…And none of them are humans. My first boss is what they call a “rabbit.” The rabbit is a smart phone which provides the daily itinerary for the drivers/delivery personnel. It literally tells me, stop-for-stop where I am to deliver my assigned 200 packages for the day. The second boss is my own personal Android. It has been conscripted to interface with the rabbit and with headquarters — which is a series of tape machines. My personal phone backs up the rabbit when it has a glitch, which is often; when it runs out of charge, breaks down or loses control. My third boss is the Smart Van. This Smart Van is jacked-up with all types of gismos so that it can consult the rabbit, street-by-street, and together they tell me what to do.
My first day brought up my college training from Karl Marx. Marx explained that we are now living in a period of class society, the capitalist phase of class divided society — class society is itself an era in human history, the one which overcame the simple communal (in other words, non-class, non-hierarchical, horizontal circle) society of indigenous peoples which existed all over planet Earth for well over 100,000 years. Marx explained that what distinguished this period of class society from the others in this era — and what made it the last period of class society — is that in this period the objects of human labor become our masters. He explained that the industrial revolution (Amazon has convinced me more than ever that cyberspace is merely a phase inside this original technological revolution) in private property-based society the ruling class, the capitalist class, owns the means by which to run the rest of society. But, their obsession with the objects of production gave these objects a power over the entire society, including the ruling social class itself. Indeed, the worship of this private property by the capitalists has turned “innovators” like Jeff Bezos into what Marx called “capital personified.”
We are being bossed by robots, and this makes Amazon the richest company in the world.
Amazon only employs People of Color. Well, I am exaggerating here, a little bit. There are a few White autistic employees, a few sufferers from bi-polar disorder, and maybe a few career criminals who absolutely cannot be employed anywhere else. Otherwise White people do not want to work at Amazon. First, the pay is minimum wage — $15 per hour. Second, the work is too hard. Average White Americans are not trying to work this hard. When I say that White people do not work here, I’m saying the managers are all Folks also, People of Color.
I must admit that this was attractive — Black people from all over the Diaspora. The fact is that Folks are just, as a group, so much easier to get along with. And, it follows logically that White people who can hang in such an environment generally flow with an atmosphere in which everyone has everyone else’s back — it’s just how we work together, generally.
Let me explain about the managers for a minute: I find that I’m behind the next generations in my understanding of Amazon. Young people have much more experience with this high tech regime. But, ultimately, Bezos is using the same old capitalist hustles. He has found a way to “franchise” all of his business. All the products are made by someone else — Amazon makes nothing itself. And the delivery of the products is “franchised” too, that is, farmed out or sub-contracted to individual small capitalists. The sub-contractor I work for is a Colombian Brother who works 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He called me on the night before my second day of work at 1am. He explained that he does not sleep. This is a trait of Folks also. They are going to work at least as hard as you to make “their” business successful. My daughter works at a chain grocery store — which only promotes White people to management. The Folks with much more experience, the Chinese and Korean Sisters with seniority and the most knowledge of the job are not promoted; White kids are the bosses, and all they do is …boss. They don’t work. The “owner” of the “franchise” I work for, Lorenzo, is much more democratic than this. (Another feature of Lorenzo’s more democratic approach is that he hires 100% non-English speakers. Half of his crew speaks no English. I like that…)
Bezos knows on which side his bread is buttered. In Amazon’s training videos, I saw a pattern which did not waiver: In each instance where they show an example of what not to do, the employee is always some hapless White guy. In each of the examples in which the right way is being performed by the employee, the driver or delivery person is always Black or of-Color. This was inviolable throughout my four days of training. (The demography of the actors in the training videos mirrors the population make-up in the warehouse. Check out any of Bezos’ adds for the public — they feature all White people. He’s a trickster)
In the warehouse, from whence all the packages derive, and all the trucks are filled and leave to go to the customers, Black and Latino music is blaring all day. The workers scurrying all day in this warehouse are scurrying to Hip Hop (African American, Puerto Rican and Dominican rap music), soul, Rhythm & Blues, all day. Bezos, like Trump, “plays to his base…”
The culture at Amazon is akin to slavery, and Bezos has caught on that Folks are the best slaves.
The Same Old Hustles
In one of the training sessions, in which the trainer was teaching us what not to do, he insisted that we are being watched at all times. Indeed, the rabbit is recording how hard you hit the brakes, how quickly you accelerate; and we are paid more if we hit the brakes more softly and accelerate more slowly! (My oldest son has warned me that Amazon is recording everything that goes on in my house now, and on that basis he has refused to speak with me on the phone since I was hired!) In addition, our trainer admonished us, “The homes have video cameras mounted above their front doors — they are recording how you leave their packages…” He went from here to tell us the story of the driver, a White guy, who, understanding that we generally get no breaks, no lunch break, no coffee, no bathroom, in our 12-hour days, decided to… take a dump in the back yard of one of the drops, in one of the customer’s back yards. The trainer enjoined us not to do this. While this brought about some laughter among the trainees, I raised my hand. I said: “I’m 66 years old. I have to use the bathroom at least twice during 12 hours.” This revelation brought on some giggling among a few trainees. Being 66, I responded: “Is something funny? Do some of you not need to use the bathroom?”
