Seattle anarchist paper The Transmetropolitian Review looks at continued acts of defiance and resistance to Amazon.
Who would wish to reappropriate nuclear power plants, Amazon’s warehouses, the expressways, ad agencies, high-speed trains…auditing firms, nanotechnologies, supermarkets and their poisonous merchandise? Who imagines a people’s takeover of industrial farming operations where a single man plows 400 hectares of eroded ground at the wheel of his megatractor piloted via satellite? No one with any sense.
-The Invisible Committee, Now, 2017
Setting The Stage
Since we last wrote about Amazon, the situation has grown much worse. Just over a year ago, we released our eighth IRL issue, subtitled The Amazon Issue. It was our most popular print issue and we could barely keep up with the demand at our usual distro-points (cafes, bars, corners-stores, etc.), a reminder that physical newspapers could still have an impact, even in tech-saturated Seattle. The issue was released just before the 2018 May Day march and accompanied several other initiatives aimed at making Amazon the focus of popular anger.
On the day of the demonstration, all of the left seemed united against the corporation and its demented overlord Jeff Bezos, with even the mega-unions taking a stand (albeit a limited one). Of all the actions taken against Amazon on May 1st, 2018, it was a lone woman from Tacoma who brought us the most joy. Dressed all in black, her face covered in a mask, and with no one to help her, this woman ran up to Jeff Bezos’ little balls (the Amazon Spheres) and smashed out one of its over-priced panes of glass, ultimately leading to her arrest. Once this action hit the media, even the corrupt and boot-licking Stranger newspaper called on the state governor to pardon her, a first for this pro-capitalist publication. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine The Stranger supporting an anarchist, which just goes to show how widely this popular anger at Amazon had spread across Seattle.
Smashing the Bezos Balls
Between 2017 and 2018, we decided to focus all of our efforts against Amazon after bald-headed Bezos announced his Hunger Games-style contest where different North American cities would grovel for the chance to host his Amazon HQ2. Having experienced first-hand what HQ1 did to Seattle (detailed in a previous article), we were more than fired-up to ruin the man-child’s happy-fun-time. While this might seem like an easy task in mid-2019, it certainly wasn’t. Thanks to Donald Trump, our efforts in 2017 were met with both liberal hostility and leftist ambivalence. With the president constantly attacking Amazon and Bezos in his tweets, our efforts were seen as either Republican Party agent-provocateur-ism or proof we were secret Russian agents. Given that Bezos owned The Washington Post, one of the most outspoken anti-Trump media outlets, we were clearly out to undermine the liberal “resistance” by attacking the Amazon CEO. Given that Trump was in an all-out feud with the CIA, a long-time friend and ally of Amazon, we were obviously working with the president by critiquing Amazon and the CIA. If you think this sounds stupid, you’re definitely using your brain.
Despite this absurd level of resistance to our efforts, the tide began to turn during the spring of 2018. As the grovelling competition for HQ2 became more obviously pathetic, rebels in different cities began to catch on to the smell of bullshit. The first city outside of Seattle to initiate hostilities was Atlanta, and within a few months their efforts had garnered news-headlines, generalized disquiet, and channeled popular discontent against the Amazon leviathan. By then, major strike-waves had hit Amazon fulfillment centers in Europe, reminding us all that direct resistance was possible at the companies main logistic choke-points, its most vulnerable locations. There were a few instances of direct action and agitation around Seattle-area fulfillment centers, along with a few fruitless efforts toward infiltrating these places of work, but they largely went nowhere.
Amazon protest, Spain, March 2018
Outside of the mega-unions, there are few groups capable or willing to organize the Amazon fulfillment centers, a seemingly daunting task. While certain workers in Minnesota and New York have recently met with some success, there simply isn’t enough time to form militant worker’s organizations inside the fulfillment centers before they’re completely automated. At best, the IWW might create a few anti-capitalist locals strong enough to disrupt the shipping network, while the mega-unions might still be capable of raising wages for the last humans still employed in these warehouses. Regardless, the proverbial clock is now ticking upwards to midnight, and the future we’ve all dreaded is swiftly approaching. But we’ll get to that later, after the headlines.
