Time to nationalize Amazon

Issue 130

Paris Marx

Hey urbanists,

I hope you’re staying safe and holding up well. This week’s issue is a long one, so plenty to read while you’re safe at home.

I started with a few of the pieces I wrote this week — particularly happy with my argument to nationalize Amazon — then a breakdown of what’s happening around the world with COVID-19 (that isn’t really related to the other sections of the newsletter).

Moving into the rest of the issue, I want to highlight the pieces on sanitation workers; what’s happening with Airbnb, Amazon, and Uber; efforts to get cars off streets; what might happen on April 1 with rent payments; France’s high-speed hospital; and the few pieces relating the COVID-19 crisis to climate change.

I also finished reading Rob Larson’s “Bit Tyrants” and it was really good. It’s still free for a few more days. Stay safe!

— Paris


News roundup

🛑 By Paris: Coronavirus stimulus and disaster plans reveal cruelty of capitalist and political 'reality' (NBC News): “With the restrictions of false political realism out the window, we now need to ask ourselves whether we’re willing to accept the harms and inequities that we’ve become so used to, or seize this opportunity to address them once and for all. The decision should be an easy one.”

📦 By Paris: To Fix the Looming Supply Chain Crisis, Nationalize Amazon (In These Times): “Instead of letting Amazon continue as a private monopolist or trying to build a public alternative from scratch in record time, the company should be nationalized and reoriented to serve the public good instead of predatory capitalism, while enhancing the infrastructure of the post office.”

✈️ Plus, my piece last week on nationalizing the airlines for Tribune is now also in Jacobin if you missed it!

🦠 COVID-19 around the world: 🇧🇷 Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro denies the threat, calls for governors to lift restrictions on movement. 🇫🇷 French President Emmanuel Macron is using the crisis to continue his attack on working rights. 🇦🇺 Australia is funneling money to big business and attacking unions. 🇲🇽 Mexico’s president is ignoring the threat because he’s too worried about the economy. 🇨🇺 Cuba has had a laudable response and is sending doctors around the world to help. 🇵🇹 Portugal will treat all migrants as residents until July 1 so they can access public services. ☠️ Neo-Nazis love COVID-19. 🇮🇹 COVID-19 is denying dignity to Italy’s dead. 🌍 Global South countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, are preparing an effective health response to COVID-19, but won’t escape the economic fallout. 📷 Photos of empty public places around the world. ✊ Comparison of measures governments are taking to protect workers.

Tech dystopia

👨‍💻🎉 “The tech giants are likely celebrating and the key to their success will be our quarantine. A different world will emerge as the economy recovers, a world where technology mediates a far greater proportion of our lives than any Silicon Valley ideologue could have dreamed was possible previously.” — Matthew Cole

✊ “Hopefully, this crisis will not only elevate the status of low-wage workers but spark a new wave of organizing to boost standards and build power across these ‘essential’ industries. Because it’s low-wage workers — not bankers, landlords, or CEOs — who make our society run.” — Mindy Isser

🚮 “While New York police officers and firefighters are usually regarded as the public employees who gird the city against chaos, it’s the sanitation workers who keep 21st century society recognizable. […] Sanitation workers already have twice the fatality rates of police officers, and nearly seven times the fatality rates of firefighters. They contend daily with germ-ridden environments.” — Ross Barkan

📉🏘 With Airbnb collapsing along with the global travel industry, the number of properties for rent in Dublin is up 64%. There’s evidence something similar is happening in Toronto, Paris, and a bunch of U.S. and British cities, while contributing to decreased rents in London.

📦 Amazon is prioritizing ‘essential’ items, but all of its own products are considered essential. Fire TV, Echo speakers, Ring doorbells, etc. will all ship immediately, while similar products made by other companies won’t ship until late April. It even hid faster delivery options offered by some third-party sellers. An Amazon worker describes how there’s little air circulation in the warehouses, and if they go over the little time they’re allotted for bathroom breaks and to complete their tasks they’re written up. “Six write-ups: Fired.” Meanwhile, workers at ten U.S. Amazon fulfillment centers have tested positive for COVID-19 and they’re furious that they often have to confront management before they’re even told if a coworker tested positive.

😈 Sarah Emerson spoke to Uber drivers who say the company’s announced COVID-19 support for drivers is almost impossible to access. “[Uber thinks] that drivers are college students, but what they don’t understand is that most are elderly, poor, and people like me.” It also requires applicants to agree they aren’t employees so they can’y challenge Uber over AB5.

✊🥘 Jack Campbell suggests we nationalize food-delivery apps and use them to start a National Food Service

👁👩‍💻 Bosses are quickly buying up surveillance software to keep an eye on all their workers now working from home — tracking keystrokes, taking screenshots, etc.

🦠📈 The Financial Times has some fascinating infographics on the spread of COVID-19, particularly its impact on the Chinese economy

🦠 In COVID-19 news: Instacart workers are planning a nationwide strike. Tesla still forced some workers to show up after production was shut down by authorities. Increase in video streaming is putting pressure on internet infrastructure. Google banned the Infowars Android app over misinformation. The rich are buying their way to the front of the line for COVID-19 tests. U.S. efforts to scale up production of lithium and rare-earth minerals hampered by shutdowns.

