Opinion: After Tornadoes, Amazon’s Hands Stained with the Blood of Workers

By David Martinez

Sadness may surge any time that a worker dies, but it is accompanied by rising class hatred upon hearing of the deaths of workers that were entirely preventable, who die at the hands of the capitalist rulers of society. The six workers at an Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Illinois, last Friday killed by devastating tornadoes can be added to the list of capitalist crimes. Workers spent their last moments in agony because Amazon would not allow them to seek safety with their families, and because the company refused to build a facility equipped to withstand the elements. This was not natural; this is not an accident—it is social murder, and Amazon is the killer.

“Amazon won’t let us leave” were the last words texted by worker Larry Virden to his girlfriend—five words that encapsulate the indifference, the horror of this backwards capitalist system and its total disregard for workers’ lives. Refusing to shut down production, or invest the money into building long-lasting, well-planned structures, Amazon, and all capitalist monopolies, seek profit as their primary drive over all others. The capitalist system, which measures workers only by the value they can produce for owners, must be destroyed and buried, instead of letting it bury more members of our class.

Virden’s girlfriend, Cherie Jones, told the monopoly media outlet the New York Post that they texted 20 minutes before the tornado touched down, time he could have spent getting home. Virden leaves behind four children. The National Weather Service (NWS) was predicting extreme weather the day prior to the storm, stating in an evening discussion last Thursday, “The main focus continues to be the severe weather potential for Friday night,” and the conditions would be, “more favorable for rotating storms [tornadoes].”

A severe weather prediction released on the afternoon of December 10.

As science advances (even while hindered by capitalist inefficiency), severe weather may be more accurately predicted. However, advanced warnings mean nothing to the capitalist monopolies who will not adjust or slow down production to protect workers’ lives. The six deaths are a small price for Amazon to pay in the grand scheme of their profit-making.

As his mom told him “I love you,” 29-year-old Clayton Cope rushed to notify his co-workers of the storm, but lost his own life while trying to aid others. Etheria S. Hebb was a single mom who was described as the “life of the party who always did everything for everyone,” by her friend to the New York Post. Deandre Morrow, 28, was from St. Louis, and according to friends on social media brought “happiness and peace to everyone’s life.” The youngest victim of Amazon’s crime was 26-year-old Austin McEwen, and the oldest was Kevin Dickey, 62 years old.

Forty-five more workers were buried under rubble and were rescued by emergency responders following the tornado. It is thought that the tornado formed nearby and then hit the facility, causing the building’s massive concrete walls to fall and the ceiling to collapse downward, killing and trapping workers. The quickly made and cheaply produced warehouses that are thrown together as Amazon has exponentially expanded its operations are not built for shelter or endurance.

Workers Comment: “This was senseless on Amazon’s part”

Amazon workers at the PIT5 facility in Crafton, Pennsylvania, expressed their sadness about their fellow workers’ deaths. Most of them have no doubts that the blame lies directly with Amazon and its owner, Jeff Bezos, the second-richest man in the world.

“This was senseless on Amazon’s part. They have a responsibility to keep us safe. They knew that the area is prone to tornadoes. But in my opinion, they cut corners,” one worker said. “They should have cancelled the sort.” “Sort” refers to the Amazon shifts when packages are being prepared for shipment.

PIT5 workers understood Amazon’s responsibility for the failed structure. “Basically it was neglectful. If you’re in a twister-prone area, you have a basement in the building,” said one one worker. Illinois has the tenth-highest rate of tornadoes in the country. Another said, “It’s terrible, and the building should’ve been better structured.”

Some workers heard that the PIT5 facility is supposedly going to start receiving a quarter of the volume that would have gone through Edwardsville. One worker said, “So we’re getting the volume they can’t process because [the workers are] dead. … It feels weird. It’s like bloodstained packages.”

Another worker pointed to the center of the PIT5 facility where a small green sign with a tornado icon on it hangs—this is where workers are told to group together in emergency situations. “I bet if that happened here, you’d see management running down to a secret bunker and leaving the rest of us.”

Several workers pointed out that PIT5 management and Bezos hadn’t made any kind of announcement about the deaths. One worker said, “It really shows you what a piece of shit Bezos is, to say congratulations about his spaceship but not say anything about this.” Referring to a worker suicide in Nevada, she said, “I remember when a worker in Las Vegas climbed up onto the roof and jumped off. They made people keep working for two more hours. [Amazon’s] mentality is so disrespectful.”

Many workers thought it would be good to have a moment of silence or something in recognition of the dead. “I thought they would do something for them at the sort, at least light a candle or show support. It would be nice,” said one worker.

On the report that Amazon is running a fundraiser for the workers’ families, one worker said, “That’s so wrong. … Why can’t Amazon pay for it?”

“I don’t blame the people,” said one worker, countering notions that workers were to blame for their own deaths. “I blame the government, I blame the company.” Comparing it to the winter storms in Texas which resulted in massive blackouts because of the failures of the State and energy monopolies, “It’s like Texas all over again, with the power grid. You know these things happen, but you don’t prepare for them—that makes you guilty.”

The Edwardsville Amazon site was not the only workplace where workers didn’t return home from work last Friday. So far eight workers are confirmed dead and many more are injured at the Mayfield Candle Factory in Kentucky, where management threatened to fire workers if they left their shift early as storms arrived.

While extreme weather may put the contradiction between workers and the capitalists on clearer display, the crimes of the capitalists against workers are a daily occurrence. These unnecessary deaths, and the relentless exploitation that drives workers into their graves, must fuel the fight for revolution to bring an end to the system that throws workers’ lives to the wind.

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