The trainer intervened. He said mine was a good question, and he then addressed the assembled trainees. He said, “All gas stations have bathrooms; all fast food restaurants have bathrooms — use them.”
Two days later, I had multiple problems with my packages. After fully 12.5 hours, at 9:30pm, an obstacle appeared which made finishing that night impossible. I called in to my boss, and first told him that I had not been able to use the bathroom all day — the rabbit had me going non-stop for 12.5 hours. I said, “I’m 66-years old. [In addition to my age, I’m a survivor of prostate cancer — I have to use the bathroom.] I have to come in.” He said, “No, you have to finish the packages. Go to the bathroom at a gas station.”
Yes, Bezos is doing the norm — he’s cutting corners. His 575,000 employees are using other businesses’ bathrooms. Yes, we work 12-hour days. There really are no breaks. Nobody eats lunch during the 12-hour day. We just run around to the voice of the Smart Van or the rabbit. The company entreaty is that each of us gets two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute break. That is federal law. But every elementary school child knows that this two 15-minute breaks and the 30 minute lunch are for eight-hour workdays. Bezos is cutting corners; it is the same old capitalism.
In the warehouse, from which all the drivers collect their packages for the day, the first morning hours are very hectic. People are rushing around. If my boss does not get his fifteen trucks loaded and out in 30 minutes he gets fined. At any given time half of the workers in the warehouse are trainees. Half of these trainees are not going to pass training, and therefore, are not going to receive anything close to a real paycheck. Bezos gets his trucks loaded with people who are not going to be paid. He’s cutting corners.
Amazon’s foremost guiding principle is: “Be obsessed with the customer.” It is common knowledge that obsession is an emotional and mental disorder. Advocating that each of his 575,000 employees be obsessed with the customer is, first of all, advocating ill health. It is secondly not what it appears — what Bezos really means is be obsessed with his success, while we slave at $15 per hour.
It’s Christmas Everyday
Just as that social cripple Mark Zuckerburg has become a billionaire by selling fake intimacy, so too has Bezos found his niche — he’s selling Christmas packages. I must admit that most of the people who greet me at their doors are very happy to receive their package. The majority of my deliveries have been in upper middle class neighborhoods. My excursion through Chestnut Hill where Tom Brady lives took me to the most wealthy neighborhood I’ve experienced in my entire 66 years on the planet. What I gathered was that Bezos has tapped into the zeal with which White Americans like to be served. They don’t want to leave their houses. They want stuff brought to their front door.
In one of the trainings, the speaker explained that we absolutely cannot leave our doors unlocked when delivering in the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and Brockton. These neighborhoods are largely Black and People of Color. He explained that if the locals combine into a criminal cabal and decide to steal your van, call the police immediately after checking in with headquarters — a tape machine.
Conversely, a Haitian Brother explained to me on day two that he was delivering in Chestnut Hill. He was in a gated community, and after ascending the outer gate, he got to the front door of a hacienda, rang the door bell, and was greeted by a White woman who was buck naked. She invited him in, pointing to a room behind her where she said he could drop the package. My erstwhile new teacher, this Haitian Brother, told me that he dropped the package where he was standing, and as he ran back to his truck he told the woman, “I’m all set.”
Amazon and the State
So, as we have seen, Amazon cuts corners, and does so with regard to federal law. Two fifteen-minute breaks in … 12 hours. This is common for monopoly capitalist corporations. Why? This is because the state is the concentrated expression of economic relations. The state regulations, law, legality, each are written for the dominant economic class. The economic dominance of this social class is translated into political power. The legal system represents what they need to rule. So Amazon has its own rules. “Go to the bathroom at the gas station.” Then, everything about Amazon’s business is farmed out to sub-contractors. While Amazon instructs the sub-contractors to violate federal law, the sub-contractors, in their turn instruct their managers to cut corners on Amazon’s rules: “Leave the truck running, and bring the package to the door.” Then, the managers, in dispensing their own edited version of Amazon’s rules — they are instructing their charges to cut corners. “Couple your seat belt behind your back. If you fasten your seat belt between each of the stops, you’ll never finish on time.” The employees themselves figure out what they can get away with. “I don’t ring the doorbells. I just throw the package onto the front porch.” At every turn, laws/rules are subverted to meet the production targets of the next rung down the latter. By the time it’s all done, capital presides, and the extrapolation of capital into more capital is the law.