Against the possibility of communism, against any possibility of happiness, there stands a hydra with two heads. On the public stage each one of them makes a show of being the sworn enemy of the other. On one side, there is the program for the fascistic restoration of unity, and on the other, there is the global power of the merchants of infrastructure—Google as much as Vinci, Amazon as much as Veolia. Those who believe that it’s one or the other will have them both. Because the great builders of infrastructure have the means for which the fascists only have the folkloric discourse.
-The Invisible Committee, Now, 2017
Opening The Curtain
After the May Day 2018 demonstrations had come and gone over the streets of Seattle, it was clear that Amazon was now seen as a public-enemy far outside anarchist circles. Anger against the HQ2 was rising from city to city, along with dozens of voices critiquing Amazon’s ruthless practices. In this moment, the leftists politicians of the Seattle City Council made their final stand against Lord Bezos and his greedy minions. Summoning every ounce of their spines, these elected officials passed a head-tax on the major corporations in the city, including Amazon, a law that would have generated revenue to build affordable housing for low-income and homeless residents. For a brief moment, it seemed like electoral-democracy had pulled a coup on us anarchists, proving that voting still mattered in the corrupt United States and affirming that leftists politicians could restrain the scrupulous tech-companies. Their hopes were quickly dashed.
All it took to cancel this tax was Amazon pausing construction on one of its HQ1 skyscrapers, a move that threw the conservative trade-unions into a frenzy. In an ill-fated photo-op, the socialist City Council-woman and her party held a protest rally outside the glass Bezos Balls, only to be met by a counter-rally of hard-hat wearing construction workers. This spectacle of socialists vs. workers was enough to explode the heavy contradictions in the air, dooming the taxation effort. Soon enough, the leftists in City Council withdrew from the battlefield, canceled the head-tax, and hung their heads in defeat. While some of the more pathetic Seattle liberals droned on about “damaging the anti-Trump resistance,” it became clear to many naive leftists that democracy didn’t stand a chance against Amazon. Although this hyper-local episode might not have registered amid the national static, its implications were felt deeply within the Democratic Party establishment.
In November 2018, the long awaited results of the HQ2 contest were announced. Members of our editorial collective had privately predicted that Amazon would build its new facility near the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, a logical move related solely to infrastructure. As one intrepid journalist from The Atlantic exposed, Amazon had already built a handful of anonymous data centers near spook-central, a site positioned in between where some of the main trans-Atlantic fiber-optic cables make landfall, allowing the CIA (and other agencies) to took scoop up massive amounts of internet traffic. By most accounts, Amazon Web Services account for at least 1/3 of all internet traffic in the US, while more recent estimates put this number closer to ½, if not higher.
Amazon data center near CIA HQ
Similarly, the location of HQ1 in Seattle was not chosen at random, it was selected for its proximity to a main fiber-optic node located below the twin-cylinders of the Westin Hotel, just a few blocks from HQ1. Long famous for gracing the cover of a Modest Mouse album, this hotel hosts one of the most important nodes of the internet and has long been a public secret across Seattle. According to a handy Wikileaks mapof Amazon facilities posted in 2018, a portion of this node belongs to the company under the name SEA4. Given all of this information, it was no surprise that Arlington, Virginia was chosen as the site of HQ2.
What did surprise us was Amazon announcing there were two lucky winners of the HQ2 contest. Not only would Arlington be graced with an economic atom-bomb, but Queens, New York would also be subjected to Amazon’s merciless gentrification and displacement. While cities like Atlanta breathed a sigh of relief, Queens braced itself for the impending invasion, although it didn’t throw in the towel and admit instant defeat (like Seattle). For the next months, radicals of various stripes began a campaign to block the HQ2 in Queens and prevent their community from being destroyed, an effort which made headlines across the US and inspired everyone who’d seen their own cities destroyed by the tech-leviathans. In the midst of these efforts, a scandal suddenly rocked Amazon and catapulted its deranged sultan into the media spotlight: Jeff Bezos had been cheating on his wife, Mackenzie Bezos.
