Why Does Jeff Bezos Get to ‘Earn’ in One Year Twice as Much as All of His 560,000 Employees, Combined?

I’ve done blue-collar and white-collar labor of all sorts in factories, farms, offices, and roads before, but honestly, no job I ever had in my 60+ years compares with the exhausting pace of work that I hear about going on at Amazon “fulfillment centers” today.

According to this review, there is an entire YouTube genre of videos where people describe what their first, exhausting and dehumanizing day of work was like at an Amazon warehouse, often followed up by a later video describing why they quit. (The workers are not permitted to bring their cell phones to work, so we can’t see actual pix or videos of the work being carried out.)

The scientific precision of Amazon’s success at speeding up the process, and the constant surveillance reminds me* of how American slaveowners were able to use scales, math, and ledgers to manage to squeeze three times more cotton-picking labor out of every single enslaved worker in 1860 than they had been able to do in 1820. Former slaves described how incredibly dehumanizing the pace of work was, and how each of them was forced to reduce themselves to a pair of hands and fingers picking cotton boll after boll, filling the bag over their shoulder with today’s and this week’s quota, lest they be physically tortured by savage whippings with rawhide …. knowing that next week’s quota would be a bit higher still… This process is described by Edward Baptist inThe Half Has Never Been Told (using the slaveowners’ own documents) and is also featured in 12 Years a Slave (both the movie and the original book from the 1850’s).

One positive thing I took from this article is that Amazon warehouse workers do seem to be organizing themselves. But it’s a tough fight!! Bezos being by far the richest human in the history of the entire planet.

To give you some idea of his wealth: in the past year, despite the massive drops in the stock market last month (Dec 2018), I calculate that Bezos’ wealth increased by an amount greater than DOUBLE THE EARNINGS OF ALL HIS WORKERS, PUT TOGETHER.

Can anybody with a straight face claim that Jeff Bezos’ contribution to getting your packaged orders, last year, was equal to twice the contribution of ALL AMAZON WORKERS COMBINED?

Perhaps Bezos’ contribution is really amazing, and is equivalent to the work output of twenty, or 200 workers. (Not sure how you’d measure that, but still, dollars are the usual criterion). And he should definitely be rewarded for having bet correctly on the Amazon delivery system and model. But his contribution to the system is NOTHING LIKE THE contribution of all of those other folks all put together!!!!

Here are the computations:

An article in Time magazine says that Amazon reports having about 560,000 workers world-wide and that their median total compensation (including overtime, stock options, etc) is about $28,000 per worker per year. Multiplying those two numbers gives us $15,680,000,000 in total worker earnings at Amazon per year, according to the company’s figures (that is, 15.7 billion dollars)

Bloomberg has data on rich folks’ estimated wealth, and they say Bezos is worth about $140 billion as of last Friday, January the 17th, 2018, mostly thanks to his ownership of his company’s stock, which is $31 billion more than it was one year earlier ($109B on 1/21/2018).

Notice that $15.7 Billion, the amount earned by ALL of the employees at Amazon combined, is almost exactly HALF of the wealth gained (you can’t say “earned” with a straight face here) by their boss, Jeff Bezos.

Or in other words:

If he were to be truly magnanimous and donate to his workers his entire gain in wealth for the year, THEN EACH ONE WOULD SEE HIS/HER EARNINGS 💥💥💥TRIPLE💥💥💥.

(He could afford it, I think. Do you think that such an act of capitalist generosity have any chance at all of happening? Personally, I doubt it. But anything that the workers could do to reduce Bezos’ share should be applauded!)

Or, you could say that one individual, Jeff Bezos, earned two-thirds of all the income generated by his company. The half-million or so other Amazon employees split up the rest.

Meanwhile the workers, who earn basically a pittance, are instead sped up and dehumanized for the benefit of one Jeffrey Bezos.

Has Such a level of extreme wealth disparity ever occurred in history? Did kings or emperors or 1890’s Robber Barons have, individually, more wealth and income than all their subjects or employees, combined?

Is this new?

It’s certainly shocking.

I wonder if maybe the Amazon workers could wage a sit-down strike where they occupy the warehouses to improve their wages and working conditions, as did the brave GM workers led by left-wingers in the United Auto Workers union in 1937 in Flint, Michigan? There are real advantages in waging an effective sit-down strike, taking over the warehouse etc, as opposed to picketing peacefully (and often vainly) outside while scabs are escorted past the picket lines by police.

 

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* it is MLK’s birthday, after all …

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