USA: Amazon development approved by City of Worcester, but not by community

Amazon's billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos (Photo: Steve Jurvetson/Creative Commons)

On Wednesday, December 30th, the Worcester Planning Board held their second online meeting about turning the defunct Greendale Mall into an Amazon warehouse. Of the two massive “last mile stations” now announced for Amazon, only one triggered a minimal review process by the City. At this meeting, the majority of the 85 call participants continued to raise their opposition to Amazon’s attempts to take over the city, only for the Board to shut down their comments.

The Planning Board, anticipating the continued opposition to the project, opened the meeting by urging the public to restrict comments to issues relating to traffic or environmental impact, arguing that the tenant of the space is irrelevant. Powerful corporations with a history of bullying communities moving into our city are not irrelevant to workers and residents! Opponents, including members of the Independent Socialist Group (ISG), raised precisely why people in Worcester should be angry about Amazon moving in and “creating” brutally exploitative jobs subsidized by tax-payer welfare programs, forcing tax, data, and infrastructure concessions from local governments, causing COVID hotspots, destroying the local environment, and overwhelming local infrastructure.

Amazon has been in discussions with the Planning Board, City Council, City Manager, and other local government bodies for months. The public, however, was allowed at only two meetings to voice our concerns. The Planning Board meetings were designed to limit comments and restrict what people wanted to say. There was another meeting held jointly by Amazon and the City Councilmember representing District 2 where the Greendale Mall site is located as if such a project will only impact people in that district. The Amazon/corporate politician meeting was scheduled during the holidays, was not advertised, and most members of the community didn’t even hear about it until the Telegram & Gazette ran an article the following day.

The city government seems eager to help Amazon conquer territory in Worcester by getting the project approved before many people in the city even hear about it or have a chance to really oppose Amazon. Despite widespread public anger and concern, the planning board approved Amazon’s site plan. Local governments have power, even when they say they don’t, to stand in opposition to such projects or to instead develop infrastructure or services that benefit working people. However, instead of listening to the public, government bodies use their power to benefit corporations. The only tactic that has ever been proven to stop corporations like Amazon is to organize a movement of workers and residents, as governments can fold under mass pressure.

Democrats and Republicans in office in Worcester have repeatedly pushed through large corporate projects—tax breaks for the Table Talk Pies, massive loans to subsidize the construction of the Woosox Stadium, and now allowing Amazon to expand into Worcester—without thinking about how they will affect ordinary people, other than generating “jobs.” But not all jobs are created equal. The vast majority of jobs that the Amazon warehouse will create will be part-time or contracted, meaning no $15/hour and no benefits, as Amazon promised the city. In some of these cases, the city worked out community benefits agreements, but without any way to ensure the corporations fulfill the agreement, these “community benefits” fail to materialize. There are no consequences for Amazon if it violates permit conditions, fails to deliver on promised benefits to the community, or causes traffic and environmental problems.

Municipally-owned public housing and public services 

The Independent Socialist Group calls for the Greendale Mall to be turned into municipally-owned public housing with public services onsite, including a free community healthcare clinic, child and afterschool care, and other public service programs to be determined by the people of Worcester. From construction to ongoing services, all of these jobs should be unionized and pay a living wage with full benefits.

The whole process behind the approval of Amazon’s new local “last mile” stations highlights how undemocratic U.S. democracy really is. The people that live and work in Worcester, keeping the city running, have no voice in deciding what we need and want in our community.  The city government is rigged to favor the super-rich and the big corporations, including taking away our right to stop projects we know will harm us. The unelected “planning board” is not representing the people of Worcester. And in the Board’s own words, there is nobody in the city government whose job is to listen to the public’s concerns about the Amazon invasion. If the city of Worcester actually cared what we thought, they wouldn’t have pushed through approval during the holidays and instead would have at least had a series of public meetings, well-advertised and accessible to the community.

But the reason why government bodies don’t operate this way is because of capitalism. In the capitalist system, money is political power. And the Democratic and Republican party politicians bow down to the political power of big money.  Despite the provable harm that Amazon will cause to the residents, workers, and youth of Worcester, Worcester’s elected “representatives” sided with one of the richest and most powerful companies on the planet over the actual needs of residents. Apparently, the Worcester City Council thinks Jeff Bezos needs more billions of dollars. These officials speak of the housing, environmental, and cost of living crises, but do nothing to remedy them, and in fact, will make them worse by allowing Amazon’s last-mile stations.

Amazon is powerful but it can be defeated. A huge organizing effort in New York City forced city officials to rescind their lavish Amazon HQ2 offer which would have provided an unprecedented subsidy from city taxpayers to the world’s richest corporation. Despite Amazon’s brutal anti-union tactics, workers in warehouses across the world continue to stand up, fight back, and try to unionize, like in Alabama. Vital logistics services that Amazon exploits, shown by their increasing “share of the market” during COVID, could be provided without Amazon and without Amazon’s brutal exploitation of workers and the environment.

Crucial transportation needs should be nationalized as a public utility and run in the interest of society, not for profit. We can organize to build a society where the economy and government would be truly democratic, run by and for working people, where elected officials accept no more in compensation than the wages of the workers they represent and are subject to immediate recall when the community deems fit. A socialist society is possible, and it starts by organizing around the day-to-day issues in our lives, including the exploitation and political domination of corporations like Amazon. If you’re interested in getting involved in the struggle or like what ISG members had to say at the Worcester Planning Board meetings, reach out to us here.

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January 2021