Protest against Amazon HQ2, NY, 2019
While it might seem inconsequential, this affair had major implications. Firstly, it signaled that Jeff Bezos would soon lose the dubious distinction of being the richest man on Earth, given that Washington State divorce laws entitled his wife to half their fortune (making her the fourth richest woman on Earth). Secondly, Mackenzie Bezos had famously defended her husband when the book-length hit-piece The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazonwas published in 2013, an expose that unveiled the disgusting history of Jeff Bezos and Amazon. His loyal wife gave the book a one-star review on Amazon and claimed her husband was a good man in the review, an assertion she possibly came to regret. In January 2019, it was revealed that Jeff Bezos had been having an affair with Lauren Sanchez, a television host for the Fox network. Shortly before this revelation became public, Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos announced their divorce in a joint statement, hoping the scandalous affair wouldn’t reach the media, although the National Enquirer had different ideas.
This media-organ owned by a long-time friend of Donald Trump quickly published details of the affair, along with creepy texts from Lord Bezos where he referred to Lauren Sanchez as “alive girl.” In addition to leaking lurid selfies and partial dick-pics sent from the idiot man-child, the National Enquirer made Jeff Bezos the laughing-stock of the media and set off a political battle which included private detectives, Donald Trump, the Washington Post, and the Democratic Party. The liberal anti-Trump “resistance” tried to make Jeff Bezos into a victim of pro-Trump forces, an effort which was mildly successful, given the majority of the media coverage. Despite trying to pass himself off as the victim of right-wing blackmailing and extortion, King Bezos was still forced to read the writing on the wall and realize he was widely hated, along with his beloved Amazon.
While screen-shots of his imbecilic sexts were still circulating the internet, Amazon announced it was pulling out of the HQ2 deal in Queens. On February 14, 2018, the company stated on its blog that “a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project.” Although the long and patient work required to scuttle this deal came from community organizations and radical groups, it was easier for Amazon to blame the politicians, thereby catapulting them to fame. Most notable among them was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), a Democratic Socialist and senator for the Democratic Party. As the organizers of the anti-Amazon campaign celebrated their victory, AOC was made into a spectacular villain or hero, depending on who you asked. In either case, responsibility for scuttling the deal was placed on her shoulders, not the people who made it happen.
For us editors, the victory in Queens was inspiring and joyful, especially after what we witnessed in Seattle. It was certainly gratifying to see the Democratic Party mayor of NYC and the Democratic Party governor of New York squirm like maggots when the deal fell through, but our joy was cut short when AOC willfully basked in the spotlight, thereby bolstering her electoral ideology and recuperating an autonomous anti-Amazon initiative that had taken almost two years to build. Ever since she famously championed her time as a bar-tender, it was clear that AOC existed solely to salvage the conception of fair-capitalism and instill her fellow millenials with the delusional hope that, if they only worked hard enough bar-tending, they could not only become a senator and “change the system,” they might even become an astronaut. In this regard, she represents the last chance for a dying Democratic Party establishment to reinvigorate capitalism and make it more youthful, hip, and able to tweet like a pro. Just because our opponents in the right-wing of capitalism despise someone like AOC, it doesn’t mean we should all support AOC and her left-wing of capitalism, especially when both sides want her to be the focus of everyone’s attention. Now that we’ve become sufficiently distracted from the issue at hand, it’s time to move on to the most disturbing part of this article.
Taking The Stage
From the extreme left to the extreme right, there’s no lack of bullshitters who endlessly promise us “a return to full employment”…It’s now necessary to be able to monitor en masse all our activities, all our communications, all our gestures, to place cameras and sensors everywhere, because wage-earning discipline no longer suffices for controlling the population. It’s only to a population totally under control that one can dream of offering a universal basic income.
