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Amazon reportedly has Pinkerton agents surveil workers who try to form unions (npr.org)
809 points by pdkl95 on Dec 3, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 445 comments

In 1920 Appalachia, coal companies owned all the land, the homes and stores. They also paid workers with their own special money (that was useless everywhere else). The security companies they hired where armed and violent towards miners and their families.


Today, people can tour these old towns and learn the history of how the coal companies trapped and abused workers. A lot of unions and labor rights groups came out of the abuses that occurred in Appalachia.

This is where the Tennessee Ernie Ford song comes from, "Sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. St. Peter don't call me cause I can't go, I owe my soul to the company store."

There was an episode of South Park last season where they played this song as a backdrop to Amazon workers in a warehouse.

I would be remiss not to mention that Sixteen Tons was a Merle Travis song, recorded for the bona fide classic album[0] Folk Songs of the Hills. Both songs are classics, but the Travis version deserves to be heard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I15_KUsOzs

0: The album was released in 1947 prior to the introduction of the 12" LP, so it was originally released as a literal album of multiple 78rpm singles. It is one of the first concept albums. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folk_Songs_of_the_Hills

However, to be fair, Merle Travis had no problem with Tennessee Ernie Ford's version and was quite grateful for the royalty checks it provided ...

This reminds me of a similar, and quite popular, 90's rock song in Australia called "Blue Sky Mine" [0]. It refers to the horrible exploitive activities of CSL on an asbestos mine in the Pilbara region of Australia where they controlled their workers in a similar manner to what you describe here.

0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Sky_Mine

And nothing’s as precious as a hole in the ground.

That is de facto slavery!

Well, it's actually de facto indentured servitude.

I would call it Capitalism without opposition from the Left.

This is objectively the case. It’s exactly what happens every time the left is broadly defeated. And I literally mean every single time.

It's Soviet Union in miniature.

Whether someone owns the land by property right or "owns" "common grounds" by administrative right, the result seems to be the same: Oppression of those, who don't.

And this is why a strong opposition is important. It makes oppression much more difficult.

(Probably) The first aerial bombardment on US soil was when private planes dropped homemade bombs on striking coal workers at Blair Mountain in 1921. The US has a looong and brutal history of breaking up labor movements.

It looks like the Tulsa Race Massacre [0] has Blair Mountain beat by a few months (May vs August).

0 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsa_race_massacre#Attack_by_...

Good catch, dfxm12!

Growing up I always heard it was in Southern Illinois (where I grew up), as documented here:


> A far better documented incident occurred in southern Illinois in Williamson County in November 1926. "Bloody Williamson" had already garnered national notoriety during the 1920s as the site of labor unrest among coal mine unions, one of the bloodiest Ku Klux Klan wars in history, and gang warfare between two rival groups of liquor bootleggers. The Birger Gang, led by Russian immigrant Charlie Birger, and the Shelton Gang, led by brothers Carl, Earl and Bernie, had been involved in a bloody turf battle for domination of the southern Illinois liquor racket for several months. Their ever-escalating arms race had evolved from shotguns to tommy guns and even homemade trucks covered with armored plate used to shoot up each other's roadhouses.

> The warfare turned particularly violent in November 1926 as a series of shootings, bombings, and destruction of property caused terror throughout the county. Upping the ante once again, the Sheltons embarked on a bold plan to destroy the Birger Gang hideout, a place known as Shady Rest. They approached a pilot on a barnstorming tour and coerced him into taking a member of the gang on an overflight of the Birger roadhouse. On 12 November 1926, gang member Blackie Armes climbed aboard the old Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" biplane carrying several bombs, each made out of dynamite sticks bound around a bottle of nitroglycerine. While passing over Shady Rest, Armes lighted and dropped three of the devices. Only one exploded, missing its intended target and instead killing Birger's favorite bulldog and pet bird. Though initially stunned, members of the Birger gang fired back but did no damage. The shocked pilot flew back to the airfield, let the gangster off, and then immediately took off again, probably fearing for his life!

It's definitely either Blair Mountain or the Tulsa Race Massacre; there are some disputes about there actually being planes bombing in Tulsa but there was definitely a bomb dropped at Blair because one dud showed up in court. Both were in 1921 though which beats your thing by several years, didn't know about it though it's a wild story.

Hey a fellow Little Egyptian. My great grampa was one of the striking miners who was drug out at gun point in the Bloody Williamson Massacre.

How do you think May Day was celebrated?

The Haymarket Affair [1] which occurred in 1886

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haymarket_affair

And let’s not forget why we have a separate Labor Day in the US:

>Labor Day has conservative roots. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland pushed Congress to establish the holiday as a way to de-escalate class tension following the Pullman Strike, during which as many as ninety workers were gunned down by thousands of US Marshals serving at the pleasure of railway tycoon George Pullman, one of the time’s most hated industrial barons.

>Cleveland was wary of the response to his actions. He signed Labor Day into law a mere six days after busting the strike.

Source: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/09/labor-day-may-first-ameri...

That was thrown right not air dropped? I was mostly using it as a punctuation point about the violence and power imbalance applied to stop any labor movement in the US. But yeah there's a deep deep history of the government coming in to violently break up labor strikes for capital long before and long after 1921.

That "special money" had a name called "the scrip" [0].

Here's a really short video of what used to be a "company town" in Appalachia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBCxG_SCnQE

One of the host's grand dad was paid in scrip until the 1970s.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Company_scrip

> Here's a really short video of what used to be a "company town" in Appalachia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBCxG_SCnQE

That's a great video.

That video "has been taken down by the uploader", according to YouTube.

Got another link?

They seem to have deleted the video and re-uploaded it?? Here you go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SugMvGn2wQQ

If getting your health insurance through your employer creates dependency and gives your employer more control over you (and it does) then why is it a good idea to give this power to the government?

Your employer can mistreat you under the threat of losing your employer-provided health insurance. If everyone had government-provided health insurance, then employers would have less leverage. Government-provided health insurance can also ease the burden and risk for people starting new companies.

It also maximizes the number of people paying into the insurance pool.

> If getting your health insurance through your employer creates dependency and gives your employer more control over you (and it does) then why is it a good idea to give this power to the government?

Does your government have due process? If it does, how would that government use an obligation to provide you health insurance against you to influence your decisions?

People quit jobs far more often than they quit countries, and employer provided insurance does tie you to more strongly to your employer (e.g. I knew someone who needed a heart transplant who would literally die if he went without insurance, because he depended on a heart pump).

Also, you have to get insurance/healthcare from somewhere, and in a democracy the government is far more accountable to its citizens than an employer typically is to its employees [1].

[1] This is very clear in the typical case, but less clear for people with rare in-demand skills (like software engineers).

So you can switch employer and keep the care.

The US military paid occupation soldiers in Berlin in scrip too.

We also had the ludlow massacre where the local militia and mine company guards attacked the miners with machine guns (pre nfa...) and dynamite https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludlow_Massacre.

For anyone interested, there's a 2014 documentary [1] about the Massacre and Louis Tikas [2], the main labor union organizer of the coal miners.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22U0Hwb-7ao [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Tikas

It's important to remember that the strikers started the violence:

>>When leasing the sites, the union had selected locations near the mouths of canyons that led to the coal camps in order to block any strikebreakers' traffic.

Blocking strikebreaker traffic amounts to using violence to obstruct others' freedom of movement.

Strikebreakers were often assaulted and sometimes murdered.

The fundamentally coercive nature of historical striking activity is heavily glossed over, and modern day anti-free-market ideologues go to extreme lengths to try to justify it.

Pinkerton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinkerton_(detective_agency)) was one of those security companies.

For some reason, the history page on the Pinkerton website has a big hole in it between 1907 and 1962. What could they have been up to in the early 20th Century, I wonder? https://pinkerton.com/our-story/history

Is there anything stopping workers from crowdsource their own protection anonymously? Does it have to be some kind of formal union?

If you think about it, work is just a business deal and wouldn't be possible for employees create some kind of company that deals with the companies they are employed? Pretty much like an agency, I guess.

Oh, do you honestly think such an "secretive, radical union cell" funded by "dark money" would be allowed to exist and interface with corporates? (words in scare-quotes would be how this would be framed by employers and the media - they may or may not throw in foreign funding, Venezuela or China could get name-dropped with zero evidence).

It doesn’t have to be secret, just your membership is secret.

It can have open plan offices in a cool neighborhood, pay politicians and all.

Just have centralized Emlpoyers information management system where information about employers, like salaries they pay business they do, the good and the bad to work there etc.

So when you are getting a job you apply to your not-union and they tell you what to expect and how much to ask. No more guesswork.

It’s like an HR that works for you. So it’s BR, businesses resources.

Then the companies begin to fire employees that they find are part of this system and hire organizations like the Pinkertons to infiltrate and destroy your business resource system.

They can fight back, of course but trying to destroy another company’s systems sounds super illegal.

Fine, throw a bug bounty program.

So it's like Glassdoor or Salary.com? That's not a union, that's not HR, that's not armed protection.

Are unions armed protection?

