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As we reflect on our just-completed July 4 celebrations, Amazon’s Prime Day approaches; it’s actually two days, July 12 and 13. Amazon needs — and we need — to think about and act on what connects the Fourth of July and the e-commerce and tech behemoth.

July 4 celebrates independence from the British Empire. A majority of subjects in the American colonies then had decided to reject the authority of King George III. They would no longer allow a distant king and his court to dictate their lives, jobs and economic futures.

Nor were they satisfied with simply exchanging one king for another, one small collection of royal officials for another. No, they went further and insisted that they did not want monarchy per se. Instead of a king, they wanted a democratically elected legislature, an elected executive chosen by and ultimately responsible to the people. “No taxation without representation,” said the Boston Tea Party folks. No one-way authority from top to bottom; instead, the new, independent United States demanded two-way, shared, mutually accountable authority.

Sure, there were flaws and failures in the new democratic breakthrough associated with July 4 then. The indigenous people, women, slaves, whites without property — together the vast majority — were summarily excluded from “we the people.” It took centuries of struggles to overcome, if still only partially, those flaws and failures. Nonetheless, the American Revolution remains a major milestone in human history, a positive breakthrough.

Amazon, one of the world’s most powerful corporations, needs no less. Amazon is like the British Empire was. Instead of a king, Amazon has a CEO. That CEO has a board of directors like King George III had his court. The CEO and the board rule over the 1.6 million employees (full and part-time). They control whether that enormous number of people do or do not have a job. Thereby, they control the financial security and well-being of further millions of family members and of the communities that depend on them.

The Amazon CEO and board determine how the company works, its technology, pace, feeling: literally how it helps shape the work lives of employees. And those employees take parts of their work lives home as we all do. Amazon thus helps shape home and personal lives too.

Emily Guendelsberger worked for Amazon in order to write a book “On the Clock.” Therein, she carefully describes what it is like to work for Amazon and other large employers: the robot-like work pace, the intense and unhealthy pressures, the rigid hierarchy of the workplace. Her book offers us as powerful a demand for change as Tom Paine’s “Common Sense” offered Americans leading up to the Revolution.

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If we could list “a long train of abuses and usurpations” committed by Amazon, it would include 

  • using its leverage to kill competitors; 
  • subjecting workers to unfair and unsafe conditions; 
  • crusading against unionization; snuffing out neighborhood brick-and-mortar businesses; 
  • creating tons of packaging waste and other environmental harms; 
  • paying far too little in federal taxes;
  • and much, much more.

Immense corporations like Amazon need a change. The huge wealth and luxury of Jeff Bezos stands in too large a contrast with the difficult economic conditions imposed on his company’s employees. In just the same way, the palaces of King George III’s court contrasted with the economic reality of most of his “colonial subjects.” In the end, there was no need for those deeply unequal conditions to exist, let alone to persist, in King George’s time. The same applies to Amazon now.

Society needs packages delivered with skill, speed, efficiency and real organizational responsibility just as the American colonies needed government. But government does not require kings and courts; the American revolution and subsequent history proved that.

We can democratize large enterprises. We can respect the lives of employees in the sense of giving them control over workplaces, enabling them to participate equally (one worker, one vote) in deciding what services to offer, how to organize performing them, and what to do with the revenues generated by the services all those employees help to produce.

The free and independent United States never regretted discarding king and court. We proudly celebrate July 4 as winning a new, independent social order better than what existed for so long before. We have every reason to expect the same result from democratizing large enterprises. For a country that celebrates its commitment to democracy, we are long overdue to bring democracy to large enterprises, who for so long excluded it.

2022 is a special year to make these points. That’s because large numbers of Amazon employees inside the U.S. have joined to challenge, unionize, and strike Amazon. They bring a July 4 moment closer to Amazon. We gain from their courage.

Crossposted with permission from the New York Daily News.