The spirit of Scrooge lives on in the Amazon distribution centres of Fife, says Tom Hodgkinson
Is Amazon the new Scrooge? I only ask after reading the news this week in a Scottish newspaper that wage slaves at the mail order monopolist’s distribution centre workers in Fife, who earn £7.35 an hour, were seen camping in woods near to the gigantic warehouse in order to save money on commuting.
It’s a horrifying image at Christmas. How many poor Bob Cratchits are there in that Fife hellhole, picking and packing useless consumer items, walking up and down the aisles, slaving for hours and then frying sausages over a Primus stove in the cold evening, in order to save enough to buy a turkey for their family this year? Clearly the extent of the tent-dwelling has been exaggerated somewhat, but still the image of one thousand underpaid factory workers treading the one million square foot warehouse fixes itself in the mind. I’ve worked in warehouses: it is the dullest work conceivable.
Amazon’s response when challenged reminded me of that scene in A Christmas Carol when Scrooge refuses to give money to the charity collectors: “The Union workhouses – are they still in operation?” he says. If anything, Amazon is worse than Scrooge, because they pretend to be nice and fluffy, using euphemisms like “associates” for “workers”:
“The safety and wellbeing of our permanent and temporary associates is our number one priority,” said Amazon. Well that’s not true, by the way: in other statements they have said that customer satisfaction is their number one priority. “We pay competitive wages: all permanent and temporary Amazon associates start on £7.35 an hour or above regardless of age.”
Have the lessons of Dickens, Marx, Engels and Kropotkin not been learned? And how is that that Silicon Valley shouts loudest for liberty, when it is the largest slave driver of them all?
We have only ourselves to blame: in using the service, we are all complicit. I am no better than anyone else: I thought I had boycotted Amazon years ago, but when I look through my bank statements, every third entry seems to be from the infernal retailers. How did they do it? How did we let them? How can it stop? They have destroyed bookshops, they are destroying our language, and now that they’ve signed up the morality-free zone of Clarkson et al, how can they ever be stopped?