Anyway, the idea is to have a coordinator that work on your benefit. Companies, even the large ones are simply people coordinated by the capital owners.

The not-union is a coordinator for the people who are not the capital owners but those who deal with the capital owners.

The aim is to assist for a fair deal through information, not to extort the capital owners.

So...... a union?

> The aim is to assist for a fair deal through information, not to extort the capital owners.

This sounds similar to "the aim is to be good, not bad".

Your assertion does not lie on facts but on your personal moral interpretation and even prejudice against a label.

Unions are organizations whose aim is to represent workers and defend their best interests with the company's representatives.

Sometimes the company's goals are in direct opposition to the workers's best interests. How do you expect the negotiations to go if the company plans to strong-arm and coherce their workers into submissions.

Well, this is not a union therefore doesn't match all the features and objectives. The not-union aims to relieve inherit disadvantages of individuals v.s. corporations while preserving individual freedoms and free market dynamics. Just like companies coming together to fix a price and specs of their products thus leaving consumers with no options, workers coming together to force their own preferences by leaving companies with no options is also unacceptable.

If the unions actually do the things that you describe and people are happy with it, they should opt out for unions.

"Are unions armed protection?"

Historically, yes, sometimes.

Sounds like a talent agent. Sectors that utilize talent agents often still have strong collective bargaining agreements and unions in place. Part of the power of a union is the ability to deprive a business or industry of labor. A talent agent alone does not provide such leverage.

I think you just described a union

See, it's not a union. Unions are apparently uncool in the USA. Think of it as Musk inventing the Tube by removing the engineeringly silly parts of the Hyperloop and adding a sharing economy feature to the result :)

Why would you share your "not-union" membership with your employer? Instead, use it as a coordinator between your peers to prevent being underpaid and overworked do to information disparity you normally have in your relationship with you employer and if you get screwed it turns out you have access to lawyers.

Something of that sort.

The issue is that being in a "not-union" isn't a protected class, so you could probably get fired for it after your employer sent the "not-Pinkertons" to do some intel.

To prevent this, you'd have to get your "not-Union" to either have huge solidarity, or lobby the government to make that a protected class.

Maybe if you went for the first you could make a song about it, how about "Solidarity not-for-finite-periods-of-time"?

Why would they fire or investigate you? It’s not like you’re organizing strikes or anything like that. You are simply benefiting of the same knowledge that companies have to have a fairer deal.

How are you going to negotiate without striking (or threatening a strike)? Why would the company care that you know you're being underpaid if you're still going to do your job either way?

If you’re underpaid it means you can get a better deal somewhere else.

You’re going to negotiate with the knowledge in par with the company that is interested in having you.

Knowledge is power. - France is bacon.

> If you’re underpaid it means you can get a better deal somewhere else.

Unless companies conspire not to hire you in order to depress wages.


Individuals make their ways up and down the stack all the time. This doesn't change the income distribution. [0] Knowledge isn't the only power. Solidarity is also power, and it can change the income distribution. Unfortunately, knowledge of this has been lost.

[0] https://wtfhappenedin1971.com/

Because you leveling the playing field is a net loss for them. Companies like to use their information and coordination advantage, and exploit it to their benefit.

It's why some companies will try to find ways to fire you if you share your salary.

I guess they’re free to try fight it. It doesn’t mean it’s helpless case. Measures and countermeasures, businesses as usual.

Except one party is a billion dollar business, and the other party is a single worker relying on an hourly wage job.

Without the threat of collective action, the idea is toothless.

Thanks to the not-union, the other party is not simply a single worker relying on an hourly wage job. Instead , the worker knows what can reasonably get from the company and if the company wrongs the worker, the not-union has the resources to help thanks to the subscription fees collected from the large number of members(potentially billions just like the companies).

If you're simply going to accept the company's employment offer, why do you need the external organization?

You aren’t simply going to accept any offer, you are going to negotiate a fair one thanks to the intelligence you obtain from not-union.

Without leverage that comes from collective bargaining, how does the intelligence change your negotiating position?

It’s not about extortion, it’s about fair deal. The knowledge is useful as market research, in a similar way knowing rent prices in the neighborhood when renting.

In the current situation, companies have access to this and employees don’t.

Characterizing collective bargaining as extortion is part of the problem.

So it's like a union... but without any democratic control by the members, just a company trying to maximize profit from it's "customers" instead?

What problem with unions are you trying to solve here?

It’s with democratic control and not for profit, unless of course you vote for it to try to maximize profit.

It’s owned by a trust or something similar.

A secret union. Would be labelled terrorists in no time flat.

>work is just a business deal and wouldn't be possible for employees create some kind of company that deals with the companies they are employed?

have you read Godfather?

Please explain?

He's referring to organized crime/racketeering. Your 'not-union' scheme seems like organized crime if you squint a bit and imagine that it would be backed up with violence.

Populist tough-guy shakes down businesses to get back at The Man or some such.

Plus unions in the US have often been infiltrated by organized crime.

This is a not-union, it doesn’t have those elements at all. It has a fancy office, a responsive website that nags you to use the app instead, and blogs about how they implemented the latest FUD and does have open source projects.

It has a Twitter savvy CEO a it’s mission is to make the world a better place.

Pimps basically play the same role as unions.

Congratulations, you've invented the Molly Maguires.

This culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain were mine owners employed private security and the US military to put down 10,000+ striking miners.


It's an incredible story of capitalism gone mad. Areal bombardment and poison gas were used against the miners and it did not end well for them.

What the fuck was going on in 1921? That’s three months after they firebombed Tulsa.

Do people think Bezos is setting up company stores? What is the point of these posts except to excuse bad behavior?

It's not about excusing bad behavior.

Here's for you: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25291778 (another reply here that explains)

This is largely a myth. Labor mobility was high, and exploitation via "the company store" didn't actually occur:


I respect a history lesson, but honestly, I think old comrade tales are not helpful.

I don't mean that it's irrelevant, strictly, but we hear more of these than 2020 tales, 2020 strategies and concerns. This is 100 year later, and despite of how many union die hards see it... most workers aren't likely to buy int a centuries long struggle. They're interested in their own lives & jobs.

I think the main points are:

1. Their own struggles aren't new: companies have been trying to fuck workers over since time immemorial, and 2. There is a well-known solution to these problems: unions.

Are you working 16 hours a day, barely able to afford rent + food + utilities, and slipping further into debt every day? It doesn't have to be that way, and we have a really good idea, based on historical facts, about how to fix it.

you do know that Appalachia is still the poorest area in the US, and the unions did not fix the economic problems.

yes it provided the employees that were still employed with greater protections, but it is not the utopia you seem to believe it is

Nobody claimed a utopia. Extracting natural resources is always going to be a tough job that is ripe for exploitation.

Did unions improve the lives of members? They certainly did where I come from. American labour history is more complex (union corruption and take over by organised crime seemed to run deeper)

That depends, sure you can point to examples where the Union did improve peoples lives

But then i can also point to examples where they did not, where they ended up driving business out, bankrupting people

Where unions are more focused on their own political power than helping workers

Or even if in general the union helped the "average worker" the collectivist nature of unions means not everyone will be better off. For example Seniority, and "personal connections" are often more of a driving factor in Unions than merit or work performance. In fact highly efficient hard workers are often driven out of unions or forced to "work slower", etc.

>That depends, sure you can point to examples where the Union did improve peoples lives But then i can also point to examples where they did not, where they ended up driving business out, bankrupting people

The answer to this is not airy theorizing or anecdotes but statistical evidence. There are many people who do this. See for example figure 9 here:


Do you get vacations? Have a (nominally) 40-hour work week?

lol, that is not a valid response to criticize of unions. Sorry but no

And "Appalachia is still a poor region" is not a valid criticism of unions.

Right, I think the point is that while things have improved since then, workers are still exploited. The only way to change that is for people to band together. Large, diverse, unified groups can bring about change.

The coal miners were mostly Irish and German immigrants and African Americans. They all joined together and brought about changes that workers still benefit from today. People in 2020 can do the same.

I get that 100 years sounds like a long time, but the coal miners unionization stories are my grandfather's. Things change fast and it is good to keep the past in mind when evaluating the decisions we make today.

Neonazis were used to intimidate immigrant workers at Amazon facilities in Germany a few years ago, so it's not exactly "history" for "old comrades.


I'm all for the Amazon hate train but this is pretty weak. The journalist first says Pinkerton was hired in Poland to investigate irregularities in their application process. Amazon says they only hire Pinkerton to "secure shipments". The "acquired document" says that Amazon tracks social media information about labor organization and strokes. It's all over the place, and even assuming all parties report the truth, no one actually says that Pinkerton is doing surveillance related to unions.

Maybe NPR is missing something from the original article, which I couldn't find linked, but come on.

From the article:

> We need to note that Amazon is an NPR funder.

The original Motherboard article [0] is extensive. The NPR version is deliberately incoherent.

[0] https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dp3yn/amazon-leaked-reports...

You actually believe that Amazon has editorial control over NPR and specifically exerted that leverage to make this article incoherent?

