Bezos, Smalls, and Bray: A Microcosm of Capitalism

Jeff Bezos, richest man in the world, is my neighbor (give or take a dozen miles). Not that I’ve ever met him, or ever will. I don’t travel in those circles, and I wouldn’t want to.

Another fun fact about Bezos is that, according to this article, as of April 15th, he had made 24 billion dollars (yes, with a B) more than he normally does, off the COVID-19 pandemic. Since we’re all stuck in our houses, we’re doing a lot of ordering on Amazon, and that lines Bezo’s pockets. Heaven only knows how much greater his earnings have been in the past month, since that statistic came out.

I would say good for him. It’s not his fault we’re bored silly and impulse buying online to remain socially distant. He deserves to profit off his company just like any other capitalist.

But.

He’s thriving while all the mom and pop stores are struggling and/or going belly up due to this virus. And I don’t see him stepping up to make any kind of a difference there. And his warehouse workers are treated abysmally, and they’re not being adequately protected in the workplace.

Enter Chris Smalls. He was a former manager assistant at an Amazon Warehouse on Staten Island. He saw that workers were not getting proper protection. He saw they weren’t being informed of active cases of COVID-19 in his building. He requested that work be stopped just long enough for the workplace could be properly sanitized. He led a protest. Not only was he fired for his trouble, but also a memo was leaked that was encouraging Amazon executives to lead a coordinated effort to say that Smalls was “not smart or articulate.” As if that means he doesn’t deserve to have his health protected. Insane.

Check out an interview with him here. He may not be a toastmaster, but I think he gets his point across just fine. And he’s not the only employee to have been fired from Amazon for organizing.

And then, enter Tim Bray. This former Amazon Vice President quit on May 1st. The final straw for him was the firing of workers who were organizing regarding their poor working conditions during the pandemic. He said there was “a vein of toxicity running through the company culture.” He said he’d “neither serve nor drink that poison any longer.”

Read more about his reasons for quitting in his blog post here.

So there you have it: three men who represent the three typical tentacles of capitalism the world over:

  • Bezos, the heartless capitalist who will squeeze every ounce of value out of the little people who make all the money for him, and then cast them out when they become a nuisance.

  • Smalls, one of the little people in question, who gives his heart and soul to a company and only wants safety, decency and reasonable pay in return, but rarely gets it.

  • Bray, the middle man, uncomfortable with what’s going on both above and below him. In this instance, he chose to take a stand, and I admire him for it. It’s people like him, those middlemen with a moral compass, who often cause companies to change whether they like it or not.

I just don’t get why Bezos can’t see his way clear to throw a couple of those billions at the problem, to improve working conditions, health, and safety, and increase morale. He wouldn’t even miss them, and in the end, he’d benefit too.

But he’s like a racoon caught in a loose trap simply because he won’t unclench his fist and let go of that crust of bread. Greed is like that. So in the end, Bezos is the biggest loser. He’s pathetic. At least Smalls and Bray have integrity.

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