A Day in the Life
Yesterday was my 3rd day driving alone — a delivery person. I get to work at 9am. We debrief, we are given our vans and our rabbits, and our itineraries for the day. On this day, my 3rd time driving alone, I’m given an itinerary which includes 183 stops. This is, I am told by each of the other drivers who are helping me load my truck, a very large load.
We are the last sub-contractor to leave the warehouse, presumably because we are the newest “franchise.” We have 30 minutes to get all of our boxes loaded and out the door with our 16 or 17 vans, or we are fined for every minute beyond the 30. This is Amazon getting their share.
After two or three hours on the road, it becomes clear that this is well beyond anything I can do in a 12-hour day. We were hired on the presumption that we do 4/10-hour days. This is not the case. I have now trained on two delivery days, and driven three times by myself. In these first five rides it has never come to pass that I have driven for less than 12.5 hours.
Do we get paid for these hours, in other words, time-and-a half for every hour over 40? I do not know yet. I qualified for one paycheck so far — last Friday. At the end of a 13-hour day, my paycheck was not ready. The HR person had to write one out by hand as she figured my hours on the spot. I have been in the U.S. workforce for 46 years. There was a time in the middle of this length of time — during the Clinton years — that I noticed a change in the dependability of the employers regarding pay. It began to become common for a Friday/payday to arrive, and the company failed to produce the paychecks. This is a crass element of capitalism in decline. The large corporations generally do not make such mistakes, but the small ones can’t make payroll. It’s not uncommon. I developed a principle with regard to this experience: any employer who could not come up with the pay each week, was out of bounds; I cannot work for them.
(Three days after this payday experience, I was enjoined by Jean-Carlos — the Dominican/Puerto Rican second-in-charge at Cheata’s Speed Logistics, the sub-contractor who employs me — to go gas up the truck. As I pull into the gas station, the proprietor comes at the van agitatedly waving his hands in a “no” posture:
“What’s up, I need gas?”
The proprietor: “He hasn’t paid his bill in six days. No gas ’til I get paid…”
Let’s do the math here: 15 trucks, filled everyday for $50 X 6 days = $4,500. Hmmm, I guess this would be a problem for the gas man. It also helps me figure out whether it makes sense for me to be here much longer.)
On this, the third of my ride-alones, at about 8pm, I’m running to throw a package onto a porch, and an African American Sister calls out to me: “Brother, go home; your wife misses you…” Just a quick note on the cultural context: Any Brother wearing one of these orange or yellow fluorescent vests at 8 o’clock at night delivering packages is the type of Brother who likes to have a wife and kids; and the average African American Sister finds that element (that he is doing manual labor for 12 hours) attractive — therefore, her assumption that I have a wife home waiting for me.
The research value of this job is what is keeping me here thus far. I will note whether or not we are accurately paid for overtime, etc. The value of the direct experience — the basis for all genuine research; that is, all knowledge is originated in someone’s direct experience — for the moment is outweighing the importance of accurate overtime pay.
By mid-day I was through one-eighth of the stops. By 6pm, nine hours on the road, I heard over the rabbit’s speaker, “Lynn’s way behind. Can you go to rescue him?” One of the most difficult aspects of the drive is the strange logistical orders of the rabbit. What I have been able to gather about this so far is that Amazon and Google used to partner — Google providing Google Maps for Amazon’s drivers. Amazon decided this was not working, and discontinued the partnership, determining to use its own version of Maps (Richmond, 2019). One problem: Amazon’s version is deformed. It does not notice that 154 Seaver Street is on the other side of the road from 155 Seaver Street. So it sends you down the street, and then orders you to “Make a u-turn on Seaver Street.” There is no getting around this glitch. I have been told by the “experienced” drivers: “If you sway from the itinerary once, you’re never getting back on.”
The delivery personnel are hostage to the rabbit. The rabbit has all of us doing u-turns in the middle of busy intersections all day long. Monopoly capitalism is supposed to eliminate competition? By definition, monopoly means the absence of competition. No, the monopolies still compete with each other, and it leads to this extreme inefficiency. A People’s Government, a socialist government would determine the best app for mapping and that would be it. No super-profits for this group; no competition from that group.
And the monopolies pass down their competition with each other. Each of the “sub-contractors” competes for Amazon’s favor. The one I work for is called Cheetah’s Speed Logistics and it’s “owned” by Lorenzo — “owned”?: everything Lorenzo uses is rented from a monopolist corporation — Amazon — in other words, by a business which can charge whatever it wants to; with the exception of the gas for the trucks which is bought from an oil monopolist, ExxonMobile. While leasing, renting or buying from monopolies, each sub-contractor competes with each other to meet Amazon’s “standard,” for the privilege of being awarded more “routes” — series of thousands of destinations for packages. These “routes” are taken from those sub-contractors who are not meeting the “standards,” and given to those who are producing “more, better, faster, more…” Lorenzo explained to me: “We are called Cheeta’s Speed Logistics. This means that we do everything faster than the next guy…”
Another glitch in Amazon’s “mapping,” which I can only explain with my limited understanding of e-business, is that the rabbit incessantly has the driver going around in circles. The driver is awarded 160 stops in a specific locale. However, for whatever reason, you circle around and through, passing stops on the same street as others, over and over. Some of the Boston’s neighborhoods I am very familiar with. My sense of direction is superior to the rabbit in these neighborhoods. But, I cannot break with the itinerary. So, I drive around in circles for hours to the direction of this robot. While getting rid of Bezos, Zuckerburg, Steve Jobs and their boards of directors, a People’s Government would throw this app out with one stroke.
