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<nettime> the spirit of the web (fwd)

Sind Gewerkschaftsdinge fituggemaess ? Oder ist das eher eine

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2000 23:27:09 -0500
From: Ana Viseu <aviseu@oise.utoronto.ca>
To: nettime-l@bbs.thing.net
Subject: <nettime> the spirit of the web

[This is a very interesting article from the NYTimes on Amazon.com who is
trying to fight off the creation of a union amongs its workers. The
tacticts used are quite explicit and frankly quite shocking. It seems that
after all that 'spirit' of the 'new economy' in which a youngster who sets
up a business, gets rich and creates this wonderful office with a
horizontal, flexible hierarchy and full of leisure/recreational activities
for its employees is not happening at all, instead history seems to repeat
itself, and so does the new(old) economy.  This article reminded me of the
interview which Saramago gave to El Pais in which he talks about the job
insecurity as one of the major threats of the pretty dim future. Saramago
describes this type of threat as a paralysing one, that leaves no place
for (re)action, and least for a collective one. Pessimism about the future
(and today) is becoming a very present issue, reflected in literary works
of all sorts, for example, Lessig's 'code' book, Borsook's 'cyberselfish',
and Lightman's 'diagnosis'. Personaly I tend to agree. Best. Ana]

By Steven Greenhouse; 2000, November 29; NYTimes

Amazon Fights Union Activity

Amazon.com has come out swinging in its fight to stop a new unionization
drive, telling employees that unions are a greedy, for-profit business and
advising managers on ways to detect when a group of workers is trying to
back a union.

A section on Amazon's internal Web site gives supervisors antiunion
material to pass on to employees, saying that unions mean strife and
possible strikes and that while unions are certain to charge expensive
dues, they cannot guarantee improved wages or benefits.

The Web site advises managers on warning signs that a union is trying to
organize. Among the signs that Amazon notes are "hushed conversations when
you approach which have not occurred before," and "small group huddles
breaking up in silence on the approach of the supervisor."

Other warning signs, according to the site, are an increase in complaints,
a decrease in quality of work, growing aggressiveness and dawdling in the
lunchroom and restrooms.

Amazon, one of the leaders in electronic retailing, has stepped up its
antiunion activities the last week after two unions and an independent
organizing group announced plans to speed efforts to unionize Amazon
during the holiday e-shopping rush. The organizing drive is the most
ambitious one ever undertaken in the high- technology sector, where the
nation's labor movement has yet to establish a foothold.

The Communications Workers of America has undertaken a campaign to
unionize 400 customer-service representatives in Seattle, where Amazon is
based. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Prewitt
Organizing Fund, an independent organizing group, are seeking to unionize
some 5,000 workers at Amazon's eight distribution centers across the
country. The unionization drive has gained momentum because many workers
are upset about layoffs at Amazon last January and about the sharp drop in
the value of their stock options.

One chapter on Amazon's internal Web site, which provides a rare internal
glimpse at how a company is fighting off a union, is headlined, "Reasons a
Union is Not Desirable."

"Unions actively foster distrust toward supervisors," the Web site says.  
"They also create an uncooperative attitude among associates by leading
them to think they are `untouchable' with a union."

The Web site, which calls the company's workers associates, adds: "Unions
limit associate incentives. Merit increases are contrary to union

A union supporter who insisted on anonymity and acknowledged seeking to
embarrass the company over its antiunion campaign made a copy of the Web
site material available to The New York Times. Amazon officials confirmed
that the material came from the company's Web site.

Patty Smith, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the main purpose of the Web site
material was to tell supervisors what they can do to oppose a union and
what actions by managers violate laws barring retaliation against workers
who support unionization.

For instance, the Web site said supervisors could tell workers that the
company preferred to deal with them directly, rather than through an
outside organization.

It also said supervisors could tell workers about the benefits they enjoy.  
As for the don'ts, the Web site warns supervisors not to threaten workers
with firings or reduce income or discontinue any privileges to any union

Ms. Smith declined to name the lawyers the company had hired to work on
the material.

Union leaders said in interviews yesterday that their organizing drive was
going somewhat worse than they had expected largely because of the
unexpected aggressiveness of Amazon's antiunion efforts. Over the last two
weeks, managers have held a half-dozen "all hands" meetings for customer
service workers in Seattle, where managers have argued how unionizing
would be bad for Amazon.

Marcus Courtney, co-founder of the Washington Alliance of Technological
Workers, an affiliate of the communications workers' union, said, "This
shows how Amazon, despite its public statements that this is a decision we
let our employees make themselves and we trust them to make the right
decisions, all these meetings and the internal Web site and their manuals
show that Amazon management is trying to take this basic democratic
decision away from the workers and make it themselves."

Ms. Smith denied that the company was not letting workers make up their
own minds. "We hired intelligent and dedicated employees, and we trust
them to make decisions about what's best for their future," she said. "But
obviously we don't believe a union is best for their future or our

In large, bold letters, the Web site tells supervisors: "A union promotes
and thrives upon problems between supervisors and employees. Front- line
supervisors who deal effectively with associate problems avoid associates
believing they need a union."

Duane Stillwell, president of the Prewitt Organizing Fund, said: "It's
unfortunate that this vaunted high- tech company is just saying the same
crude things that factory owners have been saying for 100 years about
unions. They're just scaring people out of wanting to do the right thing."

Tudo vale a pena se a alma nao e pequena.

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