One of the common threads in media critiques like Manufacturing Consent and Hate, Inc. is that direct editorial control is not necessary in order to promote your agenda. Control of money and access, along with ideological indoctrination of journalists at elite universities, is all that's needed. See also my comment below about NPR listenership and trust in Amazon as an institution.

Semi-off-topic but Manufacturing Consent really changed the way I see the world and think about media. As a kid I never questioned that Iraq War-era Time magazine article with diagrams of a mobile nuclear weapons facility. It should be required reading.

Same for me. Unfortunately, I found it hard to get along with some close relatives after my change in perspective.

You just need to have influence over who hires the journalists. If they like you then they'll hire people who will probably also like you.

>>> We need to note that Amazon is an NPR funder.

> You actually believe that Amazon has editorial control over NPR and specifically exerted that leverage to make this article incoherent?

You don't have to have editorial control to have influence.

For instance: how smart would it be for you to complain about your employer in public forums under your own name? People call that "biting the hand that feeds you." So even if you have a legitimate grievance or have witnessed clearly unethical behavior with your employer, maybe you decide to keep quiet because you need the money from your job.

Your employer just influenced what you write without having any editorial control over you.

This is the story of our entire media. No, they didn't line by line come in and edit the article, but any media outlet is going to self-censor to not lose a big sponsor. I think that's pretty self-evident at this point. The classic Manufacturing Consent does a deep dive into this dynamic.

Related, newspapers are historically unprofitable. Why would someone like Jeff Bezos buy the Washington Post? Like any investment, he expects some kind of return. And the return in this case clearly isn't direct revenue.

Do you have any proof of that? Otherwise it's just conspiracy theory. Sometimes people do things that don't benefit them. It's called charity. I don't think that Bezos is a saint, but I also don't think he bought the New York Post to be his mouthpiece nor would the editors allow it.

I think you would find that the book or two hour YouTube documentary “Manufacturing Consent” by Noam Chomsky provides compelling answers to your questions. I do understand it can be irritating to hear “watch this two hour doc” as a response to an internet comment, but it really is a master work on the subject. I haven’t seen it in a few years so I can’t do its arguments justice, but it completely changed my views on how media works. I have been meaning to watch it again though.

For a different take there is a YouTube series from “Crash Course” on “media literacy” that I suspect goes over this, but I haven’t gotten that far in the series yet.

And then there’s also Michael Parenti, another author who has written and has YouTube talks on the subject.

Either way I just want to say it’s not wild conspiracy theory. It is an established body of work people are talking about here.

NPR's CEO previously was in charge of external propaganda: "From 2015 to 2019, Lansing served as the CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the independent federal agency whose programming reaches an average weekly audience of 345 million people in 62 languages." [0] Now at NPR he coordinates internal propaganda. Angry Bezos emails will be career-shortening for NPR staff.

[0] https://www.npr.org/people/770270513/john-lansing

The implicit threat of loss of funding and/or access is often enough to sway editorial decisions in a way that could appear like direct control.

NPR is on the record [0] as not even informing their editorial staff of their 175+ sponsors, which causes other issues (for which there is actual evidence, which, while reasonable, I haven't seen for your theory):

> That lack of awareness has led to some embarrassments in the past. Online spots from America's Natural Gas Alliance once ran next to a series on fracking, for example.

[0] https://www.npr.org/sections/publiceditor/2012/03/16/1487788...

Cargill and Koch industries certainly did.

So it's not a stretch.

You actually believe that NPR doesn’t edit articles to protect the people who fund them?

Yes, I do actually believe in their editorial independence. Here's an NPR opinion piece talking openly about the subject


Some excerpts that I liked (keep in mind, these are out of context, which is largely focused on why we should keep a very close eye out):

> Companies are most interested in getting their name before NPR's audience. They are, in other words, more interested in you than they are in NPR's journalism.

> The staff that sells sponsorships does not contact the newsroom to ask for coverage favor for a corporate client. To do so is a firing offense.

> Companies and marketers almost universally know not to ask journalists for coverage favors in return for sponsorship and advertising. To do so would be an insult—like asking a professional journalist to be a prostitute. It would invite distrust and negative coverage. It also would undermine the independence that attracted NPR's coveted audience in the first place.

> "Rote disclosures of every connection to a sponsor would not only clutter our programs, and be rendered meaningless in the process, but would also require producers to have an awareness of our corporate supporters that could actually be counter-productive and erode our firewall."

There's no need for anything so obvious as a request from the sposorship sales staff to the newsroom, or corporate sponsors asking journalists for favors. It could be an unspoken, unwritten understanding, subtle enough that the newsroom staff and journalists might honestly deny it exists. Just knowing that Amazon is a major sponsor of your employer (and hence, your job) is going to affect how you write about them, whether or not any overt favors have been requested.

I mean this with all due respect, but highlighting NPR's own defense of their editorial practices is hardly convincing.

NPR routinely runs editorial pieces that were pitched to them by corporate sponsors or their fronts like think tanks. They likewise have have discussion panels featuring these groups' talking heads. Listen to a few episodes of Marketplace if you want the most obvious corporate propaganda imaginable. Their impartiality is laughable.

Just to be precise, Marketplace is not produced by NPR.

It is produced by American Public Media, which is a branch of Minnesota Public Radio (and Southern California Public Radio).

Perhaps you meant "US public radio" in general, but said "NPR". They are not equivalent, however.

It's a distinction without any real difference. You could make the same argument about Planet Money, an NPR show, that went out of the way to provide cover for the banks during the financial crisis, had their host attack Elizabeth Warren in an interview, all while taking money from the same industry. Adam Davidson (the host who attacked Warren) of course then also went on to collect all kinds of "speaking fees" from financial institutions.


NPR, despite what the parent linked, does almost nothing to police these conflicts.

It's a distinction with a difference. And no, I could not make the same argument about Planet Money, since that show is produced by NPR.

If you say "American public radio", do you also include Democracy Now? Do you include shows produced by other local stations, including the ones that do not get distributed? NPR is not the totality of "American public radio".

Understanding the structure of public broadcasting in the USA is critical to understand why it works the way that it does. NPR is a distinct organization, even from CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting), even if its sensibilities are echoed in other public radio organizations (like MPR/APM).

As for your points about Adam Davidson, I don't find that shameproject.com page particularly persuasive. It's clear that Davidson's worldview does not align with that of the people/person who wrote the page/manages the site. I don't find this particularly remarkable or even particularly interesting. Davidson's worldview doesn't really line up with my own either. But there's a bunch of stuff on that page (the quotes in particular) which lack context, and a lot of other stuff that consists mostly of deeply subjective assessments and assignment of motive to Davidson without much evidence.

Not taking money from the people you’re covering is the barest minimum of journalistic ethics. Regardless, of whether you or I agree with anything else on that site, Adam Davidson, or whoever else, failing to meet that basic standard should be patently disqualifying. The fact that he was the host of a flagship, economic reporting show, even more so.

There are many other reasons I find it hard to take NPR’s claims of impartiality seriously, but this one is so glaringly wrong that it speaks for itself.

I don't accept anyone's claims of impartiality. This notion of objective journalism is a US disease, and it needs to be stamped out as rapidly and as widely as possible. I view NPR as an excellent source of reporting on "people's lives as they experience them" and "the political status quo". I would never dream of considering NPR to be how I found out about ideas and practices outside of the political status quo - that's just not what they (or any other mainstream media) does.

"Listen to a few episodes of Marketplace if you want the most obvious corporate propaganda imaginable."

You mean NPR's business news show? That's what business news is, right?

If you read something like the Financial Times, it’s actually far less propagandistic than most “business news.” It mostly just reports the raw, unfiltered reality of Capitalist exchange. There are actually quite a few Marxists who like the paper for this reason.

When contrasted with something like Marketplace, which ceaselessly and glibly spins the darker realities of our economy to somehow be “upbeat” or “positive,” the difference becomes more obvious. And this is an editorial and ideological choice made by NPR, pursuing this framing.

> prostitute

I expected better than NPR. They could have just said "like asking a professional journalist to be a PR agent".

Who needs to be coherent or honest when you can thrill your listeners by smearing some company you both already hate? Things like honesty and integrity are wicked when they fail to serve the cause; this is a time for deliberate obfuscation!

— npr, probably

Geez, guys. There's so many good reasons to go after Amazon; you'd think one of them would be enough, but nooooo.

Amazon was recently polled to be the most trusted institution among US Democrats [0], which comprises the majority of NPR's listenership and donors. They know what they're doing.

[0] http://aicpoll.com/

Two points here at least worth footnoting:

(1) That poll is from July 2018, and while that's technically recent, in terms of news about big tech that can affect perceptions, a lot's happened in the last two years.

(2) According to the poll, Amazon was the third most-trusted institution among US Republicans, just behind "military" and "local police", and was the second-most trusted institution behind the military across all respondents. I think you're putting more emphasis on partisan affiliation here with respect to Amazon than the data warrants.

That, or, Amazon knows from history (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, even going as far back as Standard Oil) that the public trust is not to be taken for granted. They have strong incentives to stay ahead of any negative sentiment that might arise.

