On tuesday it was announced that Amazon will be raising its company minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour for amerikan workers, and that it will further lobby for the federal minimum wage to be raised to match it. The company also moved to raise the minimum wage in their uk warehouses in a similar fashion, which proved significant for part-time, temporary and seasonal workers, who were included in the raise in both the u.$. and uk. In total the raise has benefited more than 350,000 Amazon workers, including 100,000 seasonal workers. The move was initiated primarily in response to widespread criticisms of the vast disparity in wages between its highest and lowest paid employees.
Yet the problem of “disparity” has hardly been broached, let alone solved. Least of all between the workers in the First World and the Third. After all, Amazon employs thousands of workers in China, India and Mexico, yet only amerikan and british workers were given a minimum wage boost. This is incredibly revealing when we consider that Indian warehouse workers employed by Amazon make only around 233 dollars per month, whereas under the new minimum wage, no full-time amerikan worker will make under 1600 dollars per month after taxes. The “disparity” is massive, and yet none of the organizations who lead the charge, nor the leftists who tail them, in pushing for wage increases seem at all concerned with its persistence.
Rather, these organizations have primarily concerned themselves with the cutting of exclusive share options and monthly incentive bonuses to offset the wage increase. The GMB union in britain has decried this as a kind of “steal tax” on the wage increase they received. GMB’s General Secretary, Tim Roache, honed in on the cutting of their share options, stating that it was a “clear case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Though, we have to ask if this was really as significant as he says. It is difficult to tell, since media reporting on the reality of this system is murky at best with many divergent claims, including the claim that the shares could be cashed in tax-free after 2 years, while workers from Amazon who dealt with the system contest that fact—at least in the united $tates. Besides that, Amazon has assured that they will replace it with a policy of exclusive markdowns on shares for employees available after 3-to-5 years.
Whatever the case, Roache is correct that this system is a “clear case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.” The world economy is built on this system, where the workers of the Third World are constantly robbed and their countries pillaged for the sake of First World consumption. That is still the case here, and while Roache and others claim that it is an attack on the better-paid Amazon employees who had defied the miserably high turnover rates to become shareholders, the reality is that it is just another example of the ongoing robbery of the global proletariat. The fact that GMB and the other labor groups involved in the pressuring of Amazon executives over wage disparity have not touched this question, yet hew and cry over the fate of their shares, demonstrates the deeply bourgeois tendency, not only of the labor bureaucrats, but of the workers they represent.
It is not as if these struggles are impossible to carry out internationally, or at least brought into an international context. The raise was issued in both the united $tates and britain, and was the result of pressure from unions, NGOs and governments across the atlantic. There is no excuse for the underlying assumption that workers in the west deserve to be paid more than those in the Third World. Yet, the labor aristocracy, quieted by imperialist dividends and catered to by its labor unions and NGOs, has no concern for the rest of the world. Their concern, and that of the organizations leading this charge, is for their nominal “shareholder” status, and the sanctity of their consumption. This is antithetical to any real struggle against inequality.
As communists, we should be able to cut through this kind of social-chauvinism and differentiate between the petty-bourgeois workers and the masses they disdain and abet the robbery of. We must approach the situation from the vantage-point of internationalism, and argue uncompromisingly for a genuine end to differential compensation on a global scale. The workers are right to attack the monopolist vampire Jeff Bezos for his insane concentration of wealth at the expense of the world. But we gain nothing through the defense of the reactionary impulses and gains of the labor aristocracy, whose interests rarely overlap with the global proletariat. Even worse, Jeff Bezos, who just last week was the great enemy of the Fight For 15 sloganeers, has now become a tepid supporter—at least in amerika and britain.
The “communists” who have tailed economism thus far—which is to say virtually all of them—have succeeded in a gargantuan task of world-historic proportions: namely, to have created the largest possible united front, one that includes Jeff Bezos, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. A new slogan is called for: “unite the parasites, win over the imperialists, isolate the proletariat.”
In all seriousness, rather than endorse the backward calls to restore share awards and the monthly incentive bonuses, why not raise the call for Amazon to set a global minimum wage for their employees, at the expense of their executives and shareholders? The reason this question makes the western left so uncomfortable, is that they implicitly—and sometimes very explicitly—accept the logic of global wage scaling. They know that the world as it exists cannot operate in this way. Most of these first-worldists know on some level that if labor of the same intensity and content were compensated equally the world around, then profits—and taxes, benefits, and all that derive therefrom—would be wiped out. For this reason it has always been difficult for the western left to square their economistic struggles with internationalism, so they just don’t.
Rather than underwriting this farce, we call on the western left to abandon its dead-end economism and social-chauvinism, and to unite with those already independently struggling against imperialism. Separate those workers and others truly committed to the struggle against inequality from the political leadership of the labor aristocracy, and build international solidarity and communist hegemony. While the first-worldists push a line of liquidation into the labor aristocracy and its bureaucratic unions—or worse, into the hands of technocrat monopolists—we must push the proletarian line of revolution, anti-imperialism, sacrifice and uncompromising internationalism.