30 minutes after my call another driver shows up (they track you wherever you are at all times); he took twenty of my stops. I still had 89 to go. At 8, I called headquarters; I got Lorenzo on the phone. He told me to gut it out, and he would try to find someone to rescue me.
I told Lorenzo, “No, I’m done for the day. I did not sign up for a 16 hour day.”
Lorenzo: “What are you talking about? I’ll try to get someone there for you.”
Me: “You’re not hearing me. I’m done. I’m coming in.”
Lorenzo: “Mr. Lynn, That’s not how it works. You have to finish all the packages before you can come in.”
“Hmmmmm.” I thought to myself. “I’m gonna show him ‘how it works’.” I waited at one address for my relief. Lorenzo called me to let me know that he can see that my truck has stopped delivering. I told him, “You’ve got me hostage. I’m giving all my packages to my relief….”
Lorenzo: “No, Mr. Lynn, that’s not how it works. Darko is going to take half of your packages.”
Me: “We’ll see about that.”
Darko showed up at 8:30. I’ve been on the road for 11.5 hours. No breaks, no bathroom, no lunch. I was determined that I wasn’t staying out for 14 hours today. I mentioned this to Darko. He said, “Mr. Lynn, I would never treat my father this way. He is 69, and I would never let him work this way. I respect you. You must go home. Take care of yourself.”
I continued delivering packages until 9:30 when my rabbit ran out of charge. I could no longer read the numbers on the doors of the houses; I could not tell what address I was at. The light in the van is not strong enough for my 66-year-old eyes. I could not read the packages. I headed back to the warehouse with about 25 packages (1.5 hours worth of work) to go. I had no charge on my phone so I could not use Google Maps to get back to the warehouse (in Dedham, MA — I’m not familiar with Dedham). I had to ask for directions the old fashioned way. I did what I have been told no one is allowed to do: I dragged my bag of 25 packages to Lorenzo’s “office” (a table in the break room). William, an African American Brother who helped me pack my load in the morning and confirmed that this was an unreasonable amount of work, commiserated with me regarding the heavy load for the day. Without looking at Lorenzo, I dropped the bag next to him and walked out.
The First of the Last Days at Amazon
I want to include some of the good experiences I’m having: On day-one of training, I spoke with this “white hair,” a White American who has white hair like me. I told him that we have to stick together, “us white hairs.” I saw him yesterday, now almost three weeks in. He called out to me and asked me how I’m doing. I told him I’m struggling. He told me, with a large smile on his face, “I’ve lost 20 pounds in two weeks…”
On that note, it is true that if you do the job “right,” it’s possible to gain a measure of physical health. One trick I’ve learned is not to rush no matter what. Rushing, for one thing, is bad for physical health. And when I rush I favor my right hand. Doing so 12-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week will put your body out of whack, off center. I’ve been making certain to give my left hand almost as much work as my right.
Another positive I’ve mentioned before: the large majority of interactions with people, particularly at their doors, are positive. As I mentioned, it’s like Christmas — people love receiving their packages at their doors. As an exception, I was crossing from one house to another in Roslindale (Boston neighborhood), over the grass to the porch of another customer. An African American Sister came to the door and told me, “Please don’t walk on my grass…” While I’m thinking to myself that I’ll never be here again, and that she values the welfare of her grass over that of the human being who is bringing her package, I told her “OK, no problem…”
These large vans (and Lorenzo has been giving me the largest, since I told him in the interview that I have driven school buses) are hard to maneuver. It is particularly difficult to move in reverse and know what is behind you. I was backing up the other day slowly and all at once, “bam!,” I hit someone behind me. My first instinct was to hope no one saw this and try to drive off. Within seconds this Haitian Brother was at my window. “Sir, you hit my car.”
I got out of the van, walked back to his car. We looked at the back of the van and the front of his car. He concluded, “My bumper took the hit; you’re all set…”
On this morning another delivery driver, a Haitian Brother, Moises, stepped to me as we are preparing for load-up: “Today is my last day.”
“Why, what’s up? You didn’t get fired?”