This isn't a quality article, but it's not lying.

There have been sporadic reports for about a year of major hiring/contracting related to internal security and union activity. EG: publicly posted positions that said the "quite part out loud," anonymous whistleblowers and some leaked docs.

I think this article specifically relates to a report by motherboard a week or two ago where they got emails leaked to them from Amazon's "Global Security Operations Center."

Here's a better article by Vice. They Pinkerton hire seems to have been confirmed by amazon spokesperson.


"Internal emails sent to Amazon's Global Security Operations Center obtained by Motherboard reveal that all the division's team members around the world receive updates on labor organizing activities at warehouses that include the exact date, time, location, the source who reported the action, the number of participants at an event (and in some cases a turnout rate of those expected to participate in a labor action)"

It just astounds me that the Old Timey Pinkertons are still around, to be honest. That is a company that my 98 year old grandfather tells stories about from his childhood.

I know there are other old companies, but Pinkerton is one of those that just sounds old fashioned.

They're owned by Securitas today, the Swedish security guard company. Which makes the decision to continue using "Pinkerton" as a _brand name_ even more of an intimidation tactic, IMO. And I think it ultimately results in demonstrating how committed Bezos is to fighting this.

Same here. I'm a high school student; I learned about the Pinkertons last year in US History... (Carnegie Steel's Homestead Strike https://www.britannica.com/event/Homestead-Strike)

I was reminded of their continued existence earlier this year when, in a strange reversal of fate, a Pinkerton shot and killed a pro-law enforcement protestor:


Those stories are also told in a video game called "Red Dead Redemption." Stories might be fictional, but the agency is very real.

They tried to cease-and-desist Rockstar, actually.


The original piece of reporting that this interview is discussing:

“Secret Amazon Reports Expose the Company’s Surveillance of Labor and Environmental Groups” https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dp3yn/amazon-leaked-reports...

Edit: Previous discussion here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25189167

Really disappointing to see the "Well, what did you expect?" comments already. Just because companies have been trying to prevent organization of their labor for over a century doesn't mean it isn't still messed up now. It's easy to say that it's just the way the world works from your desk, the people who are forced to work in Amazon's warehouses with terrible working conditions don't have that luxury.

“What did you expect?” is my least favorite conversational trope (it’s more disappointing on HN because in general I have higher expectations here, but it’s common everywhere).

On the surface it sounds smart and world-weary. As an actual part of a conversation, whether something is expected is pretty orthogonal to whether, say, something would ideally be done about it.

I suppose it is relevant to whether something makes good content, but hopefully most of us aren’t here primarily to comment on our judgment of content marketability

I think the most common place I see it is with surveillance conversations

Though I should note that I’m not seeing those comments towards the top anymore, so that’s good

I love the common tropes, you only have to learn a single response that allows you to control the narrative.

> What did you expect?

Well, geez, I don't know basic human decency probably? Are we all so numb to asshattery that we're not surprised or upset when we learn about someone using power to hurt or control the little guy?

This brand of cynicism where you claim that everything is expected can also be a way to protect yourself from negative information. If you care about say privacy and you constantly receive news about surveillance, it can be disheartening, so it's easier to dismiss the news with "well, what did you expect?". I know I used to do that, in my head at least. I'm not advocating for cynicism of course, just saying that people might be doing it for deeper reasons than sounding smart and world-weary.

> “What did you expect?” is my least favorite conversational trope (it’s more disappointing on HN because in general I have higher expectations here, but it’s common everywhere).

> On the surface it sounds smart and world-weary. As an actual part of a conversation, whether something is expected is pretty orthogonal to whether, say, something would ideally be done about it.

Yeah, it's pretty much just a lazy dismissal of the issue, and maybe even an attempt to jam up the discussion.

Speaking with my wallet. I no longer use Amazon.

Though my employer users AWS. I don't have any swing over that sadly.

But for my own money, no more Amazon.

I have stopped ordering from amazon.com but do still use AWS. I should probably evaluate other cloud providers, when I made the decision to use AWS about 5 years ago there were no other providers that offered all the functionality I wanted. It was also easy enough to throw a rock and hit a certified aws consultant.

At this point the cloud provider that is the least shitty as a company is probably... Microsoft? Damn what has the world come to

My company is on DigitalOcean, but we're not exactly web scale yet, so I can't vouch for them on that level. Their support is nice and responsive, though, and their management interface is very nice. They don't do everything AWS do, e.g., they only just added an S3-compatible object store and I've yet to come across anything like secrets management or IAM for their virtual machines.

Our prototype was on DigitalOcean but we started collecting issues and feature requests that were solved more easily by AWS. Including IAM, we were an early adopter of S3, it's a great product. Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm going to open an issue to evaluate the other cloud providers. But honestly, the team is going to hate me, they have all spent a lot of time learning AWS.

> But honestly, the team is going to hate me, they have all spent a lot of time learning AWS.

This was another motivation for going with DO: there's just less of it. Less to learn, less to get lost in. We've got a couple of juniors on the team who are brand new to actually having to get the software they write to run in production, and I don't think the AWS control panel is a very good place to send someone like that.

It's pretty easy to avoid Amazon if you are Frugal. Walmart online is cheaper.

Most people are too lazy to look at another store.

Is Walmart really that great by comparison ? I wonder what skeletons are up their closet.

For those who identify strongly with unions, union-busting stuff like this is triggering... like "bringing up the war" in a war traumatised nation.

I get that. But... 2020 isn't 1920 or even 1980. Fresh eyes might see more clearly.

To the advantage of union organisers, mass communication and organisation is a lot easier today. Surveillance is easier too. IDK. Yes, Bezos does not want an amazon union and won't just let it happen without a fight. Same as always. That said, if people want to hear what an amazon union organiser has to say... it's almost impossible to stop it.

I don't think the central factor here is Pinkertons. Union organising is the actual determinant. If they can get enough amazon employees interested, they'll probably succeed regardless.

> Yes, Bezos does not want an amazon union and won't just let it happen without a fight. Same as always.

Which is, if I recalled correctly, illegal.

Law is meaningless when there are a lot of money/power involved. After all it's the ruling class who made them.

While true, it need not. be this way. Elite rich american failure to follow the letter and spirit of the law trickles down way faster then economics.

Not in democracies. It does make it somewhat harder though.

Democracies or not, regardless, I think the key for citizens is to have both a scientific mind as well as a fighting spirit. Lack of either would be a disaster.

So that it's pretty costly for the ruling class to push ordinary people around. Not that they can't, I mean they still control the army and police so technically they can still do whatever they want, but in reality it's going to be very expensive, financially and politically to push people around if ordinary people possess both qualities.

Didn't stop Google from firing two employees in regards to union organizing. It doesn't matter what they did, if the NLRB is backing the employees, the company is in the wrong. Having to wait for a government agency to respond to your case of being wrongfully terminated is a PITA as it is. The fact that they determined the employee was conducting protected behavior which Google actively disagrees with just goes to show these companies are so large they're more than willing to just eliminate union organizers and wait for the government to tell them they broke the law as opposed to ensuring they follow it in the first place.

See also Google conspiring to suppress worker wages for many years until they were caught and given a slap on the wrist.

For those who are not familiar, Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Pixar, Lucasfilm and eBay all colluded with one another to keep tech worker compensation below its market value[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Tech_Employee_Antitrust_L...

> Which is, if I recalled correctly, illegal

Retaliation against employees is illegal. Shutting down a unionised facility is not.

Maybe in spirit.

In reality, bezos and any future amazon union are opposed to one another. That's a pretty firmly embedded truism in union thinking too. No point getting outraged over the trite.

Also, this is not even amazon getting serious yet. Imagine what happens when/if amazon union organisers ever make a credible effort.

Don't underestimate what a desperate individual will do when they've lost everything to Bezos greed.

Not if you're rich

Maybe, but that doesn't make it right, and it won't change unless people are aware of it and fight against it, which is why this article is pointing it.

Depends how you fight. Some union busting tactics are illegal, others legal and a few skirt the borders of illegality.

Even if they do do it illegally, the justice department has to be motivated to go after them. Which, with a Biden administration that is close to Bezos is unlikely:


These workers can't really rely on the justice Department.

>Which is, if I recalled correctly, illegal.

Entirely legal in a "Right to work" state.

Down vote me all you want, its 100% the truth. Don't like it? Contact your representatives in the state legislature and get these laws repealed.

If employees know that discussing unionizing or showing any pro-union tendency or behavior is going to arm their career prospects (or maybe even make them lose their job altogether) it's definitely going to be a lot harder for them to organize.

I can't believe people here people here manage to justify this abject behavior as "business as usual". This is not normal, not legal and shouldn't be accepted.

It’s HN. Every time there’s an article about FB going too far, everyone seems to chime in about how FB is evil and anyone who works there must be evil as well, “so what did you expect?” It’s the same with Amazon or any FAANG company, and it gets quite tiring sometimes.

I don't think facebook is evil. It's just run by a naive dictator who isn't willing to make the tough decisions that will allow democracy to continue. The intentions aren't bad but the outcome is horrible.