-The Invisible Committee, Now, 2017
While the residents of Queens were able to stop the Amazon invasion, their peers in Arlington weren’t so lucky. Queens has long been a rebellious place and NYC still hosts thousands of radicals, as it has for over a century, making this region more resistant to blatant colonization. This wasn’t the case for Arlington, Virginia, a city that had the unfortunate reputation of hosting the Pentagon, which isn’t exactly a bastion of resistance. A coalition of local radicals organized to oppose this deal, but their efforts hardly stood a chance in this highly militarized hell-scape. Since the HQ2 deal was announced, housing costs in Arlington have risen close to 20%, while home vacancies dropped by nearly 50%, fulfilling all the predictions made by critics of HQ2. With the deal finalized, Amazon will soon move into a new luxury micro-city called National Landing, positioned just south of the Pentagon and across the river from Washington DC. Conveniently for Jeff Bezos, his new HQ is close to the Washington Post and within driving distance of his new DC home. From here, he can more easily masturbate to screenshots of Donald Trump’s tweets and stare longingly at the White House.
With the bald-headed scumbag now dreaming of becoming the president, his dick-pics still floating across the web, and his former wife having left him to his misery, Jeff Bezos has now gone into full-psychotic-overdrive. His first move after this series of disasters was to attend his very own MARS Conference in March 2019, a symposium dedicated to Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics, and Space. At this annual invite-only event, Jeff Bezos flew around in an octo-copter, played beer-pong with a robot, giggled at crop-pollinating drones, salivated to Lockheed Martin space-engines, and gazed in wonder at all the luxury gizmos he can afford to buy.
Bezos giggling at drone, MARS Conference, 2019
This MARS Conference has been held since 2016, and at each opening Jeff Bezos has done something cringe-worthy: in 2017, he piloted a massive robot and flexed it arms, while in 2018 he went on a stroll with a war-dog from Boston Dynamics. He was a bit more restrained in 2019, most likely from all the media attention, although this years attendees included Mark Hamill, famous for playing Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films. He wouldn’t be the last Hollywood celebrity to suck up to Bezos in the coming months.
At this MARS conference, off-world-colonization was a major topic of discussion, given its little Jeff’s main obsession. His space company, Blue Origin, has successfully launched eleven of its reusable New Shepard rockets, paving the way for its first human crews. Over the years, Bezos has pumped billions of dollars into this space-colonization effort while ruthlessly exploiting his workers down here on Earth. As he makes plans to charge millionaires $300,000 for a few minutes in his spacecraft, his warehouse workers can barely afford to pay their rent. If you think this sounds horrible, keep reading.
Faced with mounting pressure from all sides, Bezos reluctantly agreed to pay his US fulfillment center workers $15 an hour in October 2018, although this seemed to piss off the tyrannical sociopath. Over the next months, he secretly accelerated his plans to fully automate the Amazon fulfillment centers by bringing more robots into the facilities. In a despicable yet typical move, Bezos instructed his underling to contact the media on April 30th, 2019 and announce that fully robotisized fulfillment centers were a decade away.
Able to breath easy knowing the public was placated, Jeff Bezos then went on to attend his very own invite-only event in Washington DC on May 9th, 2019, where he unveiled Blue Origin’s first lunar lander, signaling his intentions to use the moon as a stepping stone to colonize outer-space. As he described his colonial vision, Bezos said “you’re going to have whole industries. There are going to be thousands of future companies doing this work. A whole system of entrepreneurial activity, unleashed. Creative people coming up with new ideas about how to use space. Earth ends up zoned residential and light industry. It’ll be a beautiful place to live, it’ll be a beautiful place to visit, it’ll be a beautiful place to go to college, and do some light industry.” While admitting that the limitless growth and toxic pollution of capitalism are incompatible with a healthy planet, Bezos concluded that humans simply needed to extend that same limitless growth into space. As he asked the audience, “do we want stasis and rationing or do we want dynamism and growth? This is an easy choice. We know what we want.” While we obviously find this logic sickening, we clearly weren’t alone.
