drive and the Changing Politics of Labor – The New Yorker

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Most organizing campaigns have a symbolic quality, but a unionization fight at an Alabama Amazon facility is different because the company is so much at the heart of the economy’s potential future.Illustration by Angie Wang

Most contemporary union drives are ultimately about the past—about the contrast that they draw between the more even prosperity of previous decades and the jarring inequalities of the present. But one that will culminate on Monday, the deadline for nearly six thousand employees of an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, to cast ballots on whether to affiliate with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, is the rare union campaign that is obviously about the future. In this case, hyperbole is possible. The Democratic congressman Andy Levin, of Michigan, a union stalwart, has described it as “the most important election for the working class in this country in the twenty-first century.” On Monday, the Reverend Dr. William Barber, as prominent a figure as exists in the modern civil-rights movement, travelled to Alabama and said, “Bessemer is now our Selma.”

That this election is about the future has something to do with the workers themselves, who embody the political transformation of the South to which progressives pin their dreams. According to union officials, a majority of the people employed at the facility, which is outside of Birmingham, are Black, and a majority are women. On the drive up to the facility, supporters of the R.W.D.S.U. planted a sign featuring the Democratic politician and voting-rights advocate Stacey Abrams striking a Rosie the Riveter pose. A high-ranking labor official in Washington pointed me to a detail from an interview, published in The American Prospect, with the campaign’s on-the-ground leader, a thirty-three-year-old organizer named Josh Brewer. Brewer said that many of the workers who supported the union had been involved in demonstrations to bring down Confederate statues in Birmingham, and they often organized themselves.

But the significance of the drive has more to do with the company itself. Amazon is now among the largest private employers in the United States; its founder, Jeff Bezos, is arguably the wealthiest man in modern history. The company has paid every one of its workers fifteen dollars per hour since November, 2018, while also pioneering second-by-second monitoring of its employees. “This isn’t just about wages,” Stuart Appelbaum, the R.W.D.S.U.’s president, told me, on Monday. It is also about the strenuous pace of work, and the real-time surveillance methods that Amazon has used to monitor employees. Appelbaum said some of the workers that his union has represented have had employers that monitored their locations with G.P.S. chips in their delivery trucks, “but there’s nothing like this, where you’re expected to touch a package every eight seconds.” It had been hard to organize within the Bessemer facility, he said, in part because many of the workers did not know one another. “It’s hyper-Taylorism,” Damon Silvers, the director of policy and the special counsel of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said. “Amazon has determined an optimal set of motions that they want their employees to do, and they have the ability to monitor the employee at all times and measure the difference between what the employee does and what they want them to do, and there is nowhere to hide.” Appelbaum said, “People tell us they feel like robots who are being managed by robots.”

The Amazon union drive has drawn a rare intensity out of the usual suspects. Abrams, Levin, and Bernie Sanders have announced their support for it, and so has President Joe Biden, who recorded a strong message encouraging the organizers and discouraging any effort to interfere with them. It has also drawn some unusual allies, above all the conservative Republican senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, who published an op-ed in USA Today declaring his support for the organizing workers and his opposition to Amazon’s ways: “The days of conservatives being taken for granted by the business community are over.”

Amazon’s influence is so vast—touching on issues from wealth and income inequality to antitrust policy, the American relationship with China, the omnipotence of workplace surveillance, and the atomizing effect of big business, in its most concentrated and powerful form, on families and communities—that it can scramble ordinary politics. For a moment, at least, it can put Marco Rubio and Stacey Abrams on the same side. Most organizing campaigns have a symbolic quality, in which the employer and its workers stand for different models of economic organization. The fight in Bessemer is different because it is so direct. Amazon isn’t a proxy for the future of the economy but its heart.

A year into a pandemic that has kept many Americans cooped up at home, ordering supplies and streaming their entertainment, seems an unpromising time to take on Amazon, which supplies many of those services. Amazon’s revenue grew by nearly forty per cent in 2020, and its workforce grew by about fifty per cent; Jeff Bezos’s wealth reportedly increased by nearly seventy billion dollars last year. The company has become so ubiquitous that even to inquire about it entangles you in its machinery: type “is Amazon popular?” into a search engine and you might find, as I did, that most of the top results are books about popularity which are sold on Amazon. You can find evidence that Amazon both is and isn’t popular in survey data. In one poll, ninety-one per cent of respondents said that they had a favorable view of Amazon; in another, fifty-nine per cent thought the company was bad for small business. To count on broad opposition to Amazon right now is to assume such cognitive dissonance: that Americans may increasingly rely on Amazon and view it favorably while also believing that the company needs to change.

