Amazon raised its minimum wage for US workers to $15 per hour. Then, it took a bunch of other benefits away in what's being called a "stealth tax."
- Previous to the announced increase in minimum wage to $15/hr., warehouse workers were eligible for production bonuses and stock awards. Those will be terminated when the wage is increased.
- Amazon claims it's a net gain for the workers, but others disagree.
- CEO Jeff Bezos still makes $30,000 a minute.
Net positive, or not so much?
Because, of course.
"The significant increase in hourly cash wages more than compensates for the phase out of incentive pay and [restrictive stock units]," Amazon's spokesperson said in an emailed statement to CNBC. "We can confirm that all hourly Operations and Customer Service employees will see an increase in their total compensation as a result of this announcement. In addition, because it's no longer incentive-based, the compensation will be more immediate and predictable."
The net effect will be a reduction for some, especially those who have been with the company the longest; warehouse workers had received effectively one share every year after having been with the company for a number of years. That would currently be worth nearly $2,000, and they received an additional extra share every five years as well. Also, production bonuses added up to as much as $3,000 a year for some.
Based on a 40-hour workweek, that's a net loss of $2.40/hr. for those who were able to receive both of those bonuses. In other words, for those already making over $12.50/hr. plus stock and production bonuses, it takes money away.
The news comes on the heels of praise from all over the place for the initial wage increase, including Senator Bernie Sanders, a long time critic of companies with employees forced to receive welfare and Medicaid because of such low wages.
Workers in an Amazon warehouse.
Amazon's "stealth tax" on its workers
At a time when CEO Jeff Bezos makes more every minute—nearly $30,000—than many Amazon employees do in total, it's an interesting move, and one that might test the loyalty of some long-time employees.
Reactions were swift. In the U.S., the United Food and Commercial Workers' union (UFCW) asks the question:
Was the pay raise just a PR stunt? "Tucked away in the announcement was the fact that #Amazon will phase out its bonus and stock award programs for its hourly workers." @CNN https://t.co/00OFUPpjDo
— UFCW (@UFCW) October 4, 2018
And in a Tweet from the 700,000-strong
GMB union in Great Britain, which seeks to represent more Amazon workers, Amazon's action was blasted as a "stealth tax":
When Amazon announced their wage increases yesterday they said nothing about cutting staff benefits.
This is basically a stealth tax 👇https://t.co/g2AtsiYJWk
— GMB UNION (@GMB_union) October 3, 2018
So, what say you? Is this a "Robbing Peter to pay Paul" move after a much-awaited pay raise, or is it a legitimate business decision based on dollars and sense?
Or something else entirely?
Photo: Getty Images
Are you there, Jeff Bezos? It's us, the 99%.
The political and economic ideas of socialism are coming back into fashion.
Socialism saw its heyday in the 20th century when its ideas were adapted by a number of countries, in a variety of bastardizations of its message. In fact, some would argue that a pure socialism never existed. Now it is experiencing a tremendous resurgence in the 21st century due to the growing economic disparity, anger at the establishment and charismatic older socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. who gathered massive support from the young. A new wave of socialist thinkers is also beginning to emerge that looks to distance the movement from the historical stigma to formulate a new socialism that speaks to the challenges of today.
What is socialism? In the most basic definition, it is a political and economic system where the means of production and essential resources are owned by the community. Socialism comes in many different forms and has been practiced with great variety around the world.
Jacobin, a magazine that’s gained popularity for “offering socialist perspectives” on political and cultural topics, published a guide on how to redefine socialism for the modern age. In it, the publication’s editor Bhaskar Sunkara describes socialism as, fundamentally, a way to build the kind of world where people don’t take advantage of others for gain but rather for the benefits of cooperation. To Sunkara, socialism is “abolishing private ownership of the things we all need and use — factories, banks, offices, natural resources, utilities, communication and transportation infrastructure — and replacing it with social ownership, thereby undercutting the power of elites to hoard wealth and power.”
Private property would not exist, but personal property would remain. The government will not take away your “Kenny Loggins records,” jokes Sunkara.
