One of the criticisms sometimes made of the Peace Party is that it is a ‘single-issue’ party. We have, so the argument goes, only one policy: ending war and eliminating its causes.
And there is some justice in this complaint. We see the horror of war, the suffering it causes, the sheer waste of life and resources, and the obscene profits accumulated by arms manufacturers and dealers; and we see the casual indifference of people — people like us — who are not directly affected. We naturally want everyone to care about these things like we do, because until people care nothing will change.
So it’s not really surprising that we tend to go on about it in the hope, perhaps forlorn, that we will persuade others to see what we see, and that they will then refuse to have anything to do with the whole ghastly business, or to allow it to continue while there’s anything we can do to stop it.
Fair enough, you might say, but what about social justice, poverty, oppressive exploitation in our own country? And if you say that, I think you have a point. Peace is not just the absence of war, after all; it’s a culture, and it could be argued that the same indifference to the suffering of others lies behind poverty and deprivation in our country and also legitimises warfare in other countries.
So let’s follow this train of thought for a while and see where it leads. If we’re looking for oppressive exploitation in our own country we don’t have far to look. We can start with Amazon.
According to journalist James Bloodworth, in Hired: Six months undercover in low-wage Britain, people who work in Amazon ‘fulfilment centres’ are underpaid, overworked, routinely bullied and humiliated, and lack even basic employment security. And James should know — he worked there.
Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer, and its much-admired CEO, Jeff Bezos, is a multi-billionaire. Most of us (including the present writer) make extensive use of Amazon, and Amazon is awash with money. We benefit. Amazon directors and shareholders benefit. Even the people who are targeted by Jeff Bezos’s ‘philanthropy’ benefit.
But the last people to benefit are its workers. They get paid, certainly, so they could be said to benefit in that strict sense, but they’re paid a pittance. They work unsocial ten-hour shifts, typically walk ten miles a day, lose pay if they are a minute late for work, and are penalised if they take too long over a toilet break, or fail to achieve a satisfactory rate of work. They cannot afford decent accommodation and they are too exhausted and disoriented by the long unsocial hours to eat properly, even if they could afford to — which they can’t.
And to add further insult to injury they are on ‘zero-hours contracts’ so they cannot even be sure of the meagre income that Amazon offers.
Despite this, local authorities from Rugely, UK, to New York, USA, enthusiastically offer tax breaks and other incentives to Amazon to open facilities in their towns and cities. It’s hard to see why, but perhaps the Wall Street Journal — hardly a left-wing organ — has got it right in calling it ‘crony capitalism at its worst’.
What can we do?
I have two suggestions: one, read James Bloodworth’s book if you haven’t already done so, and two, ask yourself whether you really want to continue using Amazon.
Peace starts at home!