Amazon protests in Europe target warehouses, lockers on busy Black Friday

 Workers and activists across Europe plan demonstrations against U.S. e-commerce giant Amazon on Friday, aiming to disrupt its warehouses and prevent merchandise from reaching Amazon parcel lockers on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

On Black Friday, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, many retailers slash prices to boost sales. Originally known for crowds lining up at big-box stores in the U.S., the event has increasingly moved online and gone global, fuelled in part by Amazon (AMZN.O), which advertises ten days of holiday discounts this year from November 17 to November 27.

In Germany, Amazon's second-biggest market by sales in 2022, workers at five fulfillment centers in Bad Hersfeld, Dortmund, Koblenz, Leipzig, and Rheinberg, will go on strike for 24 hours from midnight Thursday to demand a collective wage agreement, trade union Verdi said.

An Amazon spokesperson in Germany said workers are paid fair wages, with a starting salary of more than 14 euros ($15.27) an hour, and have additional benefits, adding that deliveries of Black Friday orders will be reliable and timely.

More than 1,000 workers at Amazon's warehouse in Coventry, England, will strike on Friday, according to trade union GMB, as part of a long-running dispute over pay. Trade unionists are also organizing a demonstration at Amazon's UK headquarters in London.

An Amazon UK spokesperson said the strike would not cause any disruption.

Amazon's parcel lockers are also being targeted. Many Amazon shoppers use its lockers, which are located in train stations, supermarket car parks, and street corners, to receive their orders.

In France, the anti-globalization organization Attac is encouraging activists to plaster them with posters and ticker tape, potentially blocking delivery workers and customers from being able to open them.

Attac, which calls Black Friday a "celebration of overproduction and overconsumption", said it expects the protest to be wider than last year when it estimated 100 Amazon lockers across France were targeted.

Italian trade union CGIL called for a Black Friday strike at the Castel San Giovanni warehouse, while Spanish union CCOO called for Amazon warehouse and delivery workers to stage a one-hour strike on each shift on "Cyber Monday", the last day of Amazon's ten-day sale.

"Make Amazon Pay", a global campaign coordinated by UNI Global Union, said strikes and protests would take place in more than 30 countries from Black Friday through to Monday.

 Ahead of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s four days in exile, several staff researchers wrote a letter to the board of directors warning of a powerful artificial intelligence discovery that they said could threaten humanity, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The previously unreported letter and AI algorithm were key developments before the board's ouster of Altman, the poster child of generative AI, the two sources said. Prior to his triumphant return late Tuesday, more than 700 employees had threatened to quit and join backer Microsoft (MSFT.O) in solidarity with their fired leader.

The sources cited the letter as one factor among a longer list of grievances by the board leading to Altman's firing, among which were concerns over commercializing advances before understanding the consequences. Reuters was unable to review a copy of the letter. The staff who wrote the letter did not respond to requests for comment.

After being contacted by Reuters, OpenAI, which declined to comment, acknowledged in an internal message to staffers a project called Q* and a letter to the board before the weekend's events, one of the people said. An OpenAI spokesperson said that the message, sent by long-time executive Mira Murati, alerted staff to certain media stories without commenting on their accuracy.

Some at OpenAI believe Q* (pronounced Q-Star) could be a breakthrough in the startup's search for what's known as artificial general intelligence (AGI), one of the people told Reuters. OpenAI defines AGI as autonomous systems that surpass humans in most economically valuable tasks.

Given vast computing resources, the new model was able to solve certain mathematical problems, the person said on condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to speak on behalf of the company. Though only performing math on the level of grade-school students, acing such tests made researchers very optimistic about Q*’s future success, the source said.

Reuters could not independently verify the capabilities of Q* claimed by the researchers.


Researchers consider math to be a frontier of generative AI development. Currently, generative AI is good at writing and language translation by statistically predicting the next word, and answers to the same question can vary widely. But conquering the ability to do math — where there is only one right answer — implies AI would have greater reasoning capabilities resembling human intelligence. This could be applied to novel scientific research, for instance, AI researchers believe.

Unlike a calculator that can solve a limited number of operations, AGI can generalize, learn, and comprehend.

In their letter to the board, researchers flagged AI’s prowess and potential danger, the sources said without specifying the exact safety concerns noted in the letter. There has long been discussion among computer scientists about the danger posed by highly intelligent machines, for instance, if they might decide that the destruction of humanity was in their interest.

Researchers have also flagged work by an "AI scientist" team, the existence of which multiple sources confirmed. The group, formed by combining earlier "Code Gen" and "Math Gen" teams, was exploring how to optimize existing AI models to improve their reasoning and eventually perform scientific work, one of the people said.

Altman led efforts to make ChatGPT one of the fastest-growing software applications in history and drew investment - and computing resources - necessary from Microsoft to get closer to AGI.

In addition to announcing a slew of new tools in a demonstration this month, Altman last week teased at a summit of world leaders in San Francisco that he believed major advances were in sight.

"Four times now in the history of OpenAI, the most recent time was just in the last couple weeks, I've gotten to be in the room, when we sort of push the veil of ignorance back and the frontier of discovery forward, and getting to do that is the professional honor of a lifetime," he said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

A day later, the board fired Altman.

Germany's economy shrank slightly in the third quarter compared with the previous three months, data from its statistics office showed on Friday.

The figure confirmed an initial estimate, published in late October, that saw Europe's largest economy shrink by 0.1%.

"After the weak economic development seen in the first half of 2023, the German economy began the second half of the year with a slight drop in performance," said Ruth Brand, president of the statistics office.

Germany has been among the weakest economies in Europe this year as high energy costs, weak global orders, and higher interest rates have taken their toll.

In the second quarter, Germany's economy had grown by 0.1% after stagnating in the first three months of the year.

Adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 0.4% year-on-year in the third quarter.

Private consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of GDP, was 0.3% lower than in the previous quarter, the statistics office said. Government consumer spending increased for the first time in more than a year by 0.2%, it added.

court ruling that blocked the transfer of unused funds from the pandemic to green investment and blew a 60 billion euro ($65.44 billion) hole in the government's budget has led to major uncertainty, particularly among industry, about planned investments.

"Government austerity measures could lead to an additional dampening of growth," said VP Bank Chief Economist Thomas Gitzel, adding "It is unlikely that private consumption or investment will suddenly pick up."

The Bundesbank said in its monthly economic report on Monday that the German economy will likely shrink again in the fourth quarter and show signs of slight improvement early next year.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post