Moises: “No, I’m done. I punch in and punch out. I start the day, I do a full day’s work, and I know when I’m going home. This indefinite 12–14 hour day is not for me. I didn’t sign up for this.”
“Neither did I. They told us ten-hour day. I haven’t worked less than 12.5 yet.”
Moises: “I’m outta here. This is my last day.”
Moises’ testimony gave me another look at a phrase that has been going through my head everyday here at Amazon: “An honest day’s work.” After Moises gave me his testimony I saw him running to the racks, grabbing his boxes and loading them in his truck. The Brother was about 30 years old, in very good physical shape, strong legs and arms. He was running for minimum wage. I maintain that the phrase “an honest day’s work” is laced with bourgeois and male supremacist prejudices in the United States. What it means in this context is, “I’m willing to be super-exploited; I’m willing to work my ass off for pennies.”
I know that even myself, someone who has little conscious reverence for the “world of work,” and being “honest” about getting exploited, maintains unconscious thoughts about whether I’m working hard enough, giving the company my all, and so on. This mentality is drummed into our heads from the earliest training in cartoons and ads on television. “An honest day’s work” is a hype we’ve been sold ever since we came out of our mother’s wombs in this culture. Marx taught us that a distinguishing feature of our species is our work, and our ability to recreate the world around us. In a sane society, work would not be so regimented. Marx envisioned humans being able to be proficient at numerous creative activities. Our work is one thing that defines us. It is deformed in this culture into something that destroys us. I love to work… when I’m not getting slaved.
Then William stepped to me. He’s an African American Brother, about 35-years-old. William is the one who received me two nights ago when, standing next to the boss, I told him without acknowledging Lorenzo, “This is a set up,” and I walked out.
“How are you, William?”
“I’m sad. This is my 6th straight day.”
“What? Six straight 12-hour days?”
“Yes, I’m sad.”
First, this Brother comes when he is called. The boss calls him, tells him he’s on duty, so he comes. Second, this is a Brother who is in touch with his feelings.
I said, “But, why are you sad?’
William: “Six straight days. I’m sad…”
It took me until later in the day to realize he was dealing below the surface emotionally. I called my friend, Stacy, after a few hours, taking a break which everyone agrees cannot help you, particularly with the rabbit barking out orders every ten seconds.You cannot finish the day within 12 hours by taking breaks. Anyhow, I’m taking a break and telling Stacy what’s happening. She notes, “Alexander, you’re laughing at things that are not funny. Why don’t you just quit this job like the Haitian Brother? You don’t sound good?”
A few minutes later, I get to a housing development with covered-wagon-trail type roads. At the mouth of one of the roads is a “Do Not Enter” sign which is facing parallel to the entrance. In this condition, it was impossible to discern whether it meant for people entering the road I was on, or for cars entering the road I was going into. I drove in, and after one block was flagged by a White suit:
“Excuse me; I am the administrator for Boston Housing Authority [BHA] at this development. It’s an elderly housing unit, and you just came down a one-way street.”
Me: “Hmmmmm. The sign was misplaced. It was parallel to the road.”
BHA official: “Yes, so you pretended that it was not a one-way and kept driving. This is a problem.”
Me: “So, let me get this straight. You are the administrator for Boston Housing Authority here, and by patiently explaining to me that I have come down the wrong way on a one-way street, and by projecting that I am lying about my experience of the misplaced road sign, you are making a great contribution to humankind, and to life on planet earth?”
BHA official: “Asshole, today is your last day on this job.” And he proceeded to take down my license plate number. He said, “Amazon?”
“No, FedEx.” Clearly, that won’t save me. It won’t go through in one day. But, being as powerful and importantly placed individual as this person is, and fighting, as he said he was, for the rights of his elderly charges against the likes of rogue road warriors like me, it will take a few days for me to be fired for my temerity.
And then Stacy’s entreaty hit me: It is really sad to have to rush around like this, and have to have exchanges like this. Yes, this guy was a manifest idiot, but my participation in trying to match his assness is the way I cover my feelings. I go to anger and sarcasm, where William was able to identify an appropriate feeling. He said he was sad. Stacy was right; to be in touch with my feelings would be to ignore this BHA fool and keep it moving. Oh well, I won’t have to worry too much longer. After all, “BHA administrator” is a powerful position, with much pull.
Report: Amazon Warehouses Called 911 for Mental Health Crises At Least 189 Times in Five Years
The Political Economy of Package Delivery
As I’ve mentioned, first thing in the morning, 9am to 11am is when the workers, particularly the package delivery personnel interacts socially. Each of the companies, sub-contractors, is waiting on line. Cheata’s Speed Logistics (the name of our “franchise”), has been in existence for all of two months. So, we are the last on line. We get out of the warehouse at 11.
