Magazine of the Socialist Party, Australian section of the CWI

Amazon puts retailers under threat

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The launch of Amazon in Australia is set to shake up the retail market. Data shows 45% of Australians have already used subsidiaries of Amazon in other countries. Many more are likely to use the service now that it is based locally.

Amazon Australia had a relatively low-key launch which Gerry Harvey, from Harvey Norman, called a “lame duck”. But it could be too soon to dismiss the threat that Amazon poses to other retailers.

Amazon bases itself on a business model whereby they are happy to forgo huge profits for a period in exchange for market share. This model has served them well.

They are now the world’s third-largest retailer. In the US there is a long list of department stores that are struggling due to Amazon’s presence including Target, Foot Locker and Toys R Us.

Amazon’s cheap prices come at the expense of its workers. Staff are threatened with the sack if they can’t pack as fast as a machine and they even have strictly timed toilet breaks imposed on them.

The unrelenting workload has meant that workers have been seen falling asleep at their workstations. In some countries ambulances are regularly called to Amazon warehouses.

In the US pay is so low that thousands of Amazon workers have to rely on food stamps. The super-exploitation that exists is the real reason why Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos is now the richest man on earth.

As more and more of our shopping shifts online it will be warehouse workers, as opposed to retail workers, who become key to the supply chain. Massive workplaces like Amazon warehouses will be the key battlefields in the coming period.

Because they are based on ‘just-in-time’ distribution systems they are especially vulnerable to industrial action. This puts the workers in a powerful position to demand higher wages and better conditions.

The union movement needs to have a focus on these new workplaces, striving to organise them and redistribute the wealth away from the likes of Jeff Bezos and towards those who actually do the work.

By Triet Tran

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