Mock-up of Amazon space-station, Blue Origin, 2019
Shortly after this disgusting conference in Washington DC, two anonymous Amazon corporate employees contacted Reuters and revealed Amazon’s secret plans to robotisize its fulfillment centers. According to these anonymous sources, Amazon has been installing boxing-machines that package commodities five time faster than a human. While the initial job losses in the US would be less than 2,000, the sources claimed that Amazon plans to vastly increase the number of robots. It’s unclear why these corporate employees leaked this information, but the announcement came less than two weeks after Amazon claimed full-automation was at least a decade away. In a panic, Amazon made a promise that same day to give $10,000 dollars to any of its warehouse employees who wanted to quit, but only if they pledged to start their own delivery company. With the leaked information now revealing that thousands would soon lose their jobs, Amazon had no choice but to dangle the promise of another job, this time delivering Amazon packages rather than sorting and boxing them. Instead of depending on the US Postal Service, UPS, or FedEX, the company now wants thousands of small contractors to hustle back and forth from the Amazon fulfillment centers.
As was stated in one of our previous critiques of Amazon, efforts to unionize these fulfillment centers are most likely doomed. By the time any organization forms a substantial block among the workforce, these facilities will no longer require humans. Unions in Europe have made the most advances in this regard and have staged numerous work-stoppages, although they’ve still been unable to achieve even moderate gains for their members. This leaves the delivery drivers as the final human workforce capable of sabotaging Amazon’s fulfillment network, but only if they’re organized under an anarchist union with the objective of destroying the company, not merely subsisting off its wages.
We don’t want to discount this possibility, but we also don’t want to impart any false hope. It would take a concerted effort to create an anarcho-communist union big enough to destroy Amazon and require months if not years to build the necessary membership. Amazon is a techno-fascist entity that needs to be taken down immediately, just as its overlord is a demented capitalist psycho-path who needs to be stopped, and its highly likely that unionism is not the way to accomplish these objectives. Amazon poses an existential threat to all free people on the Earth and plans to extend its ruler’s vision into space. To stop these techno-fascist schemes before they come to fruition, we need to act directly. Thanks to Amazon’s relentless expansion, its facilities are now everywhere, and as some anarchists stated decades ago, the secret is to really begin.
Burning The Stage
The revolutionary gesture no longer consists in a simple violent appropriation of this world; it divides into two. On the one hand, there are worlds to be made, forms of life made to grow apart from what reigns, including by salvaging what can be salvaged from the present state of things, and on the other, there is the imperative to attack, to simply destroy the world of capital.
-The Invisible Committee, Now, 2017
Without going into too much detail, we can confidently state that robotisization will create a level of unemployment unseen since the planetary recession of the 1920s-30s, only much bigger. We don’t know exactly what it will look like, but everyone seems to agree its effects will be massive and profound. Amazon is one of the main promoters of this shift, and its market dominance is now being challenged by governments in Europe and the US. While the European Council President Donald Tusk recently called Amazon and the tech giants “an uncontrolled, spontaneous empire,” his counterparts in the US are now moving to use an anti-trust investigation to break up the tech-giantsbefore popular anger grows to vast for them to control. Incidentally, the last time the US federal government broke apart big corporations was when the international anarchist movement was at its greatest strength.
