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Issue #1673      February 18, 2015

Culture & Life

War or education, who’d work for Amazon?

Under capitalism, working people work because they must if they are to put food on the table for themselves and their families. If their work is also intellectually stimulating and culturally rewarding that is an entirely fortuitous advantage, but few actually enjoy such an advantage.

“Workers who break out sobbing or cursing because they cannot maintain the intense effort” required by the company “are fired on the spot” (Workers’ World, USA).

For most people, the attitude to work can be summed up in this quote from Bruce Grocott: “I have long been of the opinion that if work were such a splendid thing the rich would have kept more of it for themselves.”

Instead, the rich have chosen to keep for themselves the bulk of the wealth created by the labour of those who work for a living. Not content with that (for the rich are never content with their riches), they are assiduously telling those same workers that workers in developed countries are over-paid and need to work harder to be “competitive”. Also, they must work for more years and retire not only later but on a greatly reduced pension, preferably one they have had to finance themselves.

And yet blind Freddy can see that there is plenty of money around. Look at the billionaires’ mansions they make TV shows about, look at the absurd amounts such people pay for works of art that they then lock in their bank vaults as an “investment”.

Every year the world spends $1.7 trillion (yes, trillion) on weapons systems the better to kill people with. And this at a time when according to UNESCO and UNICEF one in five adolescents globally is not attending school or an education program because none is provided for them or they cannot afford to go because their family needs them to work (see paragraph one).

According to the UN report Fixing the Broken Promise of Education For All, a staggering 63 million adolescents (children aged between 12 and 15) are not attending school. One in ten primary school-age children do not attend any kind of school, however elementary.

There are currently 121 million children who have never started school or who have dropped out (mainly because of poverty and the need to help with the family income). These children are particularly vulnerable to criminal gangs, human trafficking, marginalisation and exclusion.

And yet NATO’s military budget is $1.2 trillion a year.

Bought a book from Amazon recently? For Christmas, maybe? Spare a thought for Amazon’s warehouse employees in Germany, who have been involved in industrial action against the global retail sales giant.

Germany is Amazon’s second largest market after the USA. In 2013 Amazon’s warehouse workers in Germany struck against the company’s inhumane working conditions but the strike was largely unsuccessful. However, Amazon took fright and took steps to “protect” itself. It did not change its work practices however; instead, it built three new warehouses “offshore” – in Poland and the Czech Republic. Amazon pays its Polish workers €3 an hour as opposed to €9 an hour in Germany.

And what is the complaint of the German service sector union, Ver.di, against Amazon in Germany? Well, listen and see what you think. Amazon workers in Germany are classified as “logistical workers” rather than retail workers. The difference? €4 an hour. Since their work is definitely retail Ver.di wants them reclassified and paid appropriately.

The workers who assemble the orders in the Amazon warehouses are called “pickers”, and their work is timed to the second to squeeze every last drop out of the workers’ labour. Not only must they walk up to 25 kilometres a shift, but they must find each item, load it and go on to the next task in the few seconds allotted for it. They are not allowed to talk to each other. They are regularly assigned to work ten hours instead of eight and they don’t get paid for the time spent going through security checks at the end of their shift.

“Workers who break out sobbing or cursing because they cannot maintain the intense effort” required by the company “are fired on the spot” (Workers’ World, USA).

Buy a book through Amazon? I’ll look for a bookshop and buy it the old fashioned way, thank you.

And talking of old-fashioned things, did you know that many African countries still pay colonial tax to France, even though they nominally gained their independence decades ago? It all dates back to 1958, when the Sékou Touré government of Guinea sought to secede from French administration.

The French colonial elite were furious and on their way out destroyed as much of the country’s infrastructure – and any other “benefits of civilisation” – as they could, so that other French colonies would think twice about trying to gain independence from “la Belle France”.

The French left Guinea wrecked: schools, nurseries, public administration buildings were crumbled; cars, books, medical facilities, research instruments, tractors – were all crushed or otherwise sabotaged; horses and cows in the farms were killed and food in warehouses was burned or poisoned. Very cultured people, the French colonialists.

Not surprisingly, subsequent African countries seeking independence from French colonial rule were persuaded to pay an annual “debt” to France in “compensation” for the economic loss of the colony. There was no talk of France paying the former colonial possession compensation for the raw materials ripped out of the colony and shipped to France for the enrichment of French capitalists, of course.

Instead, the former colonies had to pay France huge amounts of compensation to gain their independence: in Togo, for example, the debt repayments amounted to 40 percent of GDP. More importantly, they are still being paid today!

No wonder France is so quick to send troops into its former African possessions whenever there is “armed conflict” or “restlessness”. French capital has a lot at stake.

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