These are mostly men in their early twenties to mid-forties. We talk together about Amazon, about our work, the hustle, the games played, the funny stories, the exhaustion. After Marx, Lenin taught us that “politics is the concentrated expression of economics.” As the largest monopoly capitalist corporation in the history of humankind up to this point, Amazon is the essence of this statement (Robinson, 2018). The company pays no taxes. The company dictates to the government, federal and local, what is going to happen, when and where. Any conversation we are having about this company is, ipso facto, a political discussion…. We routinely exchange our latest discovery of how Amazon is cheating, cutting corners, slaving us. On varying levels, each of us has the direct experience of the decay of the economy, with Amazon as a hologram for such.
At some point, there is always someone who brings up how we really don’t need Bezos to contribute this particular service to society. Along a spectrum, all the discussions are like this. They have to be. At one point in this same morning Lorenzo happens along, and all at once he blurts out “No discussion of politics…” What? Where did that come from? Lorenzo has been the definition of “small capital personified.” His entire conversation, his only interest in front of us, and according to his own testimony regarding his 24 hours/day, 7 days/week schedule, you would be crazy to think his mind’s eye ever leaves the ball: How many packages, in how much time, when, where and how? The guy reminds me of Bill Belichick on the championship parade float after the last Superbowl, riding through the adoring throngs in downtown Boston. He was trying very hard to lead a chant: “No days off!! [fist waving in the air] No days off!!” As crazed, devoted and obsessed as Patriot Nation is, no one was picking up on his chant. Instead, the fans were doing exactly what I was doing: Looking at him wide-eyed, trying to fathom whether or not he has completely lost his mind. None of his players joined in with this maniacal/lunatic chant.
“No days off”??? This is the credo Lorenzo goes by. Yet, I remembered him straying from course two weeks ago intruding into our conversation with the same dictum. Today was the second time he veered off topic — and he offered the same directive both times. “No talking politics.” The only conversation you can have about Amazon, once you move one step away from your immediate task –“the next package” — has to be political, by definition.
Bill Belichick would not dare try to tell his players they are not allowed to talk politics to each other.
Lenin (1916) taught us after Marx that this is an internally related reason why monopoly capitalism is the threshold of socialism: In addition to the entire economy of the society being centrally driven and socially organized, and the entire world’s workforce, constituting billions of individual cogs in the wheel of social production, in addition to this, the workers become conscious that they do not need the capitalists. Each one of us knows how to interact with the rabbit. We don’t need Lorenzo or Bezos.
After Lenin, Mao Tse-tung taught us that “the people always want revolution.” Indeed, in one of our conversations, one of my co-workers, a Caribbean Brother (of no known nationality at this point) said to me point blank: “We need a union up in here. That’s what Amazon employees don’t have — we don’t have a union. That would solve all this insanity…”
So, let’s look at the anatomy of this revolution which Mao insisted is the desire of all of the oppressed. Let’s start by determining who he is not talking about. As I’ve mentioned, Bezos has sold a section of the U.S. population on the concept of “Every day is Christmas.” It’s a fad; it is not dropped down from god. It is not human nature. In their millions, people are buying into the idea of online shopping and never having to leave their houses. It is identical to the manner in which Zuckerburg has sold the populace on his electronic intimacy. Indeed, my 20-year old daughter has insisted to me that she knows girls who have gotten pregnant on Facebook. “No, Daddy, it’s true. They ‘meet’ some guy online. Within a few days, they’re pregnant… The sperm shot through the IPhone, and into her egg…”
The section of the population who is married to “Everyday is Christmas” is decidedly White middle class America. The vast majority of doors we drop off packages to are those belonging to White middle class Americans. To use more precise terms of political economy, many of these “middle class” Americans “work” for a living. Some of them are even “construction workers,” unionized workers, even work on assembly lines, and so on. But, for White Americans, while these look like working class jobs, in fact these are “middle class workers.” The large paychecks they get, the fluffy work they do, the actual amount of time they spend working — each of these constitutes these working class White people as middle class. Supporting Marx, Engels early on (1880’s) pointed out that the unionized British workers were so bought off by their share of the super-profits which “Great” Britain’s large corporations gleaned from their colonial banditry that they actually constituted a “bourgeois proletariat alongside the bourgeoisie” (Marx, Engels Correspondence, p103). In his turn, Lenin, in explaining the dying phase of capitalism, imperialism, characterized as it has been by permanent war — World War I and World War II were fought to determine which capitalist powers would own colonies commensurate with the amount of capital they had accumulated — showed us how the monopoly capitalist corporations also raked in super-profits from the super-exploitation of the colonial peoples. These super-profits were shared with the working classes of each of the imperialist metropoles — each of the participants in this permanent war: “Great” (refers to its colonial possessions) Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, United States, Russia (the Soviet socialist revolution took this former Czardom and imperialist power out of the competition for a while; Russia as the former “prison house of nations” has now returned), Japan, Italy, Belgium. These are the countries that fought World War I. The demography of World War II participants was altered by the first war and the accumulation of capital commensurate with the economic, political and military power of the participants. Clearly the United States won. The then socialist People’s Republic of China has since been replaced by the state capitalist PRC, and as such it has become the major threat to U.S. corporate world dominance. There has been a stretch between World War II and now when permanent war was being waged by only one imperialist power, and indeed the United States has been waging this permanent war against only colonial, semi-colonial or formerly colonized peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Russia is now raising its military head, and China cannot be counted out.
