PORTLAND, Maine — A million years ago, Stacy Mitchell was in her office, talking about why Amazon is bad for America.
“If you relentlessly squeeze workers and suppliers, if you undermine every community’s local businesses, if you capture all of this surplus under the guise of efficiency and channel those gains to a small number of people, you end up with a system that is very vulnerable,” said Ms. Mitchell, an antitrust reformer and monopoly critic. “That is what we’ve been doing, systematically and as a matter of public policy.”
That was early March. Within days, much of the United States and Europe would enter lockdown. Unemployment soared, the health care system faltered and the economy collapsed. Shipping food, supplies and entertainment, Amazon became the pipeline — and sometimes the lifeline — for millions of housebound families. It was deemed essential.
The retailer immediately moved to deepen its dominance, hiring 100,000 new workers. Its stock market valuation jumped by hundreds of billions of dollars, while other retailers cratered. Wall Street analysts agreed: Amazon would own the future.
In the grim present, however, Amazon workers were suddenly visible in a way they had never been before. Warehouse employees raised urgent questions about how safe they were from the coronavirus. Wildcat strikes were staged at several warehouses. While the number of workers involved was small, it was still the largest labor revolt in Amazon’s history.
“Amazon has never been more powerful, but the consequences of its power have never been more visible,” Ms. Mitchell said on Thursday. “It’s laid bare.”
As much as anyone, she gets the credit for that.
Ms. Mitchell is 47, a historian by training, low-key by inclination. She is officially the co-director of a small nonprofit, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has been working since the early 1970s to defend communities against concentrated economic power. But her real role is the strategist of the demise of Amazon as we know it.