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Inside Amazon’s global worker movement

LILLE, France — When Amazon workers installed a mock guillotine in front of Jeff Bezos’ home in Wash..

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LILLE, France — When Amazon workers installed a mock guillotine in front of Jeff Bezos’ home in Washington D.C. last summer, they gave the world’s richest man a chilling show of anger.

But the real challenge to Amazon management isn’t from publicity stunts. It’s coming from a new, digitized, international labor movement that is borrowing from the e-commerce giant’s own playbook to press for higher pay and better working conditions around the world.

Known as the Amazon Workers International, the informal network of mostly warehouse workers brings together dozens of worker groups from the United States and six EU countries. With hundreds of participants, it is growing fast. Instead of gathering in person or joining picket lines, the AWI’s key organizers do most of their work in videoconference sessions where “comrades” from multiple countries Zoom in to plot strategy on how to press their demands to Amazon management.

“Can you hear me?” Polish warehouse worker Agnieszka Mróz said late last month as she connected from her hometown of Poznań with French and Italian colleagues gathered a thousand kilometers away, at the office of French union Sud Solidaires in an old railway factory in Lille, northern France. Other workers from Poland, Germany and the United States had also joined the call, AWI’s annual gathering, to discuss Amazon’s response to the pandemic and upcoming actions.

The network’s online-first approach — and the emphasis on international coordination — underscores a lesson that these workers have absorbed over the last decade: They have little chance of winning concessions from management if they pitch demands locally, via traditional union methods.

Amazon is just too big, too agile and too powerful. With more than 175 warehouses, or “fulfillment centers,” dotted around the world, hyper-optimized management methods and a market capitalization close to $1 trillion, the company epitomizes the might of the U.S. technology sector and has, as a rule, declined to recognize or actively engage with trade unions.

Even during a pandemic that forced thousands of warehouse workers to brave the risk of infection, inflaming tensions with management at several sites, Amazon hasn’t changed its basic stance toward labor groups, arguing that its hourly rates are at the top end of what the industry offers. When workers went on strike in France in May, the company temporarily shut down its warehouses in the whole country, re-routing orders via Italy.

Meanwhile, the company doubled its year-on-year profits in the second quarter to $5.2 billion and went on a hiring spree to keep up with demand for shopping extravaganzas such as Prime Day (a chance to grab products at lower prices), Black Friday and Christmas. Bezos personally made over $87 billion this year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

That’s where AWI aims to make a difference. By coordinating demands for wage increases, additional breaks or new safety measures internationally, it wants to force the company into changes for the warehouse workers on whom it depends to deliver the goods.

“Amazon and most big companies that control our lives are international,” said a worker at a delivery station in New York City who asked to stay anonymous out of concern the firm might retaliate against him. “If we want to have a sustainable future with a habitable earth, then it’s going to take an international movement.”

There are signs AWI’s work is having an effect. While it’s difficult to match causes and effects, Amazon has, under increased pressure from labor groups, introduced 150 so-called “process changes,” like staggered breaks and shifts, since March to reduce COVID-19 risks in its warehouses. At the height of the pandemic, the company also introduced a temporary €2-an-hour hazard pay bonus, as well as one-off bonuses.

“We’ve already spent more than $800 million on COVID-19 safety measures, with investments in personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning of our facilities and, of course, social distancing,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

But the workers are looking for more. “The pandemic showed who are the important people in society. Workers have the self-esteem to make demands. Before nobody would have demanded €2 more,” said Christian Krähling, a German worker from the town of Bad Hersfeld.

Don’t call it a union

AWI got started in 2015, when workers in the German city of Bad Hersfeld went on strike. Amazon workers in neighboring Poland — where the company has set up fulfillment centers to serve the German market, but not the Polish one — took notice because a strike at a German warehouse meant more work for them.

“The first idea that we need to do something came from the feeling that the conditions were much worse in Poland than in Germany or England,” said Mróz, one of the founding members of Amazon Workers International.

The Polish group decided that the only way to respond to the situation would be to start coordinating with colleagues in Germany. A group drove for seven hours from Poland to meet them in Bad Hersfeld, marking the start of what they called the Amazon Workers International — a name that they insist has nothing to do with a traditional trade union.

While many workers belong to local unions, they stress that AWI is not a union nor is it affiliated with one.

“The unions are old, and they are not used to grassroots stuff. Our goal is not to do this for unions. We do it to get power to the workers. We see the union as an instrument to get that,” said Krähling.

Above all, AWI wants to empower warehouse workers by demonstrating that demands in one place are supported much more broadly.

In the United States, for example, a petition from workers demanding better health and safety measures and hazard pay was bolstered by over a thousand signatures from Poland.

When workers in Germany were successful in blocking software that is meant to keep watch over how employees are following social distancing rules, they shared their experience with other groups so they could borrow their methods.

