Ana Viseu on 30 Nov 2000 04:40:07 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] the spirit of the web

[This is a very interesting article from the NYTimes on 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 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 

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 

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 philosophy."

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 

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 customers."

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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