- In Long Island City, Queens – the neighbourhood where Amazon was set to open one of its HQ2 centres before cancelling the deal last month – Elizabeth Warren discussed her newly-unveiled plan to break up the country’s biggest tech companies.
- This comes just weeks after Amazon cancelled its plans to build a second headquarters in Long Island City, amid fierce backlash from progressive activists and local lawmakers.
- “They think they can run their business to just roll right over every small business, every entrepreneur, every start-up that might threaten their position. And what does our government in Washington do? Nothing,” Warren told the crowd in Long Island City.
- “We need big structural change in this country,” Warren emphatically stated.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren travelled to Long Island City, Queens – the very same neighbourhood where Amazon was supposed to open one of its HQ2 centres before it cancelled the deal last month – on Friday night to talk to New Yorkers about her plan to break up America’s biggest tech companies.
A substantive crowd showed up to hear the Massachusetts Democrat and 2020 presidential candidate argue that massive tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google are undermining democracy with their monopoly power.
“They want to be the umpire and they want to run a bunch of teams in the game,” Warren said of the tech giants. “My view on this is you can be an umpire or you can own a team, but you can’t do both at the same time.”
“We have these giant tech companies that think they rule the earth,” Warren added. “They think they can come to towns, cities, states and bully everyone into doing what they want. They think they can scoop up all of our personal data and sell it to whoever they want for whatever purposes. They think they can run their business to just roll right over every small business, every entrepreneur, every start-up that might threaten their position. And what does our government in Washington do? Nothing.”
“We need big structural change in this country” became the theme of the night.
Many in the assembled crowd shared Warren’s frustration with companies like Amazon.
“I didn’t have a problem with Amazon coming to Long Island City in general, I just didn’t like the way they were coming,” William Hampton-Sosa, a professor at Brooklyn College, who lives in Long Island City told INSIDER. “The agreements were done in secret, behind closed doors, they didn’t engage the community. If they’re going to come to New York City, that’s fine. But don’t ask for tax breaks, especially when you don’t pay taxes.”
Luke Thomas, 33, a software developer who works in nearby Greenpoint, Brooklyn said he didn’t have “strong feelings” about Amazon coming to Queens. However, he thinks breaking up the major tech companies won’t hurt them too much saying, “There’s a rich tradition of breaking up monopolies.”
Kim Clay, a 23-year-old law student, who lives two blocks from the Long Island City site that would have housed Amazon’s HQ2 said she was worried about “getting priced out” of her apartment.
The night featured local politicians, including New York City Council Deputy Leader Jimmy van Bramer and New York state senator Michael Gianaris – both vocal opponents of the deal to bring Amazon to New York.
“We brought the presidential campaign to our doorstep because we stood up to corporate greed in this neighbourhood,” Gianaris said. “All we do is suffer while the rich get the heli-pads.”
A progressive backlash to Silicon Valley
On Friday morning, Warren announced her plan to break up some of the largest US tech companies, including Amazon, Google, and Facebook. It was no coincidence that Warren chose to debut the proposal in Long Island City – the same neighbourhood that Amazon had plans to build a second headquarters.
The tech giant pulled out of the deal last month amid fierce opposition from local activists and lawmakers.
The proposal includes a call for “platform neutrality” – barring tech giants from both providing a marketplace and selling their product on the same marketplace. And it would appoint new regulators to undo mergers they believe would smother competition.
For example, the senator wants to break Facebook away from Instagram and WhatsApp, Amazon away from Whole Foods, Google away from Nest.
Warren’s aggressive move – and Amazon’s recent cancellation of its Queens HQ2 – illustrates the progressive left’s growing disillusion with Silicon Valley.
Progressive New York lawmakers, including democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, responded to a grassroots backlash against the corporation’s deal with the city and state, which included up to $US3 billion in tax breaks and incentives in exchange for the creation of 25,000 jobs.
This comes after Sen. Bernie Sanders repeatedly criticised Amazon’s treatment of its workers, particularly its lowest-wage employees. Reports have emerged in recent years that suggest gruelling and even inhumane working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses around the world.
The company raised its minimum wage to $US15 per hour for all of its fulfillment center workers shortly after Sanders introduced a bill, known as the Stop Bezos Act, which would tax large companies whose low-wage employees rely on government assistance.
Anthony Fisher contributed to this report.