When Amazon’s France-based workers went on strike, prompting a court case that led to the company closing its warehouses in the country, Polish workers paid close attention. Ultimately, they tried to use the same EU directive that was invoked in the French case to argue for stronger worker representation in Poland.

Polish workers produced leaflets to highlight that workers have the right to leave the warehouse whenever they don’t feel safe.

“It’s a direct example of how we got a new tool from the French experience,” Mróz said.

Judith Krivine, a lawyer representing the French union Sud Solidaire, said international cooperation was crucial to successful operations. “It’s really important that they talk together and give ideas to each other and fight togetherRead More – Source

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Twitter users are exposing pro-Russian sentiment in China, and Beijing is not happy

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Anonymous Twitter users are exposing the extreme nationalism and pro-Russian sentiment circulating online in China — and Beijing is not happy about it.

Scores of screen-grabbed posts from China’s most popular social media platforms have been translated and shared on Twitter in recent weeks, offering Western audiences a rare glimpse into the Chinese internet.
Among those posts: a prominent military blog falsely claiming a Russian attack on a train station in Kramatorsk was actually carried out by Ukraine, a well known media commentator dismissing the atrocities in Bucha, and a vlogger with hundreds of thousands of followers using a misogynistic term for Ukraine.
The posts appear courtesy of anonymous Twitter users who say their aim is to expose Western audiences to the true extent of pro-Russian or nationalistic content on China’s heavily censored platforms.
They often come under the hashtag of “The Great Translation Movement,” or shared by an account with the same name run by a decentralized, anonymous team that crowdsources the collection and translation of popular posts on Ukraine and other hot topics, according to an administrator interviewed by CNN. Many, but not all, appear to have been widely liked or shared within China — selection criteria cited by the administrator.
Since the account’s launch in early March it has already made plenty of friends and enemies — attracting both 116,000 followers (and counting) and a slew of criticism from China’s state-run media.
The movement was formed in response to China’s alleged hypocrisy in portraying itself as neutral on Ukraine, even while its state and social media circulated pro-Russian narratives, the administrator told CNN.
“We want the outside world to at least know what is going on inside, because we don’t think there could be any change made from inside,” said the administrator, who requested anonymity due to security concerns.

In bad faith?

China’s state media has lashed out against what it decries as “cherry picked content.” The overseas arm of the People’s Daily — the mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party — has claimed the translators behind the movement are guilty of attributing the “extreme remarks” of some netizens to the “whole country.”
The nationalistic Global Times newspaper has accused the group of being “Chinese-speaking bad faith actors” and one of its opinion writers claimed the group included “foreign hostile forces” perpetuating “psychological warfare against China.”
Outside China, media experts caution the posts do not show a holistic view of public opinion in China and appear to at least partially be selected for shock value — but could still be useful in bringing these elements of China’s media sphere to light.
Critics also say the group’s tweets show evidence of its own bias — such as in posts that use a term comparing China to Nazi Germany.
Posts which gain traction on China’s social media must be seen in light of its highly censored environment, where nationalistic voices thrive and liberal ones have largely retreated or been censored, experts say.
But the administrator who spoke to CNN said the point was to highlight the visibility of such posts — some coming from popular influencers, comments receiving thousands of likes or from prominent commenstators, and even government-backed news outlets.
“Our goal is to raise awareness about the state of public opinion in China, whether it is purely the result of spontaneous interactions (or) the result of government censorship,” the administrator said.
“We want to counter the effort of the Chinese state-affiliated media by showing the West some content they do not want to show.”

Dual messaging

The resistance against the group from China’s state media highlights the sensitivities around how China wants to present itself on the world stage, especially at a time when it has been attempting to walk a diplomatic tightrope between Russia and the West over Ukraine.
China has often sought to present two different narratives — one for domestic audiences and another for those overseas. This is made possible through both a language barrier and an online ecosystem that bans apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Great Translation Movement breaks down both of these barriers.
“Even before the social media era, the way China talks internally through its state media is something it doesn’t appreciate being parsed and translated for the world,” said David Bandurski, director of the China Media Project, a research program in partnership with the Journalism & Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong.
And when it comes to Ukraine, China has sought to portray itself — at least to overseas audiences — as unaligned and invested in calling for peace. But its media coverage back home tells a different story, Bandurski said.
“If you just look at (state) media coverage, it’s really hard to talk about neutrality … Everything they have said is amplifying disinformation and aligning with Russia in terms of narratives.”
While the tone of state-backed media is clear, experts say it is difficult to gauge public opinion in China simply by looking at social media, even when it comes to popular influencers or viral posts.
Like anywhere in the world, views on social media can be extreme. In China, heavy manipulation and censorship often amplifies select voices.
“The authorities certainly have an interest in promoting their preferred narrative online, and they have the technical and political means to unapologetically ‘guide public opinion,'” said Florian Schneider, director of the Leiden Asia Center in The Netherlands.
“We should also not underestimate the power of social media algorithms: as pro-Russia statements become mainstream, they receive ever more likes and shares, which makes them more visible,” he said.