An old Russian woman fixing her belongings on a vandalized symbols of the Communism, the Hammer and Sickle, on an avenue of Moscow, on November 1990. At the time of creation, the hammer stood for industrial labourers and the sickle for the peasantry; combined they stood for the worker-peasant alliance for socialism and against reactionary movements and foreign intervention. (Photo credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)
In their guide, the writers and editors of Jacobin also try to dispel some of the confusion related to socialism. In particular, they argue, many people tend to associate any kind of government institution, even the DMV, with socialism. But just because it’s a part of the government doesn’t make it socialist. In fact, an average person has so little say politically due to the stronghold of corporate interests on the government, that any “state action will disproportionately benefit capitalist interests at the expense of everything else,” writes Chris Maisano in the Jacobin’s guide.
The journal also offers a defense against the charge that socialism inevitably ends up in authoritarian governments. Joseph M. Schwartz writes how Marxists and European socialists could not anticipate that revolutionary parties would try to create socialism in “predominantly agrarian, autocratic societies” like Russia and China.
“In many ways, one-party Communist states shared more in common with past authoritarian capitalist “developmentalist” states — such as late nineteenth-century Prussia and Japan, and postwar South Korea and Taiwan —than with the vision of democratic socialism. These governments prioritized state-led industrialization over democratic rights, particularly those of an independent labor movement,” writes Schwartz.
Jacobin’s prescription for building a more socialist country - mobilize the people through education and direct participation in the government.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (C) addresses a rally with protesters calling for higher wages for federal contract workers in the rain on Capitol Hill November 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Is Bernie Sanders a socialist? He is the country's most popular active politician according to the polls, but he's not socialist enough, according to the editors of the Jacobin. Noam Chomsky famously called him “a decent, honest New Dealer.” Sanders himself draws the distinction, calling his politics - democratic socialism. He often refers to Scandinavian countries as models for what he would like the United States to become. Sanders’s key themes of reducing economic inequality and the influence of politics in money appeals to a cross-section Americans from the left and the right.
To combat the negative stereotypes of socialism, Sanders invokes the New Deal policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that were called “socialist” like establishing social security and the minimum wage. Sanders also links the way he sees the world to Martin Luther King’s calls for social and economic justice.
To Sanders, education, affordable housing and universal health care are the public’s right rather than private commodities that can be used to turn a profit. Still, he has not called for nationalizing any industries, saying specifically “I don’t believe government should own the means of production.”
He defined “democratic socialism” himself in 2015 as a necessary adjustment in an increasingly unequal society.
“Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy. Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt.,” said Sanders, adding “In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations.”
Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party speaks during a campaign rally at Union Chapel Islington on June 7, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Is Jeremy Corbyn a socialist? The leader of UK’s Labour Party, which won a surprising number of seats against the ruling Conservative Party in recent elections, also identifies as a “democratic socialist.” Labour’s 2017 manifesto, titled “For the Many, Not the Few” includes plans to re-nationalize the rail, postal and water services, abolish college tuition fees, increase the minimum wage and spending on national healthcare, as well as upping the tax on the wealthy. Many of these ideas are certainly more to the left of what's been proposed by Sanders for the U.S.
Corbyn’s message has energized young voters in particular, with close to 70% of those 18 to 24 supporting Labour. How much more support can these kinds of ideas gain? The latest polls show the party’s appeal growing wider still, now 5% ahead of the Tories at 46%. Corbyn’s personal approval is also high, better than the Prime Minister Theresa May’s.
To consider why the ideas of socialism continue to have followers in our times, let’s turn to Albert Einstein. One of the world’s most brilliant thinkers who had seen the effects of socialism in his lifetime, Einstein wrote an essay called “Why socialism” in 1949 that still resonates in some of its themes.
German-born American physicist Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) speaking during his Science And Civilization lecture at the Royal Albert Hall, London. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Einstein critiques capitalism as having a tendency towards becoming an oligarchy where “private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands” that cannot be “effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society”. This happens because the capitalists control the main mass media sources (including education) while the members of the government come from political parties that are “largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature.” As as a result of that, according to Einstein, these representatives do not “sufficiently protect” the interests of the underprivileged.
Sounds familiar? If similar challenges present themselves almost 70 years later, it is no surprise solutions like socialism come back. Of course, there are now also fears of fascism returning to fashion.