Critical urbanism

🚫🚗 “The coronavirus pandemic presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for cities to remake their streets by taking space away from cars and giving it to pedestrians and bicyclists — permanently.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to ban cars on some streets of New York City in response to COVID-19, so supposedly progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio responded with a terrible plan to close sections of just four streets… for four days. Toronto and Vancouver are also considering closing some streets to cars, following actions by Bogota and Mexico City to expand bike lanes.

🇺🇸💸 With more than 3 million Americans having already applied for unemployment benefits, and many more who are out of work but simply aren’t eligible, a lot of people aren’t going to be able to afford rent at the end of the month. “April 1 will bring contract chaos when thousands of leaseholders decide not to pay, pushing a tide of unpaid debts from lessees to owners to banks—and sometime soon, a flood of litigation back from banks to owners to lessees.”

Weirdly enough, the April rent strike is being led by Bolshevik institutions like Mattress Firm, Subway, and the Cheesecake Factory. […] Pandemic surprise: When it comes to contract-breaking and collective action, chains are lawyered up and ready for Red April. […]

Rent strikes are relatively rare in the U.S. and are mostly reserved for slumlords who don’t provide services like heat or extermination. But they have an important history: A wave of rent strikes in New York beginning after the First World War led to the nation’s first rent control law. That those strikes were a political and practical success, the historian Robert Fogelson observed in The Great Rent Wars, was thanks to strong support from the then-powerful Socialist Party, as well as the role of women whose domestic social life was perfect for daytime organizing.

🇺🇸🇬🇧 “Both [New York City’s mayor Bill] De Blasio and [London’s mayor Sadiq] Khan were elected on platforms promising to nurture and protect the diversity their cities were built on. Both have ambitious targets for new homes that they claim will be fairly distributed between people of different income levels. Both say they can make their cities safe for the market as well as for those unable to successfully compete in it. Yet they have both pursued policies that essentially continue the paths laid down by their right-wing predecessors. In both cities, the housing crisis continues to worsen.” — David Madden and Glyn Robbins

🏙🦠 “When a pandemic comes, cities scare the hell out of people. The crush and bustle of the sidewalks and subways feels like a big petri dish.” But the truth is they’re the safest places to be.

🇬🇧🚌 The British government is signaling a shift in its transport policy, with the transport minister saying, “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.”

🇫🇷🚄 France retrofitted a high-speed train to serve as a speedy hospital to move patients to parts of the country with more hospital capacity

🛴💸 Lime might only have 12 weeks of cash left as it prepares for layoffs

🎉📉 Uber rides are down up to 70% in some cities, while Lyft is telling drivers to apply at Amazon

Climate crisis

🦠 Jeff Sparrow argues the ideological U-turns of prominent right-wing politicians around the world in the face of COVID-19 shows “if there’s an economic alternative now, there was an economic alternative then – and we are all suffering from the ideologically-driven failure to take it.” He warns we should be prepared for the aftermath, when they dismiss climate action “as a job-killing indulgence in a time of mass unemployment.”

💰📈 In response to the economic collapse, we need “an ambitious Green Stimulus of at least $2 trillion that creates millions of family-sustaining green jobs, lifts standards of living, accelerates a just transition off fossil fuels, ensures a controlling stake for the public in all private sector bailout plans, and helps make our society and economy stronger and more resilient in the face of pandemic, recession, and climate emergency in the years ahead.”

🌎 “Our response to this health crisis will shape the climate crisis for decades to come. The efforts to revive economic activity — the stimulus plans, bailouts and back-to-work programs being developed now — will help determine the shape of our economies and our lives for the foreseeable future, and they will have effects on carbon emissions that reverberate across the planet for thousands of years.” — Meehan Crist

🦠🦇 Fantastic essay by Sonia Shah explains that bats and other wildlife are not to blame COVID-19 and related viruses — we are. Specifically, a mode of production that destroys natural habitats and expands livestock production, making it easier for viruses that live harmlessly in wild animals to make the deadly jump to humans.

🇺🇸🚗 Infographics from the New York Times show how air pollution and traffic have plummeted in U.S. cities. The Guardian has the same for China, South Korea, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

🇺🇸🌃 Los Angeles’ air quality hasn’t reached unhealthy levels since February. It’s “a reminder that the vast majority of our air pollution comes from the transportation of people and goods.”

🇨🇦🌲 “[G]overnments in Canada have failed to act in the ecological and long-term interests of forest communities. With old forests on the brink, we only have a handful of years to reverse this trend. The policy choices that we’re making now will resonate for a long time.” — Tegan Hansen

🇺🇸🛢 The Environmental Protection Agency will not enforce environmental laws through the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and no end date has been set for the suspension. It comes after being requested by the American Petroleum Institute.

🇬🇧🇨🇦🍅 U.K. government might fly in 90,000 workers from Eastern Europe to pick fruit and vegetables that will otherwise rot in the fields. There are similar worries about whether the 50,000 migrant laborers would pick food in Canada will make it this year.

🦠 Fascist groups are imitating Extinction Rebellion to make people think the group sees “the coronavirus as a natural ‘cure’ to the human ‘disease’”


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