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Dear Mackenzie: There’s One More Donation You Owe to the World

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Dear Macken­zie Scott, 

This week, you announced that you’ve made $4.2 bil­lion in char­i­ta­ble dona­tions in the past four months. For that you deserve an extreme­ly mod­est amount of con­grat­u­la­tions! You are, no doubt, besieged at all times by peo­ple who come to kiss your ass and beg for mon­ey. We come to you today with some­thing dif­fer­ent: moral con­dem­na­tion leav­ened with only the faintest sense of praise?—?com­bined with an idea that offers redemp­tion for you and for the belea­guered reg­u­lar peo­ple of Amer­i­ca at the same time.

Your net worth, accord­ing to reports, stands at some­thing like $60 bil­lion. How did you get so rich? You got so rich by being mar­ried to Ama­zon CEO Jeff Bezos for 25 years. More specif­i­cal­ly, you got so rich by divorc­ing Jeff Bezos last year, and get­ting 4% of Amazon’s stock in the process. That stake in the com­pa­ny was worth $38 bil­lion when you got it. You have there­fore made more than $20 bil­lion in the past year, thanks to the company’s boom dur­ing the pandemic. 

Here is where we will say some­thing mild­ly nice about you: You seem to be on the good end of the bil­lion­aire class. Many of your wealthy peers view char­i­ta­ble giv­ing as a chance to see their name adorn­ing fan­cy build­ings, or to attend lav­ish social events while being insu­lat­ed from crit­i­cism for their lav­ish­ness. Oth­ers, like your ex-hus­band, view char­i­ty as an unim­por­tant after­thought, donat­ing an inde­fen­si­bly pal­try por­tion of their wealth to the needy, or leav­ing the task to a foun­da­tion after they’re dead. By giv­ing away bil­lions this year alone, you have demon­strat­ed that you grasp, to some extent, the moral urgency of help­ing peo­ple soon­er rather than lat­er. You have pledged to give away the major­i­ty of your wealth in your own life­time?—?not much of an eth­i­cal achieve­ment by Peter Singer stan­dards, but in the con­text of Amer­i­can bil­lion­aires, not bad. 

Fur­ther­more, your choic­es of where to give seem to show that you do care about impact, and not just grandeur and flash. You sought out small orga­ni­za­tions, from his­tor­i­cal­ly Black col­leges to local food banks, that can do a lot with your mon­ey, rather than lazi­ly writ­ing checks to big nation­al groups that will show­er you with good P.R. and then blow a lot of your mon­ey on mid­dle man­age­ment. You exhib­it a very basic sense of human decen­cy, and that alone puts you ahead of most of your peers. 

Of course, that is not enough to give you a pass. The very exis­tence of a $60bil­lion for­tune in the hands of one per­son is a crime, proof of the way that human soci­ety has evolved away from jus­tice. And your for­tune, in par­tic­u­lar, is not clean. Your mon­ey was earned on the backs of hun­dreds of thou­sands of reg­u­lar peo­ple who have done the work that makes Ama­zon run, and suf­fered as a result. They have suf­fered phys­i­cal­ly. They have suf­fered finan­cial­ly. And they have suf­fered exis­ten­tial­ly, by being treat­ed at every turn as cogs in a machine, rather than as human beings whose own hopes and dreams and auton­o­my should be allowed to flour­ish. Every Ama­zon ware­house work­er forced to pee in a bot­tle because they didn’t have suf­fi­cient breaks; every Ama­zon office work­er who slept in their car in order to keep their job; every Ama­zon deliv­ery dri­ver denied a chance at an actu­al career with a liv­ing wage and ben­e­fits because the com­pa­ny has seen to it they will nev­er be a full time employ­ee; all of these peo­ple put a dol­lar into your pock­et, Macken­zie Scott. Your for­tune came from them. Your mon­ey was earned by squeez­ing them into pover­ty. That is the plain truth. No mat­ter how nice of a per­son you may con­sid­er your­self to be, the fact is that you have a pro­found debt to all those people. 

You could, I guess, just write a check and give every Ama­zon work­er a few thou­sand bucks. That would be nice for a pass­ing moment, but noth­ing would real­ly change. You can­not fix a struc­tur­al debt with a trin­ket. In order to start cor­rect­ing the fun­da­men­tal injus­tices that have made you so rich, you must do some­thing that can give those work­ing peo­ple their own pow­er to take back con­trol of their lives. 

Ama­zon needs a union. And I am hap­py to say: Macken­zie Scott, you can help with that. It’s hard to orga­nize a com­pa­ny like Ama­zon, both because it is a larg­er beast than any indi­vid­ual union has resources for, and because it will spend a great deal of mon­ey on lies and intim­i­da­tion to pre­vent its work­ers from exer­cis­ing their fun­da­men­tal right to orga­nize. But mon­ey can help to even the play­ing field. For a small frac­tion of the mon­ey you just gave out?—?say, $100 mil­lion?—?it would be pos­si­ble to hire orga­niz­ers nation­wide with the express pur­pose of union­iz­ing Ama­zon. The com­pa­ny is cur­rent­ly fight­ing against one sin­gle union dri­ve at a ware­house in Alaba­ma; we need to have them fight­ing against par­al­lel union dri­ves at hun­dreds of ware­hous­es across the coun­try all at once. The labor move­ment knows how to orga­nize work­ing peo­ple, but its resources are sim­ply no match for a $1.6 tril­lion com­pa­ny that can stamp out iso­lat­ed dri­ves like a giant crush­ing an ant. To give Amazon’s work­ers a chance at real jus­tice, the com­pa­ny must be orga­nized. And to orga­nize a com­pa­ny like this, there must be ded­i­cat­ed nation­al infra­struc­ture work­ing on this, and only this. No labor union in the Unit­ed States has enough mon­ey to build this on the scale that’s nec­es­sary. But you do, Macken­zie Scott. 

With one check, you can make it pos­si­ble to start union­iz­ing the com­pa­ny that made you a mega-bil­lion­aire. This is the sin­gle best way to start pay­ing your moral debt to those whose lives have been treat­ed as dis­pos­able in ser­vice to Amazon’s growth. And, it will real­ly piss off Jeff Bezos. I think we would both like to see that, no? 

We’re going to have to con­fis­cate the rest of your mon­ey when the rev­o­lu­tion comes any­how. Might as well set your kar­ma right before then. 

Sin­cere­ly,

The unwashed masses

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on December 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. 


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