Evil is what evil does.

Tough ask for an average warehouse employee to practice enough opsec to hide the talks from Amazon.

Harder still, if they retain Pinkerton agents to spy on you even after you clock out [1]

[1] https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dp3yn/amazon-leaked-reports...

> To the advantage of union organisers, mass communication and organisation is a lot easier today.

But that's a double-edged sword. It's also an advantage to employers and businesses. And recent history has shown they have the advantage: they been successful at thwarting union formation (see Wal-Mart, the movie American Factory, etc.) and even labor laws (e.g. Prop 22).

Well if you thwart union formation and legislation by using communication to persuade people that you're right and to vote for your side, that's called democracy.

> Well if you thwart union formation and legislation by using communication to persuade people that you're right and to vote for your side, that's called democracy.

That's neither here nor there. The point I was disputing was the idea that changes in mass communication technology gives an advantage to unions.

However, to your point: your phrasing "using communication to persuade people...to vote for your side, that's called democracy," obscures some important distinctions. If your success at persuasion stems mainly from the greater power you have to project your message (e.g. via wealth), then that's arguably not actually very democratic. That's pretty easy to see when greater political power is used (e.g. the CCP suppressing dissenting voices and successfully persuading the people with a thick blanket of weakly-opposed propaganda), but there's a similar dynamic when one side can greatly outspend its opponent, since wealth is a kind of power [1].

For a union vote, the employer typically has both greater wealth and greater political power: it can blanket the workplace with anti-union messages and require employees to repeatedly attend anti-union "education" sessions during work hours (which is typical before a union vote), while the union organizers have much more limited access, and must try to reach employees outside of work.

[1] this is an area of tension in liberal democracy, where trade-offs need to be made.

That’s called propaganda, not democracy.

>I don't think the central factor here is Pinkertons. Union organising is the actual determinant.

"If you didn't want to be spied-on, you wouldn't try to unionize"? Really?

I didn't say it isn't a factor. I said determining factor.

> To the advantage of union organisers, mass communication and organisation is a lot easier today. Surveillance is easier too.

For those of us who are working from home due to the pandemic (or other reasons), we don't have any way to communicate with our co-workers except via electronic channels that can be logged.

Pre-covid, one could reasonably expect that if one were to mention unionization in conversation over lunch, there wouldn't be a permanent electronic record of it. Now, it's just not something you can discreetly discuss with someone unless you have their outside-of-work contact information.

The situation is what it is.

That said "communicating via electronic channels" is not an insurmountable problem. It could be turned into and advantage. If union organizers post a letter, video or whatnot... amazon employees can see it. If people want to sign up to an unsurveiled "stream," they can.

The reality of secrecy and anonymity are what they are. Amazon are feisty, but they aren't the KGB. Secrecy is hard, probably unattainable. Anonymity is doable, but not default. Circulation is easy, assuming recipients are into it. etc.

> It's easy to say that it's just the way the world works from your desk,

Its equally easy to be disappointed and show some virtual outrage via social media. To me if office workers are not putting their money where their mouth then it is not of much consequence whether they are disappointed or world weary.

it's not just the way the world works. it's the way capitalism works. I don't think it's unfair for people to be fed up with watching these things happen while the root causes continue to be largely taken for granted.

It's not even the way that capitalism works. It's the way that unproperly regulated capitalism works

The way that capitalism works is to prevent proper regulation.

Agree that the root cause here is not Amazon, it's a system (unregulated capitalism) that incentives this behavior. I think it's still fair to criticize actors in such a system, especially if such criticism is done with the context that these companies and their bad actions are the product of that system and that it would be positive for most of the workforce for that system to be better regulated.

Unregulated? American unions are tightly regulated: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taft%E2%80%93Hartley_Act

> the people who are forced to work in Amazon's warehouses

Who is being forced?

Many people don't have the job flexibility and choice that many of us on HN have and are forced to take any available employment or go homeless.

It really is amazing that people really refuse to understand how freaking privileged we are to have good pay, good mobility and the reality of people who don't. Competition for "unskilled", ugh I hate that word, jobs is fierce and when you're living on the verge of homelessness you have neither the time nor money to invest in yourself.

People that cannot find a better alternative in their current personal situation. Sure they are not "forced" in a precise linguistic sense. But when it's this or nothing there is really just an illusion of choice.

Why is it Amazon’s problem that they have no alternative?

If Amazon went away, would their situation be better or worse?

I believe that as a society we must ensure that people have enough money to live, but why should the employers on the bottom of the skills spectrum be forced to bear the brunt of it?

Every employer should be required by law to provide a safe workplace free of discrimination and harassment. But hiring unskilled workers at a market wage doesn’t make you a bad actor.

Because Amazon are use their disproportionate position of power to abuse these employees. It is far from an even playing field. This very article we're commenting on shows that Amazon are trying hard to keep it from becoming fair and equal. I find your lack of compassion for underprivileged employees astounding.

> Every employer should be required by law to provide a safe workplace free of discrimination and harassment.

And who is going to sue when they are underpaid and have no other job options available? Litigation is time consuming and expensive and rent won't wait.

Your question was literally "who is being forced?" I responded to that and nothing more.

> But hiring unskilled workers at a market wage doesn’t make you a bad actor.

No, but artificially preventing the market conditions (wage + others) from raising by blocking people's basic right of association will make you a bad actor.

If given a free choice of literally anything they could do to contribute to the world, do you think Amazon warehouse employees would put Amazon warehouse work as their primary choice? Something they said they wanted to do "when they grow up"? "Something with dehumanising conditions, please!"

If not, what is your answer to the quesiton "why are they doing this job at all"?

Because they have to do something, and this is the best they can do? Then "have to do something" is the force, and they are the forced.

So by offering an alternative better than any other available, Amazon is the bad guy? What about all the companies not offering them alternatives?

I didn't say "Amazon is the (one and only) bad guy", or anything about bad guys at all. I said "if they aren't opting out, there is a force compelling them to be there".

You say "who is forcing them? Why don't they quit?" and yet ... they don't quit, and you (apparently?) think there is no reason why.

I don't think the force is a single person or company. I think it's the economic and social system we live in has become (intentionally or not) tuned to keep as many people as desperate as it can, because those are the kind of people who will work longer and harder for less money.

They used to offer them alternatives but Amazon put those companies out of business. The idea that it’s Amazon or homelessness doesn’t really make Amazon look better.

You’re mixing the general and the specific. Specifically yes, you don’t have to work for Amazon, but in general yes you are in fact forced to work or die in a capitalist system. In some situations Amazon may be the only viable employer.

"but in general yes you are in fact forced to work or die in a capitalist system"

registered an account just to inform you what an utter crap of a statement you've made there. since i've bothered thus far, i made it a point to review more of your presence here. the conclusion i've come to is you are quite the twat. in a most general sense - a cunt of the dunning-kruger variety.

Where do we draw the line? What tactics are ok for a company to use to combat unions if it doesn't want them? Or should companies just accept and work with any union that forms?

> What tactics are ok for a company to use to combat unions if it doesn't want them?

They don't have a right to combat them at all. Union organizing is literally a human right. Of course ownership doesn't want them -- the feelings of ownership are (supposed to be) irrelevant.

> They don't have a right to combat them at all.

This is simply not true. Amazon have a right to argue against unionisation in order to combat it.

It really amazes me what some people think qualifies for a “human right”. If you are paying someone and they are doing something you told them not to do isn’t it your “human right” to stop paying them? Where do you draw the line with what a “human right” is?

Think about it this way: both sides have the right to freely negotiate a contract, and then decide whether or not to enter into it. The CEO can't prevent the workers from talking to each other and figuring out what they think a fair contract would be, and the workers can't prevent the CEO from talking to other CEOs for the same reason.

The specific human right is usually referred to as "freedom of association". You can read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_association

As you observe, workers talking to each other to agree on prices for labor is the flip side of the coin from CEOs talking to each other to agree on prices for labor. But the latter is in fact illegal. CEOs can't talk to each other and agree to pay $10/hour for warehouse workers. Coordinating with others to set prices for labor or goods isn't viewed as within the scope of freedom of association. Union activities are in fact specifically exempted from anti-trust laws because otherwise they would fall within the scope of them. Workers can agree with each other not to accept less than $15/hour for warehouse workers.

You need something more than freedom of association to justify unions, rooted in the recognition of bargaining disparities between employers and employees.

The way I'm thinking about it, you don't need anything extra to justify unions, but you do need something extra to prohibit wage fixing. I agree that freedom of association, when considered alone, would allow wage fixing and price fixing and all sorts of anti-competitive behavior.

We're moving away from areas where I'm confident I know what I'm talking about, but I think as a society we've decided that while anti-competitive laws do infringe on the rights of business leaders, we're trying to balance their rights with those of everyone else, and the laws are necessary to prevent a permanent class divide between business leaders who cannot be challenged, and workers under them. In the long run, allowing complete free association among CEOs would limit the freedoms of the rest of society.

Society is a constant project of balancing various conflicting rights, and this is one of many cases where we limit the rights of a few to defend the rights of many.

