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Amazon Prime Day Strikes and Boycotts: A Reading List

We're highlighting stories from our archives on the effectiveness, implications, and origins of corporate boycotts and strikes.
Protesters left boxes on the ground in front of an Amazon store on 34th Street on July 15, 2019, in New York City. The protest, raising awareness of Amazon facilitating ICE surveillance efforts, coincides with Amazon's Prime Day, when Amazon offers discounts to Prime members.

Protesters left boxes on the ground in front of an Amazon store in New York City.

Monday kicks off Amazon's 48-hour sale known as Prime Day, which started in 2015 and has been a huge financial success for the company, resulting in $4.19 billion in sales last year. This year, however, workers and activists are organizing protests, going on strike, and calling for boycotts over Amazon's labor practices and involvement with the United States federal government's deportation efforts.

Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota are walking out for six hours on Monday, arguing the company has failed to meet demands such as converting more temporary workers into full-time Amazon employees and lowering productivity quotas that workers say are unsafe. Amazon workers in Germany are also on strike over low pay and working conditions. Protests are expected to take place in many cities in the U.S. and Europe.

Activists are also outraged over a report that surfaced in October of 2018 showing Amazon provided "the backbone of infrastructure" for key software programs used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, that serve to track down and deport immigrants, according to MIT Technology Review. Over 270,000 people signed a petition to be delivered to Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos' home Monday calling for Amazon to cut ties with ICE.

Social media users have called for boycotts against Amazon and its many subsidiaries during Prime Day sales in solidarity with striking workers.

What could happen as a result of these boycotts and strikes? Here's a Pacific Standard reading list of stories that may answer your questions and make you think more deeply about the effectiveness, implications, and origins of corporate boycotts and strikes.

Bank of America, Wayfair, and the New Age of Corporate Activism

The Amazon protests come just weeks after a similar situation at the home goods e-commerce company Wayfair, which faced boycotts and employee walkouts after it was revealed that the company was selling beds to migrant detention centers. Jared Keller explores how corporate activism has become a popular and effective mode of protest in recent years:

If anything, the last few weeks have indicated that progressives are waking up to the fact that, in some cases, they can better effect immediate change at their office than at the voting booth, and also that some corporate leaders actually see a genuine interest in adhering to a more socially responsible mode of political influence.

When Corporate Boycotts Work

The Prime Day consumer boycott raises the question: Will it actually impact Amazon? The answer, according to Rick Paulas' piece from 2017, is the boycott may be more likely to if boycotters follow a certain approach:

As Brandon Steele, a a senior manager at Future 500, told the Guardian in 2015: "Smart campaigners combine boycotts with carrots such as brand promotion if a company makes a change, and other types of sticks if it does not, such as targeted protests, social media campaigns, and brand-jacking."

The Anatomy of a Boycott

This article by Erik Hayden outlines a 2010 study that captures the demographics of corporate boycotts, which it finds tend to be mostly composed of "marginalized" groups, namely middle-class minorities. The study was the first of its kind to use a representative sample of the U.S. population. While the make-up of that sample may have shifted in the last nine years, the research still offers relevant insights:

In her research, [Naomi A. Gardberg at the City University of New York] cites a 2008 study finding that 28 percent of boycotted corporations eventually concede to consumer demands—a number that, depending on your perspective, could be as seen as an encouraging or disappointing sign of effectiveness.

What Happens When Private Sector Workers Strike?

In 2016, 40,000 Verizon workers went on strike to demand better pay and benefits, then the largest strike since 2011. Looking at the strike, Dwyer Gunn examines the implications of declines and changes in union membership and strikes:

For years, strikes were like a prolonged siege or a high-stakes game of chicken, with each side trying to both outlast the other side and inflict maximum economic damage in an effort to gain the upper hand in contract negotiations. Today, most strikes serve a different purpose, or at least a dual purpose—they're a way for workers to prove a point, to signal that they mean business, and to drum up public support for their cause.