This is the political economic anatomy which determines that the average White American, whether they look like they have a “working class” munitions manufacturing-type job, or some other hustle, does not slave. They receive packages at their doors.
No, the anatomy of this revolutionary mass to which Mao refers is decidedly in the warehouse at Amazon. The revolutionary working class is these Brothers and Sisters. And it includes the most oppressed White people, of which there are millions in this country (and a few in this warehouse) — they just do not happen to constitute the majority of White people. The majority of White working class people are middle class. That is political-economic fact.
The Fetishism of Commodities, Alienation and Addiction
Marx defined exploitation as the process by which one human’s ability to labor, her capacity to productive work, is exchanged by the laborer with the owner of the means by which the labor produces (the venue, the machines, etc.), for pay. The laborer’s ability to work is bought by the capitalist. The exploitation resides in the fact that what the capitalist pays for the labor is worth less than the value of what the worker has produced for the capitalist.
Let’s take 5-hundred-thousand Amazon workers delivering 100 boxes each day. What Bezos pays each worker for each box — let’s say it is 10 cents. Let us estimate (this is probably proportionally low) that Bezos is paid 20 cents for each of his boxes. So, for the 100 boxes each day times the 500,000 employees scurrying around, Bezos pays out $50,000,000 a day in wages. In exchange he garners $100,000,000 per day off the top in profits.
That is exploitation. Marx explained that the commodity (which is distinguished from human made objects in all other periods of history by its character as a social relation of exploitation) is a kind of product born of a very specific time in human history. Commodity production has only existed for a blink in the eye of world history. The first well over 100,000 years of our existence as a species distinct from apes, anthropologists, archeologists, sociologists and historians agree was lived in horizontal circles by small communities of 100 to 500 people (Harris, 1986, Kristiansen, et al, 1998, Kusimba, 2003). Production was for the community (Solidarity, 2016). There was no private property as capital. In other words, there were no articles of production endowed with the ability to make money. There was no money. Without private property there was no production for exchange. Production was for the need of the circle. Commodity production is distinguished from all other human production by the exploitative exchange.
I Googled-up: “Explain Marx’s ‘Fetishism of Commodities’,” and I got dozens of hits. The following explanation is from the first hit I opened. It is from Simon Lindgren, and his piece is entitled “Commodity Fetishism.”
“Here I am, constantly reloading the website to the Apple Store. I want to be one of the first people in when the IPhone 6 is released. It’s a bit pathetic, but I really want one, and I think it’s a bit fun to desire it and order it and wait for the package to arrive. All these things can be described in terms of Karl Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism. Commodities are products that are of course produced by people through their labor under actual circumstances where resources and the workforce is exploited.
“But, when we see these products we only see the surface. We see them as material objects that have a sort of agency of their own. They have become autonomous sources of satisfaction for us as consumers.” That is the definition of addiction. The objects of our addiction dictate to us, determine for us our obsessive and compulsive desire for them.
“What is ‘forgotten’ or ‘hidden’ is that it is our actions in producing things and valuing them on the marketplace which creates the real phenomenon of material commodities with the autonomy to determine, literally, whether we live or whether we die” (2019).
Marx, in his work as an organizer of the international working class in the mid-to-late 1800’s, and in his work as a codifier of the social scientific discoveries of the time (such which was the literary reflection of his organizing) was a prolific writer, publishing scores of books. In this, his Capital, which consists of fully three volumes, and another two volumes of addenda which he called Theories of Surplus Value, is widely identified as his seminal work. Inside Capital I, is a section of the first chapter called “the Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret therein.”
In this section he explains that, in commodities we find “… a definite social relation between [humans] that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things…” (p77)
Again, this is unique to this period in history. “The mode of distribution [of social production] will vary with the productive organization of the [given, specific] community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers…” (p85)
Commodity production is represented by Steve Jobs, Zuckerburg, Bezos and the rest as being dropped down by god, here from time immemorial and here for all time. Not so.
“…From the moment that [humans] in any way work for one another, their labor assumes a social form…” (p76). It is only in the era of private property and commodity production that this social form is defined by the exploitative exchange. “…[L]abor is represented [falsely] by the value of its product and labor-time by the magnitude of that value…These formulae… belong to a state of society, in which the process of production has the mastery over man, instead of being controlled by him…” (85)
The fetishism of commodities is the defining spiritual disorder of the present day social system under which we live. Alienation is the spiritual disposition of Western civilization. I am informed by my Womanist friends that patriarchy is the principle identity of this society. But patriarchy and capitalism are twin brothers. After all, were not women and children the first private property? Yes, they were the property of men. Was not the first split of society into classes the split between men and women, with men as the oppressor class? (Amadeume, 1995, Lynn, 2016, Manuelita, 2006).