You don't see any power disparity here?

I do. But power disparity doesn’t have anything to do with freedom of association. It’s a different basis for allowing unionization.

You've got it the wrong way round. You start by assuming everything is permitted and then you selectively (and ideally reluctantly) bring the weight of law to bear when you discover that it's a net benefit to society. It's a correction for gross inequalities of power.

That's something the libertarian left and libertarian right surely agree on - minimising the application of the monopoly of force and all that.

So you assume both employers and employees can freely organize and associate. That's your starting point.

Now - we've decided that the right to join a union should be protected (it evens out an existing power imbalance) and that collusion to force down wages should be illegal (because it amplifies an existing power imbalance to the detriment of society at large)

But we have to realise that the common situation here is a corporation against a single individual. How is it comparable to a cartel of corporations?

Sure but if both sides have the human right to freely associate, then the employer should surely have the right to reject associating with the union at all. But that's not afforded to them under US law, per my understanding.

"Associate" has a specific definition here that's a little narrower than normal conversation. It refers to being a member of a group, not just being connected to it in some way. The CEO is free to not join the union if they don't want to. They can also quit if they don't want to deal with it at all.

By the same token, the company’s management is free to fight union creation, by sharing anti-union messages. Freedom of speech and assembly on both sides.

Agreed, but in the American context, "fighting" union creation usually means a little more than just sharing informative messages.

"I heard Donny got both kneecaps busted after he passed out a union flyer last year" said the manager conveniently holding a baseball bat from the "baseball club" he just so happened to be involved in.

I think this is legally the case in most places, but IMO it is extremely unfair to give ownership acting through the corporate entity the same rights as employees, which are actual people.

Sure. the complaint here is not that Amazon shared anti-union messages. (and gets murky when it tries to force employees to consume said messages)

You are paying someone to work 18 hours a day, every day. They would like to not work 18 hours a day anymore, and stop working at a mere 12 hours; they are even willing to accept less pay. You fire them, because you clearly told them not to do that. They organize with other workers and demand the right for a 12 hour day, with this right enshrined in law and with penalties for employers who do not comply. You say “they are free to work for someone else or quit if they don’t like it!”

Fast forward many decades later. This is a right you and I both enjoy. (This is also why we both have time to shitpost on HN.) If there was a serious proposal to take it away, you and I would probably be standing side by side on the street demanding our rights back.

It’s easy to talk a big game about human rights when your rights aren’t on the line.

* Where do you draw the line with what a “human right” is?*

By looking into the declaration of human rights: https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

Which is even more unenforceable than the 4th amendment.

It still has value even if enforcement is imperfect and selective.

In the real world, "rights" are not inalienable. I mean, who among the lower classes wrote the US constitution? Not a single one. That's because it was written by the bourgeoisie who were protecting their interests.

Who do these people, the "United Nations", writing their "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," think they are with declaring union organizing a human right? (https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/ - article 23)

FWIW, You can pick out any other number of declarations of human rights and the right to form and join trade unions is in them. It's very widely considered to be a human right, not some fringe thing.

> If you are paying someone and they are doing something you told them not to do isn’t it your “human right” to stop paying them?

Obviously not. Real-world cases in point:

* Firing people for being queer

* Firing people for objecting to sexual harassment

* Firing people for going to the bathroom

Just to add, most of the bathroom related ones are other employees complaining, not management. Management has to respond to that. This is because US culture insists on separate gender bathrooms.

In the context of Amazon, though, performance quotas are inhumane, warehouses are huge, bathrooms are sparse, so employees aren't able to use the bathroom without taking performance demerits. So you get people passing out due to dehydration because they don't want to need the bathroom.

If Mr. Bezos wants to operate a business in a country, he needs to follow its laws. If he doesn't like them, he can take his business somewhere else.

Easier just to change the law.

Its in the UN declaration of human rights and also if you think about it, in the Declaration of Independence.

"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"

> Its in the UN declaration of human rights

This is, legally speaking, a meaningless document.

So is the Declaration of Independence. So is Matthew 5. What's your point?

His point is it doesn't matter what you are "guaranteed" simply because if the real world was so black and white in regards to how laws were interpreted and followed, we wouldn't be having these arguments.

> What tactics are ok for a company to use to combat unions if it doesn't want them?

In the US they could improve working conditions to the point that employees are happy with the status quo. Unionisation efforts are typically driven by employees who are stressed by unhealthy/unsafe working environments, employee mistreatment, or poor pay. We see the opposite of this in the tech sector, where decent pay, safe environments and plenty of benefits leads to a rather union hostile attitude.

> Or should companies just accept and work with any union that forms?

If we accept that unions act to address the power imbalance between employees and employers and unionisation is mainly driven by employers exploiting that power imbalance then I think it's both good for society and in line with the spirit of the laws that exist in many places that make various forms of union busting illegal.

In most Western countries, workers have a right to form unions.

So yes, companies have to accept it.

At the same time in most Western countries decent working conditions and wages are already mandated by law. I don't know what's the situation in the US but in Europe that means that conditions cannot be horrible to start with if the company acts within the law (which would be expected of a company like Amazon, but maybe I'm optimistic).

Unions are a way to negotiate a better deal than the legal minimum for unskilled labour.

> At the same time in most Western countries decent working conditions and wages are already mandated by law

Are they though? There are a plethora of activist, legal, legislative groups focused on both working conditions (often on narrower groups, like say migrant farm labor) and minimum wage issues would probably argue this.

Obviously working condition protections are much better than they were before 1950s-ish, and the existence of a minimum wage is greater than zero (where applicable). But neither of those inherently meet a bar as fuzzy as "decent".

> here are a plethora of activist, legal, legislative groups focused on both working conditions (often on narrower groups, like say migrant farm labor) and minimum wage issues would probably argue this.

That's right and most of their work in Western Europe is helping workers enforce the law.

Do companies have a right to circulate anti-union material, to have anti-union speakers come to work, etc?

Depends on the country but _tentatively_ yes, America has a infamously anti-union, anti-worker history though so there's significantly more holdover of it actually happening, what most other countries don't have is services like the Pinkertons, previously a literally rifle-armed military/police force for the purposes of seeking out and often murdering union leaders and breaking up strikes by force.

What I was taught was that generally most older countries already had established police forces that wouldn't allow groups like the Pinkertons to exist by the time the union movement came along where America didn't and instead their police actually came _from_ groups like the Pinkertons.

But I'd take that with a grain of salt given that it was second hand summarized information even when I first got it.

It is basically correct that the US police descend from a mixture of slave patrol remnants and strikebusters near the late 19th / beginning of the 20th century (though sometimes in opposition to them, the initial state police ranks were still largely drawn from private police, racist "town watches", and militia forces).

England and the rest of the Anglosphere adopted what are often called "Peelian principles," focused on policing by community consent, 50+ years earlier than that.

Do you have sources on any of these? In the 'defunding' era, I often see this claim about the origins of police but a) it seems unlikely to be generalized (police forces in the Northern states are obviously not derived from "slave patrol remnants" and b) it seems irrelevant since whatever the police was in the past doesn't mean that's what it is today and it doesn't mean the goals or the culture are the same.

In the North, rich merchants socialized the costs of the guards they hired to protect their assets in port cities through municipalization. In the South, that wasn't the case, and the police are direct descendants from slave patrols.

From Time's "How the U.S. Got Its Police Force"[1]:

> The first publicly funded, organized police force with officers on duty full-time was created in Boston in 1838. Boston was a large shipping commercial center, and businesses had been hiring people to protect their property and safeguard the transport of goods from the port of Boston to other places, says Potter. These merchants came up with a way to save money by transferring to the cost of maintaining a police force to citizens by arguing that it was for the “collective good.”

> In the South, however, the economics that drove the creation of police forces were centered not on the protection of shipping interests but on the preservation of the slavery system.

With regard to police originating from strike breakers, that's also true.

> For example, businessmen in the late 19th century had both connections to politicians and an image of the kinds of people most likely to go on strike and disrupt their workforce. So it’s no coincidence that by the late 1880s, all major U.S. cities had police forces. Fears of labor-union organizers and of large waves of Catholic, Irish, Italian, German, and Eastern European immigrants, who looked and acted differently from the people who had dominated cities before, drove the call for the preservation of law and order, or at least the version of it promoted by dominant interests.

[1] https://time.com/4779112/police-history-origins/

heavyset_go has provided a good source for my more general statements but I want to specifically address

> police forces in the Northern states are obviously not derived from "slave patrol remnants"

This is a common misconception that the north was "free" even as the south kept enslaving people. It's true that the north also had other economic forces influencing its policing, but the Fugitive Slave Acts gave plenty of legal cover for anyone wanting to make a buck by finding "escaped slaves" (often just whatever black people they found) in the north.

Yes, they do.

Don't force your workers to work in dangerous conditions with low pay and no voice in their work place, and maybe they wouldn't want to form a union.

What if I don't do any of those things?

What if I run the most worker-centric paradise, with employee empowerment, great wages, benefits and conditions?

