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Hard Bargain

On the ground during the unionization effort in Bessemer, Alabama

Tales of the harrowing—and often degrading—working conditions at Amazon have spread far and wide. Yet the company has successfully circumvented attempts to change its ways. With the aid of extremely accommodating local, state, and national officials, America’s second-largest company (right after Walmart) has developed an elaborate system of workplace surveillance and anti-union propaganda to prevent its low-wage workers from organizing.

In the July issue of Harper’s Magazine, Daniel Brook relates the concerns of workers in and around the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama. The warehouse attracted national attention this spring when it played host to a fierce battle over unionization. Pro-union workers lost by a margin of more than two to one, but Brook shows that the internal deliberations were far more complicated than the results suggest. Both pro- and anti-union workers in the area also struggle with the legacy of Reconstruction, when racist and socioeconomic controls on working class people were codified into law. On this week’s episode of the podcast, Brook unpacks the lessons of his trips to Bessemer with Harper’s web editor Violet Lucca. In their conversation, Lucca and Brook speculate on what lies ahead for the Amazon precariat—and for the consumers who depend on their labor.

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January 2013

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