Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos boarded Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft in West Texas on Tuesday morning with his brother Mark, Mercury 13 candidate astronaut Wally Funk and an 18-year-old Dutch student. for the first unmanned suborbital flight with an all civilian. crew. The achievement of Blue Origin was the second suborbital flight in nine days, with Richard Branson taking off last week.
Critics have questioned whether so much attention and resources should be devoted to the visions of privatization and the colonization of space put forward by billionaires.
The weeks leading up to the launch were marked by further criticism of the so-called billionaire space race. At a time when inequalities continue to worsen and the effects of the climate crisis are becoming more evident every day, critics have questioned whether so much attention and resources should be devoted to visions of privatizing the world. space and colonization advanced by billionaires.
Billionaire supporters were quick to note that this flight wasn’t just about ego or tourism – Bezos and Branson’s efforts could set the stage for an expansion in space travel and technology that could eventually affect everyone. world. It’s a dubious claim that is based more on faith than evidence, but it was repeated widely as major news networks devoted hours of coverage to the launch of Blue Origin. Yet several hours later, Bezos gave critics exactly the sound they were looking for by pointing to one of the biggest criticisms of his privatized push for space exploration.
At a post-launch press conference, Bezos made a special dedication. “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer,” Bezos said, “because you paid for it all.” Bezos is worth over $ 200 billion. It is a fortune amassed in large part through the hard work of thousands and thousands of workers. And many of those same workers have spent the last few years arguing that they are not being paid the equivalent of the value they produce.
The company recently made a point of promoting its minimum wage of $ 15 an hour, which it says makes him the “Bernie Sanders of employers.” But this conveniently downplays the fact that Amazon pays much less than many other companies in a heavily unionized industry, and in fact tends to drive wages down in the industry when it opens new distribution centers. For example, The Economist found that when Amazon entered Lexington County, South Carolina, the annual earnings of warehouse workers jumped from $ 47,000 to $ 32,000.
But workers are not only protesting against low wages; they also protest the way they are treated at work.
In March, Amazon went on the offensive after Representative Mark Pocan in Wisconsin tweeted that his employees had to urinate in bottles. The official company information account responded, “You don’t really believe in peeing in bottles, do you?” But reporters were quick to publish photos of the urine bottles, along with documents showing the company knew their truck drivers didn’t just pee in bottles but sometimes even had to defecate in bags because they had to. so many deliveries to be made in the allotted time. Amazon was eventually forced to apologize, but the “own purpose,” as the company wrote, was not an isolated incident.
A Reveal News survey released in September found the company’s critical injury rate to be double the industry average. Amazon declined Reveal’s interview requests; he later said the report highlighted Amazon’s focus on security, arguing that generous recovery policies skew the data. During the heat wave in early July, workers in New York City reported that their workplaces were excessively hot, causing nosebleeds and fainting. He reminded labor rights activists of an outcry 10 years ago over the lack of air conditioning at company facilities, despite the New York facility having air conditioning, according to company officials.
Meanwhile, repetitive stress trauma is a serious issue in Amazon warehouses. Reveal has found that they are often the result of aggressive productivity goals that are nearly impossible to achieve, and the company will not lower them. (An Amazon spokesperson told Vox that the report was “biased” and based on “skewed selective data to support false claims by an organization whose sole business purpose is to misinform the public about the track record of Amazon safety. ”) More recently, Vice reported this week that a woman in Tracy, Calif., miscarried after Amazon refused to provide housing recommended by her doctor. Amazon did not provide a response despite several emails and calls from Vice.
Amazon has become a global juggernaut, but as these stories demonstrate, its runaway success has come at a cost. Which brings us back to Bezos’ comments.
Even though Bezos claims he’s working to open up space for the masses and talks about the lives of humans in orbiting space colonies, the reality – at least for our lives – is likely to be much more modest. SpaceX’s Bezos and Elon Musk are competing for the launch, satellite, and other big contracts from public institutions like NASA and the Department of Defense – Musk has so far won because his company has a larger visibility. Seen in this light, launching Bezos was as much a PR exercise as it was the fulfillment of a personal dream.
Space billionaires sell us their grand visions to gain public and institutional support for their real projects: less colonization or even tourism and more expansion in the aerospace sector. They seek to take advantage of the way the US government is trying to assert its power and show that it can still compete technologically with China. As part of that competition, Bezos recently challenged NASA’s decision to award a key lunar lander contract to SpaceX.
It is often said that when people go to space, their perspective on the world changes. Bezos returned to Earth and said the experience had bolstered his commitment to tackling climate change – even as Amazon’s emissions continue to skyrocket and his plan to move polluting industries to space does is not a serious climate proposition. But it would be nice if Bezos didn’t lose sight of all the little people who made his big dreams come true. Amazon employees may or may not like his cry. But do you know what could be better than heartfelt thanks? A decent salary and benevolent working conditions.