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Dear Mackenzie Scott,
This week, you announced that you’ve made $4.2 billion in charitable donations in the past four months. For that you deserve an extremely modest amount of congratulations! You are, no doubt, besieged at all times by people who come to kiss your ass and beg for money. We come to you today with something different: moral condemnation leavened with only the faintest sense of praise — combined with an idea that offers redemption for you and for the beleaguered regular people of America at the same time.
Your net worth, according to reports, stands at something like $60 billion. How did you get so rich? You got so rich by being married to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for 25 years. More specifically, you got so rich by divorcing Jeff Bezos last year, and getting 4% of Amazon’s stock in the process. That stake in the company was worth $38 billion when you got it. You have therefore made more than $20 billion in the past year, thanks to the company’s boom during the pandemic.
Here is where we will say something mildly nice about you: You seem to be on the good end of the billionaire class. Many of your wealthy peers view charitable giving as a chance to see their name adorning fancy buildings, or to attend lavish social events while being insulated from criticism for their lavishness. Others, like your ex-husband, view charity as an unimportant afterthought, donating an indefensibly paltry portion of their wealth to the needy, or leaving the task to a foundation after they’re dead. By giving away billions this year alone, you have demonstrated that you grasp, to some extent, the moral urgency of helping people sooner rather than later. You have pledged to give away the majority of your wealth in your own lifetime — not much of an ethical achievement by Peter Singer standards, but in the context of American billionaires, not bad.
Furthermore, your choices of where to give seem to show that you do care about impact, and not just grandeur and flash. You sought out small organizations, from historically Black colleges to local food banks, that can do a lot with your money, rather than lazily writing checks to big national groups that will shower you with good P.R. and then blow a lot of your money on middle management. You exhibit a very basic sense of human decency, and that alone puts you ahead of most of your peers.
Of course, that is not enough to give you a pass. The very existence of a $60 billion fortune in the hands of one person is a crime, proof of the way that human society has evolved away from justice. And your fortune, in particular, is not clean. Your money was earned on the backs of hundreds of thousands of regular people who have done the work that makes Amazon run, and suffered as a result. They have suffered physically. They have suffered financially. And they have suffered existentially, by being treated at every turn as cogs in a machine, rather than as human beings whose own hopes and dreams and autonomy should be allowed to flourish. Every Amazon warehouse worker forced to pee in a bottle because they didn’t have sufficient breaks; every Amazon office worker who slept in their car in order to keep their job; every Amazon delivery driver denied a chance at an actual career with a living wage and benefits because the company has seen to it they will never be a full time employee; all of these people put a dollar into your pocket, Mackenzie Scott. Your fortune came from them. Your money was earned by squeezing them into poverty. That is the plain truth. No matter how nice of a person you may consider yourself to be, the fact is that you have a profound debt to all those people.
You could, I guess, just write a check and give every Amazon worker a few thousand bucks. That would be nice for a passing moment, but nothing would really change. You cannot fix a structural debt with a trinket. In order to start correcting the fundamental injustices that have made you so rich, you must do something that can give those working people their own power to take back control of their lives.
Amazon needs a union. And I am happy to say: Mackenzie Scott, you can help with that. It’s hard to organize a company like Amazon, both because it is a larger beast than any individual union has resources for, and because it will spend a great deal of money on lies and intimidation to prevent its workers from exercising their fundamental right to organize. But money can help to even the playing field. For a small fraction of the money you just gave out — say, $100 million — it would be possible to hire organizers nationwide with the express purpose of unionizing Amazon. The company is currently fighting against one single union drive at a warehouse in Alabama; we need to have them fighting against parallel union drives at hundreds of warehouses across the country all at once. The labor movement knows how to organize working people, but its resources are simply no match for a $1.6 trillion company that can stamp out isolated drives like a giant crushing an ant. To give Amazon’s workers a chance at real justice, the company must be organized. And to organize a company like this, there must be dedicated national infrastructure working on this, and only this. No labor union in the United States has enough money to build this on the scale that’s necessary. But you do, Mackenzie Scott.
With one check, you can make it possible to start unionizing the company that made you a mega-billionaire. This is the single best way to start paying your moral debt to those whose lives have been treated as disposable in service to Amazon’s growth. And, it will really piss off Jeff Bezos. I think we would both like to see that, no?
We’re going to have to confiscate the rest of your money when the revolution comes anyhow. Might as well set your karma right before then.
The unwashed masses
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Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.