Employee rebellions, real and imagined

Tom Liacas —  August 21, 2015 — Leave a comment

Have you read the hefty expose on Amazon’s brutal work culture in the New York Times? The business world is abuzz this week with articles either confirming the allegations or defending Amazon’s work climate. Others wonder whether or not these kinds of conditions are just par for the course in a world of increasing corporate pressures and diminishing returns.

My recent piece in The Guardian responds to this and outlines the kind of pressure it would take, from consumer boycotts and especially employee advocacy, to force a giant like Amazon to reform in spite of its otherwise great financial performance.

For those who claim such reforms to be impossible – that the profit margin is the only thing decision makers will ever listen to – I hold up Walmart as an example. In the summer of 2014, after years of public heat over labor conditions, Walmart was rather smug as it dismissed criticism.


Then, a movement – the #Fightfor15 – added its weight to the campaign. The larger coalition against Walmart paired the realities of wealth inequality and racial injustice with the plight of Walmart workers, who were often victims of both realities.

Walmart workers, organized under the banner of Organization United for Respect at Walmart, were a driving force throughout the campaign, bringing pressure to bear through strikes, personal testimonies and calls to boycott.

Finally, in February of this year, the retail giant capitulated and raised its minimum wage across the U.S., something it had vowed not to do previously.

All this to say that work conditions and culture in large companies can be changed when the right groups mobilize using the right pressure points, that is, ones that gain wider resonance. Employee action is a must here and time will tell if Amazon’s execs band together in the way that its warehouse employees did  in 2014.

Tom Liacas

Tom Liacas

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An M.A. graduate in Media Studies, Tom Liacas is an experienced Social Network Strategist who first cut his teeth creating and managing advocacy campaigns as an activist.