Einstein saw the establishment of a “socialist economy” with an accompanying educational system that’s oriented towards social goals as the only way forward for society.
“In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society,” wrote Einstein.
Einstein did caution, however, perhaps with an eye towards the Soviet Union, that a planned economy might result in “the complete enslavement of the individual” by the bureaucracy and saw it essential for socialism to resolve the problem of protecting the rights of the individual.
Historical lessons aside, socialism is a rejuvenated force. Polls show that somewhere between 30 to 60% of Democratic voters have a favorable view of its ideas. Over 50% of millennials have a positive opinion of socialism. As automation is sure to put a major portion of the world out of work, the issues around ownership of necessary resources and distribution of wealth are sure to stay vital.
Check out this video from mathematician and economist Eric Weinstein on how capitalism can use socialist principles to cure what ails it:
Cover photo: A US-made 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air races past a billboard that reads,'Stronger than ever, Socialism' 14 February near Santa Maria del Mar, Cuba. (Photo credit: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
A number of prominent world leaders are avowed atheists and there's no reason the American President has to be religious.
The WikiLeaks publication of emails by the Democratic National Committee revealed that one DNC staffer floated the idea of using Bernie Sanders’s possible atheism against him. While Bernie is officially Jewish, there are reports that he is actually closer to an atheist than a practicing Jew. Bernie himself has denied this accusation. This news begs the question - why is it a kiss of political death to be labeled an “atheist”?
Certainly one wonders what it is about being an atheist that can preclude a person from becoming a US president. The argument is likely cultural. As the majority of the country believes in a God, an atheist would not accurately represent the kind of people who live in the country.
On the other hand, it’s hard to understand what specific Judeo-Christian beliefs Bernie supposedly lacks that should prevent him from being a President. Is it the belief that the heavens and the Earth were created in 6 days? Is it not agreeing with the useful strategic precedent that the seas could be magically parted when you are trying to escape a hostile army? Or maybe it all boils down to not believing that divine commandments should form the basis of our laws (especially as given to a person not proven to have ever existed)?
A country whose bedrock constitutional principle is the separation of church and state should not have religion as a consideration when choosing its leader.
In fact, it’s easier to make an argument that not being bogged down by subjective, unprovable beliefs should make you a stronger champion of every kind of person.
Considering this, one wonders - are there leaders around the world who are atheist?
As the hack that brought these emails to life seems to have originated in Russia, one of the historical bastions of modern atheism, it's curious to consider - is Putin an atheist?
It appears he used to be one, but after several life-changing events like his ex-wife’s terrible car accident, he is now a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church.
But there are European leaders who are without religion.
François Hollande, the President of France, is an avowed atheist, losing his religion after being raised Catholic. "I have reached a point where what is clear to me is the conviction that God doesn't exist, rather than the contrary," he said to a French magazine in 2002. This point of view works in a country that’s about 50% non-religious or atheist.
French President François Hollande speaks during the Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial on July 1, 2016 in Thiepval, France. (Photo by Steve Parsons - Pool/Getty Images)
Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister of Greece, is also a strong atheist. He insisted on taking a civil oath of office, breaking with tradition.
Pope Francis poses with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as he arrives on the Greek island of Lesbos on April 16, 2016 in Myteline, Lesbos, Greece. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
Other noted leaders include the Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanović, whose country is actually 90% Catholic, and Miloš Zeman, the President of Czech Republic, probably Europe’s least religious country, where only 16% of the population identify with a faith.
Of course, Xi Jinping, the President of China, the most populous nation on Earth, is not only an atheist, but has advocated for his compatriots to be “unyielding Marxist atheists” to combat the spread of foreign religions.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Czech President Milos Zeman (L) at The Great Hall Of The People on September 4, 2015 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Julia Gillard, Australia’s former prime minister, is atheist, as have been 11 of 12 of the country’s prime ministers that preceded her. John Key, New Zealand’s prime minister, and Elio Di Rupo, Belgium’s former prime minister, also do not believe in a higher power.
There’s little evidence that being religious is going to somehow help the leader of the free world, the American President, to do his or her job any better. It’s time to not have this be an important qualification for the job.