Alexander Berkman speaking against Rockefeller, NYC, 1914
When the US split apart Standard Oil in 1911, it was proceeded by an anti-trust investigation between 1904 and 1906, followed by a five year lawsuit. Popular anger against Standard Oil was at its peak, just as its CEO, JD Rockefeller, was widely despised across the US. This robber baron was forced to live in a gated compound, traveled only under heavy guard, and even his own family members began to kill themselves from the stress. Among the people leading the charge against the Rockefeller empire were the anarchists, a fact which spurred the federal government to intervene. If a similar anti-trust probe leads to a lawsuit against Amazon, it should be taken as a sign that we’ve entered another moment of strength. States only intervene in their free-market when its capitalists begin to destabilize the entire system through their recklessness. Rather than let a popular revolt grow beyond their control, the state will always usurp the rebels by claiming to be sole arbiter of justice. In the case of Standard Oil, all that happened in 1911 was that the company was broken into smaller pieces, most notably Chevron and Exxon. Petroleum didn’t stop belching from exhaust pipes, oil wells were still sunk across the land, and JD Rockefeller felt no hesitation in allowing the killing of his workers in the Ludlow Massacre of 1914. All the anti-trust lawsuit against Standard Oil accomplished was convincing the population that Rockefeller had been punished enough and helped diffuse popular anger. It did nothing to stop the expansion of Rockefeller’s empire, as should be evident from our pollution filled world today. We should expect nothing less from an anti-trust lawsuit against Amazon.
Despite all the popular anger and state pressure, Jeff Bezos doesn’t seem too worried. He just held another conference for himself at the Aria casino in Las Vegas called re:MARS and was able to show off the latest advances in robotic technology. An assortment of techno-fascists gathered to hear a variety of speakers, including Robert Downey Jr., star of the hit movie-series Iron Man. After playing a tech-obsessed CEO for Hollywood, this brain-damaged actor now claims he will start a company that will use robots to heal the damaged environment. As he told the star-struck audience, “between robotics and nanotechnology, we could probably clean up the planet significantly, if not entirely, within a decade.” At the time of this writing, Jeff Bezos is about to give a major speech to the attendees at re:MARS, but we won’t wait for this arch-swine to deliver more repulsive remarks. Now it’s time for resistance.
Bezos being rushed by animal rights protestor at MARS, June 6, 2019
Surprisingly or not, the most recent and effective actions against Amazon have emerged outside the US during the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement in France. Since the massive revolt kicked off in November 2018, multiple Amazon fulfillment centers have been blockadedby the yellow vest wearing rebels, with some warehouse workers even being fired for supporting the movement. Although some of these blockaders are part of the CGT trade-union, most of them are simply members of a diverse and widespread movement aimed against neo-liberal capitalism, the economic system which lets Amazon exploit workers across the globe. These blockades of Amazon facilities often take the company by surprise and happen mostly at night or early in the morning, with the most recent having occurred on May 30, 2019. There are twenty Amazon facilities in France with more than 7,000 employees, making it a much smaller workforce than the US. In other words, it’s much easier to paralyze, disrupt, or destroy. Since the movement began, the construction of a fulfillment center near Lyon has been stalled, while another near the ZAD of Notres-Dame-des-Landes has also been put on hold. While the battle is not over, if construction of these facilities proceeds, it will certainly ignite a serious conflict.
Gilets Jaunes blockade of Amazon, Montélimar, France, 2018
After seven months of Gilets Jaunes blockades, Amazon became the most hated foreign company in France, with even the besieged government being forced to respond. While consistently blacking out the existence of the Gilets Jaunes movement, the French state made much fanfare about a plan to tax Amazon and the other tech-giants. As was described above, this is simply a tactic to diffuse popular anger and prevent and all-out rebellion from destroying the company. Despite the hesitation of other EU states, France has now implemented its GAFA tax, forcing the tech giants to pay 3% (wow!) of what they make in the country. While this tax was passed in March 2019, it failed to stop popular anger against Amazon. Despite a government media-blackout being conducted against the Gilets Jaunes, the movement is still taking to the streets every Saturday, often with fiery results. It’s only a matter of time before we see an Amazon fulfillment center burning.
Gilets Jaunes blockade of Amazon, Bouc-Bel-Air, France, 2018
While we wish there was more resistance to Amazon in the US, we’re confident the rebellion will soon enter its second phase. The victory in Queens was the first time anyone was able to stop Amazon in its tracks, and the lessons learned along the way are still being digested. We wish everyone good luck in their future efforts and hope we’ve highlighted just how dangerous Amazon is. As was stated above, the secret is to really begin.