It is still rare to find Republicans who will cheer on the program of organized labor. But it has become easy to find prominent conservatives denouncing Amazon. Bezos’s accelerating wealth and Amazon’s profiteering have been targets of Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News since the middle of the Trump era; early this winter, Donald Trump, Jr., called Bezos “hypocritical” for celebrating Biden’s win, in November, while trying to restrict balloting in the Alabama union election a few months later. Josh Hawley, the firebrand Missouri senator, will publish a book titled “The Tyranny of Big Tech” in May, and was praised this week by Donald Trump for his antagonism of Silicon Valley. Many of the anti-Amazon arguments that have surfaced on the right revolve around the company’s interventions in politics, particularly its decisions to stop hosting Parler, the extremist social-media site, on Amazon Web Services and to exclude a conservative book critical of transgender identity from its bookstore. This, some conservatives say, is the “woke capital” problem.

Oren Cass, a former campaign staffer for Mitt Romney, told me that the “woke capital” criticism of Amazon enjoys “almost unanimous” support on the center-right. Cass, who runs a new think tank, American Compass—which is dedicated, in part, to challenging laissez-faire orthodoxy—thought that such support could be a seed for a broader conservative turn against free-market fundamentalism. “The behavior of firms like Amazon, as not only an economic but also a social and political force, is highlighting for conservatives that what’s good for profits is not always good for America,” he told me. There isn’t any formal caucus of Republicans who share this perspective. (The Party right now is a chaotic tangle of rivalrous personalities that often defies ideology.) But the roster of elected officials who have appeared on American Compass’s Zoom panels and published essays on its Web site is a start, even though these politicians have their own points of emphasis, and even though they have publicly denounced one another. Romney has emphasized a child tax credit and expanding government spending to support poor families; Tom Cotton, the senator from Arkansas, the ways in which Chinese manufacturing has warped markets; Hawley a war on Silicon Valley and a defense of traditional communities; Rubio the pressure that vast multinationals put on small businesses. My own observation is that there is a sharp generational break among conservative policy wonks and staffers: those under forty tend to be much more skeptical of free-market fundamentalism, just as the young policy talent on the left has broken with Obamaism to embrace the more skeptical, interventionist view of the free-market economy represented by Elizabeth Warren. There might be some opportunism in the Republicans who, after Trump, are experimenting with a working-class conservatism. But they also fit the generational pattern.

“Amazon is sui generis in a lot of ways,” Cass said, “so, while there is a broader argument necessary about the relationship between labor and management and the power of workers in the labor market, from a political perspective it offers an especially compelling circumstance for supporting change.” Cass recently collected, on a Twitter thread, a decade’s worth of news reports on Amazon’s labor practices. The stories recounted that Amazon had ambulances waiting outside of warehouses during summer heat waves, that employees were sometimes fired algorithmically, without input from a human superior (a charge that the company has denied), that it had hired Pinkerton detectives to gather intelligence on its warehouse workers. Cass pointed out that most of these stories included at least partial responses from Amazon. Still, he said, “the pattern here is pretty clear. And it points to the need for greater worker power.” Most conservatives are still skeptical of labor unions. Rubio has spoken of the need for less “adversarial” relationships between management and labor. But Cass’s Twitter thread also seems to suggest that Amazon had so perfected the model of an efficient corporation that to see the company clearly was to see that ideology in a full, cold light.

The labor leaders in Washington seemed to see Republican support as welcome but mostly ornamental—like if a distant relative had sent, for Christmas, a very large painting of a duck. They found the Democrats’ reaction more significant. In Biden’s message of support earlier this month, he warned employers not to interfere with union elections: “You should all remember that the National Labor Relations Act didn’t just say that unions are allowed to exist. It said that we should encourage unions.” Silvers, of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said he thought that Biden was speaking directly to the workers who were organizing. “The way he’s talking is not unprecedented, but the precedents are in the Roosevelt Administration,” he said. Appelbaum, of the R.W.D.S.U., said that there had been more talk about the importance of unions in the last Presidential campaign than he’d ever heard before. “We used to talk about how even those Democratic Presidents who we like would barely talk about unions. Biden is different.”

What is rare about the Bessemer campaign is how neatly it encapsulates the modern economic system—it is, in many ways, a pinnacle of a pinnacle. Amazon represents an extreme expression of the twenty-first century’s extreme inequality and concentration of wealth and economic power, which has already changed the Democratic Party and some elements of the G.O.P. The Bessemer facility represents Amazon’s system fully realized, and so it carries one potential future for work. The union proposition is that, in Amazon, in Bezos, in Bessemer, after a year of the pandemic, the whole system can be seen clearly. Now the choice belongs to those six thousand workers. Appelbaum suspects that the early vote was unfavorable to the organizing effort, but that the late vote—once the union presented this vision—was more friendly, and that Monday’s outcome will hinge on when the most votes were cast. “We’re going up against the wealthiest human being since the beginning of time, and this incredibly powerful corporation,” Appelbaum said. “And they still can be beat.”

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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