Suppressed voices, echo chambers

The situation is complicated: Beijing too has reason to be wary of ultra-nationalist voices, which platforms sometimes censor. And while nationalist rhetoric has become more dominant online in recent years, the loudest voices may not show a majority.
Bandurski said that an analogy would be looking at ultra-conservative voices in the US media environment, and assuming that was representative of the American perspective.
“So the danger is this kind of echo chamber of content, which we might assume is representative of China and its perspective, and it’s really a lot more complicated than that,” he said.
Maria Repnikova, director of the Center for Global Information Studies at Georgia State University, said when it comes to Ukraine there have been “alternative voices talking about the war…but they’re not as dominant or as loud or as visible.” Their posts may either be censored or hard to detect as social media users may express dissenting views through code and allusion.
She also asks if things would be different if images of bombarded cities of Ukraine or the atrocities in Bucha were not restricted in China.
“If people could see all of those images and scenes, would that be a different story? Would different voices pick up?”
The Great Translation Movement administrator said they hoped that the movement could help push Beijing to tone down the rhetoric on these platforms so that there would be room for more voices.
“In today’s Chinese mainstream discourse there is a very limited space for people who have a rational mind to speak,” the administrator said.
“Even if you speak out and if it doesn’t get deleted, you are still going to be spammed…and people are going to say you are a spy… the dignity of people themselves is destroyed.”

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BLACKBERRY PHONES TO STOP WORKING AS COMPANY FINALLY PULLS PLUG

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independent– BlackBerry phones, once the height of mobile devices, are finally being shut off.

The company announced that services for the older devices will be brought to an end on 4 January. At that point, they will “no longer reliably function”, BlackBerry said, and will be unable to get data, texts or make phone calls, including to emergency numbers.

It is just the latest in a series of endings for the once equally beloved and hated name, which helped drive the mobile revolution and was at the forefront of business and technology. While the BlackBerry has been declared dead a number of times before, the latest move means that the phones themselves will actually stop working.

In 2016, after its phones had been replaced largely by smartphones from Apple and others, BlackBerry announced that it had transitioned away from phones and into making software and that it would focus on providing security tools to companies and governments. It has sold the BlackBerry brand to other companies, who have created devices bearing the name.

In 2020, BlackBerry said that with that move complete, it would start taking offline the legacy services that allowed those old devices to keep working. Phones that run any of BlackBerry’s own operating systems – BlackBerry 7.1 OS and earlier, BlackBerry 10 software – were given an “end of life or termination date” at the start of 2022.

Next week, that date will finally arrive and support will end. While the phones will still be able to perform some of their functions without BlackBerry’s services, many of their central features will be removed, and the phones will not work reliably.

BlackBerry said the support was being removed in recognition of the fact that it now works in security software and that the old products did not reflect its business. It had prolonged support in the years since that transition “as an expression of thanks to our loyal partners and customers”, it said.

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70 Jupiter-sized ‘rogue planets’ discovered in our galaxy

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independent– A team of astronomers discovered at least 70 ‘rogue’ planets in our galaxy, the largest collection ever found to date.

While conventional planets (like those in our Solar System) orbit a star, rogue planets roam freely without travelling around a nearby star.

“We did not know how many to expect and are excited to have found so many,” said Núria Miret-Roig, an astronomer at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux.

­It would usually be impossible to detect rogue planets because they are hard to spot far from a star’s light. One key fact of their existence made them visible: these planets still give off enough heat to glow millions of years after their creation, making them visible to powerful telescopes.

This heat allowed the 70 planets – each with masses close to that of Jupiter – to be discovered in the Scorpius and Ophiuchus constellations.

“We measured the tiny motions, the colours and luminosities of tens of millions of sources in a large area of the sky,” explained Ms Miret-Roig. “These measurements allowed us to securely identify the faintest objects in this region, the rogue planets.”

The astronomers’ study suggests there could be many more elusive, starless planets yet to be discovered, numbering in the billions in the Milky Way alone.

By studying these planets, astronomers believe they could unlock clues as to how the mysterious objects come to be. It is hypothesised they are generated from the collapse of gas clouds too small to create stars, but they could also have been ejected from a parent system.

“These objects are extremely faint and little can be done to study them with current facilities,” says Hervé Bouy, another astronomer at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique. “The ELT [Extremely Large Telescope, currently being built in Chile] will be absolutely crucial to gathering more information about most of the rogue planets we have found.”

The exact number of rogue planets discovered is vague, because the observations made by the researchers do not allow them to measure the mass of the objects. Bodies with a mass 13 times greater than that of Jupiter are unlikely to be planets, but relying on brightness makes this figure unclear.

The brightness of these objects is also related to age, as the older the planet is the dimmer it will be. The brightest objects in the sample could have a mass greater than the upper limit but be older and therefore dimmer. Researchers estimate there could be as many as 100 more planets yet to be discovered because of this uncertainty.

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