The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

A Profit Machine Built on Workers’ Broken Bodies

Dec 9, 2019

Measured by business standards, Amazon is a huge success story. It is one of the world’s biggest retailers; its stock market value has reached the one-TRILLION-dollar mark; and its founder, chairman, president and CEO, Jeff Bezos, with an estimated fortune of more than 110 billion dollars, is one of the richest men on the planet.

But this fabulous success story is built on the sweat and blood of Amazon workers. Amazon’s promise to deliver any merchandise ordered on the internet to a customer’s door in less than a day means a level of speed-up that causes some of the country’s highest workplace injury rates.

At Amazon’s Eastvale warehouse in the Los Angeles area, for example, 422 injuries were recorded in 2018 alone—making the rate of serious injuries at that facility more than four times the average rate of the warehousing industry. In 23 of Amazon’s 110 U.S. warehouses, about one out of ten full-time workers suffered a serious injury in 2018, which is more than twice the national industry average.

The reason behind the high rate of injuries is obvious. During peak business times such as the holidays, when Amazon regularly issues mandatory overtime leading to 11- or 12-hour shifts, the company demands packers scan more than 300 items in an hour—a new item every 11 seconds! Management closely monitors every worker thanks to a high-tech, computerized tracking system, and workers who don’t meet their quota are written up and eventually fired. (When Amazon began to introduce robots in its warehouses in recent years, things got even worse for the workers—because robots help speed-up the flow of merchandise in the warehouse.)

In Amazon’s relentless drive for profit, there is no room for mercy. One worker in Oregon, a disabled veteran who qualified for shorter shifts, was fired after meeting “only” 98% of his quota! It is not uncommon for Amazon workers to hold their urine until the end of the shift, for fear of not meeting their quota—and in 2018 it was reported in Britain that Amazon warehouse workers were peeing in bottles.

The same kind of speed-up horror also haunts Amazon delivery drivers, who are required to deliver 999 out of 1000 packages on time—and, not surprisingly, quite often get into serious road accidents.

In return for all this ordeal, Amazon pays its warehouse workers poverty wages. After a lot of publicity, last fall Amazon committed to a minimum of $15 per hour pay for its work force—but that is simply not a living wage. Amazon wages are so low that in 2017, 14% of Amazon warehouse workers in California were under the federal poverty limit, and another 31% were just above that same limit.

Amazon isn’t a “success” story; it’s the perfect picture of the monstrosity that capitalism is today.