The bad old days of union-busting are alive and well at Amazon

Amazon workers protest in France

UNION SPIES ARE ALIVE AND WELL and burrowing away inside Amazon. T’was ever thus.

“The ‘boring from within’ which radical agitators are charged with, is a drop in-the bucket to the boring that the industrial spy does... .  These spy agencies set out to find rottenness, and if they do not actually find it, some make it or fake it.”

-  Roger W. Babson, business consultant in 1923 as quoted by Leo Huberman in his 1937 book The Labour Spy Racket

Pinkerton operatives riddle Amazon operations

Dozens of recently leaked documents from Amazon’s Global Security Operations Center reveal the company’s reliance on Pinkerton operatives to spy on warehouse workers and maintain extensive monitoring of labor unions.

It is a truth that sounds biblical: As it was then, so is it now and ever shall be. Bosses will break the law to bust unions. Industrialists like Rockefeller used Pinkerton agents to do it in the USA 140 years ago. Jeff Bezos is using them right now to bust a union drive at Amazon in France. Different bosses. Same evils.

Amazon doesn’t deny it. The company confirms that it has hired Pinkerton operatives to gather intelligence on warehouse workers.

Labour organizing prime targets

The Motherboard website hosted by Vice.com obtained Amazon internal emails that reveal that all Amazon security division team members around the world receive updates on labor organizing activities at warehouses that include the exact date, time, location, the source who reported the action, the number of participants at an event, and a description of what happened, such as a “strike” or “the distribution of leaflets.”

The documents also detail how Amazon uses social media to track perceived threats like environmental activists and social movements in Europe—including Greta Thunberg’s global climate strike movement, Fridays For Future.

“We are flattered that Amazon considers us a threat great enough to justify employing questionable practices like this,” Fridays For Future told Motherboard. “The fact that the youth protesting around the world is something that a multinational corporation feels the need to be surveilling—that means what we’re doing is working.”

In 2019, Amazon also monitored the Yellow Vests movement, also known as the gilet jaunes, a grassroots uprising for economic justice that spread across France—and solidarity movements in Vienna and protests against state repression in Iran.

‘Using every page of the U.S. union-busting playbook’

“It’s not enough for Amazon to abuse its dominant market power and face antitrust charges by the EU; now they are exporting 19th century American union-busting tactics to Europe,” Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, a global federation of trade unions that represents more than 20 million workers, told Motherboard.

“This is a company that is ignoring the law, spying on workers, and using every page of the U.S. union-busting playbook to silence workers’ voices.”

“For years people have been comparing Big Tech bosses to 19th century robber barons,” she continued. “And now by using the Pinkertons to do his dirty work, [Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos is making that connection even clearer.”

Leo Huberman, in his 1937 book The Labour Spy Racket, says one labour leader told him the Pinkertons were so thick on the ground that he “knew of no gathering large enough to be called a meeting, nor small enough, to exclude the spy.”

Pinkerton infiltration reached to the highest union ranks.  They testified to the US congress in 1937 that the agency had 303 secret agents active in workplaces: 154 were members of trade unions or workers associations; of those seven were union presidents, five were union vice presidents, while 41 held other various executive and leadership positions.

Deja vu all over again

The “operational environment” category of Amazon’s risk assessments covers labor activities, such as the presence of unions as well as protests and demonstrations and civil disobedience and unrest in areas where Amazon has warehouses or plans to build them, according to the leaked documents.

Last month, a report in Recode revealed that Amazon has made significant investments in a new geospatial tool that tracks perceived threats to the company. At least half the data points collected are labor or employee-related, including “Whole Foods Market Activism/Unionization Efforts,” “union grant money flow patterns,” “and “Presence of Local Union Chapters and Alt Labor Groups.”

“Amazon’s spying on its own employees is especially odious,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden in a recent letter to Amazon owner Jeff Bezos.. “It’s exhibit A for the need to pass new laws that would beef up federal protections for labor organizing and hold bad actors accountable.”

“Amazon’s systemic use of military surveillance methods against unionists and activists is deeply alarming,” said Manon Aubry, a member of the European Parliament, who is also a senior member of the radical left party France Insoumise. “Amazon and Jeff Bezos act as if they were above the law because they have accumulated unprecedented levels of wealth and power. This has to stop.”

This year on Black Friday, Amazon workers and activism groups in 15 countries staged protests against the company to demand better pay and benefits, an end to worker and union surveillance, and commitment to sustainability under the slogan “Make Amazon Pay.”

It does kind of feel like
This is a test to see if xheds can work this way


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