And what if the national organization of an umbrella labor organization considers my non-union workforce as a threat to both their budget and their political power? And what if they provide materials and advisors promoting unionization, despite the fact that they are acting in the interest of the union organization itself, and not the workers they hope to represent?

If you “ran” the most worker-centric paradise, you’d be the elected CEO of a co-op where the workers had democratic control of the means of production. In such a place, there’d of course be no need for a union because the workers would have the say in what happens already.

Now your strawman benevolent dictatorship could never exist since you would still be denying workers control over their workplace. Thus they may form a union to fight for that control.

If you are such a wonderful, caring employer what difference would it make if your employees were unionised? I think that part of the problem here is that the history of unions and union busting in the US appears to be one of corruption on both sides; but this is not a necessary or inevitable feature of unionisation.

Sure, that could happen. Are you trying to argue that an employer should have a 100% right to have a union-free workplace?

> What tactics are ok for a company to combat unions?

None. This is a legally protected right.

> None.

This isn't a true statement.

Companies are allowed to argue against unionisation. In the US isn't it even a constitutionally protected right to do so?

There's a huge difference between "argue against" and "actively try to sabotage".

Here (Italy) unionization is a constitutionally protected right. My employer can try to persuade me not to join one, but is absolutely not allowed to retaliate against me if I do, discriminate basing on union membership, etc.

> My employer can try to persuade me not to join one

Yes, and isn't this therefore an example of 'tactics that are ok for a company to combat unions'?

They could do whatever they're doing with their tech workers. Around these parts any talk of unionizing developers is usually meet with skepticism or derision. So whatever big tech is doing is keeping most of their tech workers happy and unwilling to unionize.

They could do the same for their warehouse employees, but that would mean paying them very well and giving good benefits.

Paying them like cost co does its store workers might help

It's not really feasible to pay their box packers $120k / year.

Why would they have to? Tech workers at FAANG are on average paid probably in the 2x-3x range of average in their industry.

I suspect if amazon paid 2x average box packer wages and gave good breaks/benefits, unions wouldn't have much traction there, either.

The parallel isn't crazy (the economics might be, I haven't analyzed)

Nobody is asking that warehouse workers or store clerks be paid ridiculous amounts like $120k/yr, a fair liveable wage will do, failing that a lot of the problems would be resolved if such companies scaled back whatever policies they have that lead to news stories like Amazon workers peeing in bottles because they can't take toilet breaks, but as neither of these things happen you get exploited workers who naturally want to unionise.

It's also not that feasible to pay developers $120k/yr as the rest of the world has found out, America manages it for a number of reasons and because of this you likely won't see developers unionise any time soon even if you guys do have some very questionable contracts.

But it could be feasible to pay them more than a poverty wage. Something where working full-time would reasonably cover housing and food costs (and ideally healthcare as well) without needing government assistance.

That's not really my point. My point is that workers wanting to unionize is not some inevitability that Amazon must be forced to deal with. If their workers are happy they may not want to unionize. I think it's telling that white collar tech workers generally are against unionizing while Amazon's blue collar workers are trying to. So you have workers in the same company, some who feel that it is unnecessary to unionize and some who feel it is.

Think about what you're asking. Replace the word union with "employees talking to each other and negotiating their contracts".

> work with any union that forms

Yes, because why the fuck would you side with the party that has power (the employer) over the side that usually doesn't (the employee)?

Carrots rather than sticks

Do the things that don't make employees want to form a union...such as paying and not overworking them.

> What tactics are ok for a company to use to combat unions if it doesn't want them?

Won't somebody please think of the companies? :'(

I have not seen any convincing evidence that Amazon’s warehouses have “terrible working conditions”, do you have a source that might change my opinion?

The Center for Investigative Reporting has, through its online publication Reveal, covered Amazon for quite some time - especially with respect to injuries. See:


A search for "Amazon working conditions injuries" on DDG or Google will return many of those, but also follow-ups by many media houses considered to be reasoned/reliable, rather than rabid and ranting.

Anecdotal, perhaps, but these anecdotes are there in significant numbers.

>people who are forced to work in Amazon's warehouses with terrible working conditions

It really sucks that we decided to bring back indentured servitude. Good thing those unions are there to help the worker and not just some parasitic middleman who sees an opportunity.

> the people who are forced to work in Amazon's warehouses with terrible working conditions don't have that luxury.

Who is forced to work in Amazon's warehouses? Is Amazon rounding up people with guns everyday to make them work there?

You live in a small town with small businesses that are undercut by Amazon's price and scale. Those businesses slowly die out as everyone in your region switches to ordering online (primarily from Amazon). Amazon opens a warehouse in the region to meet the demand and is now the largest employer around.

This exact transformation already happened with Wal-Mart in the 80s and 90s. Obviously no one is literally forcing workers to go to Amazon's warehouses but you can see how in essence this leaves them with no choice (i.e. forced).

I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart around 2009 and haven't bought anything of Amazon's website since 2016 (I still bought Whole Foods and Woot for a bit, but I've cut those out too).

Newegg is a better place for parts, why use the Amazon stores for B&H and Adorama when you can .. just go to the websites for B&H and Adorama?!

I wrote this a while back. Amazon's has turned into a platform that's basically killed all the other parts sites and competition we use to have:


Do you have any evidence that Amazon has decreased overall employment? To me it is totally plausible that with the convenience of online shopping they have increased the overall “retail pie” and have not taken away from local businesses. So I would prefer when you make claims about how small business are dying out because of Amazon you provide evidence

I should have prefixed that this is drawing heavily on what I remember reading about Walmart and their effect on rural/suburban economies when they expanded. In that sense it is conjecture on my part as I'm not drawing on any studies about Amazon in particular. I only wanted to show how large corporations that compete directly with small retail employers can get an unfair advantage against their labour force.

Your theory could obviously be valid as well.

My life was transformed with the growth of WalMart and Amazon.

The quality, variety, convenience and price of goods available to me all improved. The Mom and Pop who had been financing their lifestyle on the backs of the rural poor were forced out of business. I feel a little bad for them, but it seems wrong to elevate them over the rest of the population.

I don't think anyone here will disagree with you. They're just saying that this new system brings its own problems. Namely heightened labor monopsony. That doesn't mean we have to go back to mom and pop systems, but it probably does mean we should work on solving the new problems.

As Colin says, I don't disagree. I don't think twice about ordering an item on Amazon for $2 that a hardware store downstairs sells for $5. I understand why the store's margins need to be that high but I also need to make sound financial decisions and don't make enough to subsidize anyone else. At the end of the day I'm still contributing to Amazon's growth at the expense of a more fragmented market of small businesses.

Most of the world's natural resources and land have already been claimed. This means that most people have no choice but to work for the people who control those resources and land.

Not only that, land that once belonged to the people was privatized during the Industrial Revolution in order to create a landless class of people that needed to work in the new factories in order to eat. It was hard to convince people to work in them otherwise.

Land belonging to the people is a horrible system that creates huge inefficiencies due to moral hazard. If you look at the agricultural revolution in Europe, a major reason for increased crop yields was private property. Incentives matter.

You point to efficiency, but to achieve that efficiency, people were driven off of land that their families had lived on for millennia in order to create a class of people that were desperate enough to risk their lives and limbs, and their children's lives and limbs, in dangerous factories for wages they couldn't sustain themselves with.

Millions of people went from self-sufficiency to being desperately poor and without homes because their land was privatized by governments that were in cahoots with industrialists.

I don't think that makes it just that people have no opportunity to work for themselves or be payed a fair wage working for someone else.

Please. It's the only option available to a lot of people anymore especially with COVID shutdowns but it's part of a larger shift to a knowledge-economy. There aren't many jobs for unskilled workers anymore and getting skills is too expensive for the poor. Ignoring that reality is ridiculous and only proves you don't argue in good faith.

Getting the credentials is too expensive. Skills are nearly free. Most industries run on credentials. It's an important distinction.

They'll get there, be patient.

Can I just point out that I think the "horrible working conditions" things is a little played up.

You want to know terrible working conditions dancing with a sign for 5 hours a day in the sun when it's 90+. I did that for 3 years and was happy to do the job, mind you this was only 10 years ago so it isn't forever. I made 7.50 an hour. I would've killed to get a job at amazon back then.

People are getting payed $16 that is incredible for an unskilled labor position.

> People are getting payed $16 that is incredible for an unskilled labor position.

That's one view, but it's only informed by "the way things are". Another view is based on the way things should be, that no one should have to work for less than the wage it takes to live a reasonable life. https://livingwage.mit.edu/ offers values for this.

I don't see why someone should work full time and still end up poor.

>I don't see why someone should work full time and still end up poor.

no offense, but this assumes too much about a person. you could make minimum wage $100 an hour, and there will still be poor people because some people make bad decisions. (not even taking into account that that would cause massive inflation etc). just giving a person $100 an hour doesn't guarantee they won't end up poor, as evidence by all the professional athletes that made millions and ended up bankrupt

another note, your link above gives massively different outcomes based on life situations (1 adult, 2 adult, 0-3+ kids etc). Do we need to make minimum wage such that it works for 1 adult with 5 kids who somehow got there with no skills whatsoever such that they are still working for minimum wage? Some people make poor choices in life, and we can't just raise minimum wage to a point that makes up for that. It's simply not possible.

