The Party for Socialism and Liberation – New York City vehemently opposes the opening of a new Queens, N.Y. headquarters for Amazon, the trillion-dollar monopoly corporation infamous for low wages, back-breaking working conditions and hostility to labor organizations.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo must be singled out for handing Jeff Bezos the city on a silver platter, with massive tax breaks, outlandish special accommodations and a land giveaway. Their actions will fuel a new cycle of rapid gentrification in Queens, while further straining city services and the subway system. This corporate giveaway was engineered and supported by a wide range of politicians who fraudulently style themselves as “progressives.”
This deal sets the stage for a massive struggle in Queens to protect the right of workers and tenants to remain in the borough. Amazon plans to employ 50,000 top-tier tech workers, mostly high-paid engineers who earn around $150,000 per year, at least three times as much as the average Queens resident. In San Francisco, tech corporations and real estate developers have worked through the local Democratic Party to reconstruct the entire city to cater to their narrow needs, while driving out whole working-class communities with sky-high rents. If this nightmare, a playground for the rich, is what De Blasio, Cuomo and Bezos have in store for Queens, then the only option is to fight!
Over the summer Queens already experienced the highest rent increase of any area in the United States. Even before Amazon officially announced the new headquarters, the cost of housing began to rise. According to real estate agents, “the market went from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market overnight, based on a rumor” that Amazon would move to Queens. Now there’s a full-fledged “condo gold rush” in the area, according to the Wall Street Journal. This is on top of the existing housing crisis in this city. Working class and immigrant families are already struggling to pay rent, large families are living in single rooms, women are forced to stay in abusive relationships because they have nowhere affordable to go, and one in 10 New York City school children are homeless.
The arrangement between the city government and Amazon lays bare the reality of capitalism, how our government serves the interest of corporations and not of working people. Some 238 cities tried to sell their city to Amazon founder CEO Jeff Bezos by offering hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives, building a transit systems specifically for Amazon employees, offering government grants, and other giveaways. Amazon is expected to receive $1.7 billion in grants and tax breaks from New York State. Meanwhile public services and the school system are underfunded, with the city’s mass transit crumbling, and getting worse by the day.
The new Amazon headquarters will be very close to the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the Western hemisphere. In marked contrast to all the new glistening Amazon buildings, residents of the New York City Housing Authority apartment live in roach, rotten, mold, and asbestos infested apartments, causing asthma and other health problems. This is because the City government will not spend the money to maintain the buildings. Many residents feel that their apartments are being neglected in order to force their evictions. There is little doubt that this will mean more racist police harassment for public housing residents, and that the developers and politicians will come circling again like vultures eyeing this valuable land.
As expected, capitalist politicians are loyal to their funders instead of the people they are supposed to represent. From the governor on down to the local city council representative representing this Queens district, the whole New York political order is in the pockets of the big real estate companies who stand to make super profits from the Amazon deal. The New York political elite are only too happy to have a new master: Jeff Bezos, the richest man in history.
Amazon is the largest retailer in the world. Bezos, its CEO, parasitically receives $3,000 every second in profit via workers’ exploitation, corporate welfare and job destruction. He profits more in 12 seconds than millions of workers — including Amazon’s — make in a whole year.
Amazon’s lengthy history of abusing its workers indicates the type of company that New York’s politicians have jumped into bed with. In August, thousands of Amazon warehouse workers in Italy, France, England, Germany, Spain, and Poland walked off the job to protest wage cuts and poor working conditions.
In the summer of 2011, Amazon workers in Allentown, PA, had to endure warehouse temperatures over 100 degrees reaching up to 115 on certain days. With no air conditioning or ventilation, warehouse workers were experiencing heat strokes, suffering dehydration and fainting on the job. Instead of installing air conditioners, Jeff Bezos hired ambulances to be stationed outside the warehouse for when workers could no longer handle these conditions and had to be escorted to the hospital because it was cheaper to do so! An article in the Morning Call reported that, “workers who were sent home because of the heat received disciplinary points.”
To ensure increased profits, Amazon is trying to find new ways to track worker productivity. In 2017 there were reports of workers having wear “productivity trackers” on their wrists. This would track how fast they work and how many ‘idle moments’ they may be taking.
Poor conditions and low pay has led to high worker turnover for Amazon’s warehouse and logistics workers, and the company has crushed unionization efforts. It is imperative that New York City’s labor movement leverage its power and visibility to assist those efforts nationwide; the new Amazon headquarters, if it proceeds, must become a prime target for workers’ mobilization.
Amazon also maintains a highly segregated workforce continuing and deepening the U.S. legacy of extracting super profits from Black labor. The company’s own 2016 Employer Information Report for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lays out the following: Of 105 executives, 93 percent are white. Women make up only 21 percent of managers and 26 percent of professionals, reflecting generalized trends across the technology sector.
Horrible working conditions are not the only way Amazon profits from the misery of others. They have sold facial recognition software to ICE and police departments nationwide to help power its detention and deportation programs and further the Surveillance States. Its facial recognition software “Rekognition” enables local law enforcement agencies across the country to build facial recognition databases for their own purposes.
Amazon represents the greatest ills of capitalism, class oppression, white supremacy and patriarchy. That cities would be bending over backwards for it — just to win the opportunity to be exploited — shows what kind of system this is. PSL organizers in Queens and across New York City are working to build a broad fight-back to defend workers and tenants against Amazon and the city’s capitalist politicians. The power of the people will prevail. Join us!