Google and Amazon workers rebel

January 21, 2020

From the January-February 2020 issue of News & Letters

San Francisco—On Nov. 22, 200 Google workers demonstrated in San Francisco against Google’s suspension and subsequent firing of five workers, including Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland. Rivers said she was a target for opposing Google putting a pilot cloud product in the hands of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. About 1,500 Google employees signed an open letter demanding Google end that relationship


Tech workers support immigrant rights at the May Day march in San Francisco on May 1, 2017. Photo by Tech Workers Coalition

In 2018 workers stopped Google’s Project Maven, a cloud Artificial Intelligence system designed for the Defense Department that would help guide drone strikes on particular persons or groups. The Jan. 3 drone assassination of the murderous Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani (see “Editorial: The death of counter-revolutionary Qassem Soleimani,” Jan.-Feb. 2020 News & Letters), for Donald Trump’s personal aggrandizement and to divert from his impeachment troubles, is an example of the Pentagon’s global capacity to assassinate anyone.

Facing barriers to new growth, tech companies are eyeing the huge pool of money in the state-capitalist war budget. Project Maven was projected to bring Google $250 million. Google management, aiming to tap into that pool, is ending transparency and repressing internal opposition.

Workers at tech companies are concerned about their complicity in war and environmental destruction. As the Google employees’ recent open letter put it: “We have only to look to IBM’s role in working with the Nazis during the Holocaust to understand the role that technology can play in automating mass atrocity” (Business Week, Nov. 25).

The “military-industrial complex” is the hallmark of U.S. state-capitalist planning. The Democratic-controlled House enabled Trump’s skyrocketing military budgets and war plans by passing an astounding $738 billion 2020 war budget which, as a portion of the economy, rivals World War II levels. Politicians globally, as in the 1930s collapse in capital accumulation, have blamed capitalist internal barriers to growth on the “other,” and turned to racism, trade wars, currency wars, and shooting wars. 


Ordinary workers, even well-paid high-tech ones, are questioning their role in this march toward total destruction under the regime of capital. Tech giant Amazon, which is suing Trump over being left out of the Pentagon cloud computing contracts, threatened to fire members of Amazon Employees For Climate Justice who were inspired to join the youth’s Fridays for the Future in actions to stave off the imminent climate crisis. Over 8,000 Amazon workers signed an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos demanding the company cut its carbon emissions.

In Capital, chapter 15, on “Machinery and Large-Scale Industry,” Karl Marx documented how officials half-heartedly enforced the first regulations for children and women in the factories and for workplace safety. The crude bias of officials which Marx cited has now turned to absolute indifference for work safety or the environment. 

NewsHour reported on the death of an Amazon worker, Phillip Lee Terry, due to company negligence at Amazon’s Indiana distribution center. They interviewed a state OSHA official, John Stallone. State officials, eager to please Amazon, falsely blamed Terry’s death on worker misconduct.

Other workers and former safety inspectors all said that his death was due to company misconduct in not relaying, or even setting, safety procedures. Stallone quit rather than go along with the state’s deleting the citations against Amazon.


Marx concluded that the huge scale of this “martyrology” of the worker is inevitable where “the instruments of labor appear as a means of enslaving, exploiting and impoverishing the worker.” Further, this “laying waste and debilitating labour power itself” and “simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker” comes with the socialization of labor by capital’s large-scale machinery and industrial agriculture.

The “organized suppression” of the worker’s “individual vitality, freedom and autonomy” can only be overcome through a “restoration” of humanity’s “metabolism” with nature “in a form adequate to the full development of the human race.”       

—Ron Kelch

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