Male supremacy is at the core of the current economic and political system. In its turn, male supremacy is a spiritual disposition, coincident with the objectification of human labor into commodities. Each of these deformities is an element of a crumbling social system.
I am informed by the Black Liberation Movement that white supremacy is the core of this system. On this score, has it not been the case that US dominance in the capitalist world is based on the history of private property in Black skins; that the system of chattel slavery is the basis upon which the immense accumulation of capital needed to launch US monopoly capital into preeminence, such which makes the existence of Bezos, Bank of America, Trump, Clinton, General Electric, the Pentagon, ExxonMobile and Zuckerburg possible; which makes our lovely permanent war economy possible?
White supremacy is not merely an economic and political illness; it is a spiritual disorder as well.
Mao Tse-tung, presiding as he did over the same issue we are here discussing, that of the definition of Western civilization, offered the following:
The evil system of colonialism and imperialism arose and throve with the enslavement of Negroes and the trade in Negroes. It will surely come to its end with the complete emancipation of the Black people. (1963)
This period of class society marks the denouement of Western civilization. Western civilization is coincident with class society. It is not the only civilization which is characterized by the split of society into classes. But, it has been the dominant society characterized by social class division for the last over 2,000 years (Leaky, 1997). It has superseded all other forms of class society originated in areas of the continent of Asia including the Middle East, in parts of the Americas, and in parts of Africa. It is in this context that most social science assumes class society today to be identical with Western civilization.
As Marx explained, “The value-form of the product of labor is not only the most abstract, but is also the most universal form, taken by the product in bourgeois production, and stamps that production as a particular species of social production, and thereby gives it its special historical character…” (85) This is for a blink in the eye of human history. Yet, the fetishism regarding this form, the obsession and the luminescent character the commodity assumes is a power which we humans have given it over ourselves. The major power of the commodity is in our agreement that it is human nature, our common agreement that “this is the way the world works.”
There is nothing in today’s Western society, in the United States, in Amazon which transcends this “universal form, taken by the product in bourgeois production.” Bezos has invented nothing transcendent.
Lower and Deeper, to the Real Majority
Marx used the term “alienation” to describe the process whereby the distinctive feature of human life — our ability to create, to be productive, to recreate the world around us — leaves from us during the exchange with the capitalist, and during the transformation of our productive labor into a thing which embodies the social relation which created it (The German Ideology, 1846). This thing, the product in capitalist society, assumes a power over us. In the private property exchange, my creativity goes to produce (often things that nobody really needs) products that leave me. Marx saw in this “leaving,” saw in this alienation not merely an economic disorder but a spiritual one as well. It was this spiritual disorder, alienation, which he said defined this period in history (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844).
This petite, pretty White woman is who Amazon depicts in their ads of the happy, mannerly delivery person. She is a hired actor. She doesn’t deliver packages for Amazon.
This is who really works at Amazon — the same people who work at the warehouse I’ve been slaving at.
In today’s common parlance, the terms are obsession and compulsion, addiction. The obsession Bezos calls for in all of his 575,000 employees, the addiction to the process whereby I buy an IPhone 6, the compulsion to participate in this process — each of these was initially explained by Marx in his examination of the commodity and alienation.
The wage slavery defined by Marx with his explanation of the exploitative reflex at the heart of this system was preceded by patriarchal slavery — the slavery of women to men — and it was preceded by the enslavement of Africans to European slavers.
And the revolutionary mass which humanity needs to take us through this transition from destruction and decay is in this warehouse, or in the hundreds of thousands who quit the warehouse before I got here and while I’ve been here, in search of a brighter day. There is a brighter day, and it is not in one of Bezos’ packages; it is not at the door of the Black Sister-turned middle class protector of her lawn; it is not at the hacienda of some nude bored housewife; it is not in the voice of the rabbit, nor does it reside in the rabbit’s command that I make another u-turn in the middle of a city intersection.
In his investigation into the transition from this dying phase of capitalist society, Lenin was interested in identifying who “the grave diggers” would be — the section of the population responsible for giving birth to a new, healthy, sane social order. He insisted that we must devote ourselves to the “lowest mass, the real majority [those Brothers and Sisters in the warehouse] who are not infected with bourgeois respectability [while they receive their packages at their door…].” He repeated that “…It is our duty, if we are to remain socialists, to go down lower and deeper to the real masses…” (Collected Works, Vol. 23, p120). I will take my co-workers everyday of the week over the rabbit, as we search for the way through.
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