Now, we can talk about other safety nets, such as a universal basic income, and universal healthcare, etc which I'm 100% for. The gov't should help these people, they shouldn't force small businesses to pay people more than the value they bring to the business. This is just picking winners, amazon will get bigger, and small businesses will get killed. Let the free market decide how much people are worth in the market to a business, and let gov't help keep people out of poverty.

If a business can’t afford to pay its workers a living wage it can’t afford to exist.

Why should the government have to bail out business that can’t afford to operate?

they can afford to operate. workers have agreed to do the job for the price set today. you want to raise that number arbitrarily, which they can't afford.

This thread is very specifically about how Amazon workers have agreed to do the job for a certain price, and how Amazon is trying to stop that process from proceeding. Even by your own perception of the situation, Amazon is in the wrong.

People being able to feed and house themselves and their children is arbitrary?

That “agreement” to work for the current price is compelled by the threat of hunger and homelessness. It is not a fair and free agreement when one party has all of the power.

The very very very very least a company could do is pay all of their workers a living wage.

32K a year is poor?

World average is 18K, that's adjusted for purchasing power parity. 32K is at least 2nd quintile, maybe top. Poland is a little less than 32K average, Japan is around 38K, OECD data from 2019. Somewhere between Japan and Poland is where the average worker starts to be poor. Interesting.

And that is at the present time, every generation going back to the invention of agriculture had it worse. Someone making 32K a year - PPP adjusted - is in what, the top few percent of all humans that have ever lived? Poor bastard. Learn to code.

In the same way that if everything is about politics, nothing is about politics, if everyone is poor, no one is poor. And if these people aren't making a living wage while making what the top few percent of humans have ever made, how did our ancestors manage to live and have children on a sub-living wage? Shouldn't they have died out?

I think in this case, "living wage" is just a propaganda term. "Poor" is too I guess. I guess maybe that propaganda term works on people, "living wage". It seems to be effective propaganda, seems to be working. I just cringe every time I read it. Adjusted for inflation, I made $7 an hour working in a factory. Decades later you're going to tell me that isn't a living wage, more than twice what I made back then wasn't a living wage? Was I lucky to survive?

That's bullshit by the technical definition of bullshit, and its propaganda.

Anyway, these arguments usually split people into two camps, people who worked warehouse or factory jobs before, and people who haven't.

> I don't see why someone should work full time and still end up poor.

Then focus on the right problem which is cost of living.

Focusing on salary doesn't fix the problem when you have markets that are heavily housing constrained and massive government meddling in education and healthcare that drive up the cost of both well in excess of inflation.

Increasing wages without addressing housing shortages, just puts more money in the pockets of landlords as those higher wages drive up rents.

Whether someone gets $1 or $2 matters not if you can buy the same amount of stuff with it.

In the overwhelming majority places in the country $16/hour is decent amount that goes a long way. That's over $40k at 50 hours a week. That's enough to live on your own in most places. If you have roommates, it goes even further.

The problem isn't the $16. It's the circumstances in very very few geographic markets where $16/hour isn't enough because cost of living is out of control in those few markets.

I worked in a factory building car bumpers. The work was so alienating that one day I "woke up" in the factory with literally no recollection of the last 2 hours. From all I knew I could have been taken by ETs but since my bumper quota was good I guess I just zoned out and became a bot.

And I still call Amazon "horrible working conditions".

The fact that it is better than being poor isn't saying much.

$16 per hour, at 2000 hours a year, is $32,000. The poverty line in the United States is around $26,000. "Slightly above poverty wages" is still pretty dang poor.

(And to forestall the inevitable adjustment of one's pince-nez to well-actually: that it'd be median or even above-median wages somewhere else does not mean that it is not poor in America, nor that the two situations can be reasonably compared.)

The purpose of the poverty line isn’t to demarcate who is poor and who is not.

It’s purpose is to establish a level at which poverty is 100% ensured.

Being below the poverty line means you are certainly poor. Being slightly above the poverty line means you are very probably poor.

My first job in IT was back in 2005 and I was only making $25k/yr ($30k by the end). That did grow to the point where I can make six figures now though. But it took a lot of experience building.

What tracks are available for Amazon warehouse workers who want to move up?

I’ve been living in my car in SF for about 915 days, on less than $18k/yr take home. I’m so poor that I can barely get hired to a minimum wage job (“but you have a car,” “but you have an iPhone”). Everything I have is left over from a time when I made $200k/yr as a software engineer, and thankfully I’ve been given a lot of benefit of the doubt given my upstanding ways. (I was slandered, so people I meet see a good guy but when I interview they’re told of a violent bigot during the reference check, false).

I’m working on a book, or books, on the subject. It seems surprising to people that something happens called poverty with less than a certain level of income, that makes things get extremely hard and require great care to recover from. I was on track to get off the street and nearly did last year but faced a setback, and the pandemic threw a big wrench in my system this year (which is adapting, harder mode). My working budget has been $55/day or $375/wk or $18k/yr.

I went to your blog and listened to your post on "Interviewing Without Resources" and it feels like a non sequitur.

It felt like you see yourself as a victim. I've been out of work before, but I never saw myself as a victim or powerless. I knew what I was worth and yes, it does take a lot of work, but I found work based on my own skills and merits.

America is increasingly growing into a nation where we cloth ourselves in victimhood as virtue. We are literally in a space where no-body is in the office today. You could pick up a $130 ~ $160k job anywhere and move out to a suburb in Texas. All you need is half-decent Internet, and you'd basically be living as if you were making the $200k you had in The Valley.

Stand up for yourself. If you only see yourself as a victim, that is all you will ever be.

> America is increasingly growing into a nation where we cloth ourselves in victimhood as virtue. We are literally in a space where no-body is in the office today. You could pick up a $130 ~ $160k job anywhere and move out to a suburb in Texas. All you need is half-decent Internet, and you'd basically be living as if you were making the $200k you had in The Valley.

You're talking to someone who is homeless, who probably hasn't been able to bathe in a while given the pandemic, and who is probably wearing clothes that they've slept in for several years now.

Yes, there are employers that will hire people literally off the street, but they aren't hiring for $130-$160k IT jobs, they're hiring for manual labor jobs without benefits that are probably off the books and can't offer steady hours.

You've been slandered by whom?

"You are unreasonable for calling out a bad thing, since I can conceive of an even worse thing."

It’s not unrelated, when talking about pay and working conditions it’s all relative to the rest of the economy and sits in that context, pointing out other parts of that context is perfectly relevant (though it obviously can’t paint a complete picture).

We should of course be mindful of whataboutism when discussing these things but I think it’s a good idea to consider the economic and social context when talking about these issues, they don’t exist in a vacuum.

The discussion is about Amazon hiring Pinkerton operatives to spy on employees suspected of organizing even when they are off work. This was an interview with the journalist who broke the story as a continuation. [1]

Deflecting criticism with "some workers have even more upsetting conditions than these" doesn't help either party, moreover it actually shuts down an important discussion relevant to both. We shouldn't tolerate any business crushing dissent the way Amazon does; that's what is being discussed here.

[1] https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dp3yn/amazon-leaked-reports...

I'm not talking about deflecting the conversation or shutting down discussions, nor am I even taking a side here (personally I don't have enough information about this topic to have an opinion). I just don't agree with pretending like the relationship between employers and employees exists in an isolated cultural/economic bubble. There are many ways it can inform what actions we should take--at the very least it lets us know if this is a systemic problem or an isolated one, which alone could dramatically change what course of action to take.

My point is that if we are interested in helping people in geniuly terrible working conditions there are plenty of people who have it far worse than those at Amazon and those should be the focus of these efforts and outrage rather than people making $16 an hour in moderately decent conditions.

People can care about multiple issues at the same time.

This discussion isn't explicitly about the working conditions of Amazon, it is about the highly unethical methods they use to crush dissent and workers organizing, namely the leaked documents that detail actions including the spying on workers suspected of organizing even outside of work by the Pinkertons.

This isn't the 19th century, this deeply upsetting and unconscionable behavior should not be tolerated in the 21st century.

How about we let those Amazon workers help themselves and form a union?

It is incredibly played up.

10 years ago, warehouse conditions were the same or worse as they are now except you would be lucky to get $16/hr without a forklift operator certification or some other credential that made it more than just 'unskilled labor'

And ~160 years ago we had literal slavery, doesn't mean that people's working conditions currently are good, just because others were bad or even are still currently bad

> You want to know terrible working conditions dancing with a sign for 5 hours a day in the sun when it's 90+.

While dancing with a sign in the sun does lead to heat exhaustion risks, it's unlikely to lead to permanent disability, which seems like the inevitable outcome of working at an Amazon warehouse for too long.


> On June 10, the Oregon Health Authority announced a COVID-19 outbreak at Amazon's Troutdale warehouse that has now lasted 25 weeks and infected 97 people with the virus, making it one of the largest workplace outbreaks in Oregon.

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