Labor confronts the dark sides of the sharing economy: the Amazon workers’ revolt

It will be a hard fight, but if economic trends are any indication, labor doesn’t really have any other choice. In a growing number of cities, “disruptive” industries have given corporations new ways to exploit workers. Brick-and-mortar schools and universities are threatened with obsolescence by the rise of “MOOCs,” short for “Massive Open Online Courses.” Taxi drivers now frequently compete with an unlicensed, freelance fleet of “Lyft” and “Uber” cars. Hotels face AirBnb. News outlets struggle against the Huffington Post.

Excerpted from ERIK FORMAN:

“Yesterday, 30 technicians at an warehouse in Middletown, Delaware voted in the e-retail titan’s first-ever union election in the United States. The vote marks the arrival on U.S. shores of a rising tide of Amazon worker organizing. Half a world away, more than 1,000 workers at three Amazon warehouse locations in Germany staged a string of one-day strikes from May to December of 2013, part of a campaign by the German service-industry union Ver.di to bring the company in line with the standards of the country’s offline retail industry.

The workers’ struggles are a crucial battle for labor on capitalism’s newest frontier: the high-tech takeover of traditional industries. Just when labor appears to be catching up with the turn toward service-industry employment—with the unionization of adjuncts in higher education, strikes at Walmart and fast-food stores, large-scale organization of taxi drivers, and Unite-Here’s victories in hotel organizing, to name just a few labor inroads—the ground is already shifting ominously beneath its feet.

Flush with investment capital, thousands of would-be Jeff Bezoses have set to work “disrupting” industry after industry in the same way Amazon has done for retail—applying the technologies of the digital age to cut labor costs, get around regulations and make work more precarious. As the struggles at Amazon’s warehouses illustrate, while information technologies may make old industries obsolescent, they are making the need for a strong labor movement greater than ever.”

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