06 May 2011

Beware Amazon Marketplace

In 2001 I ordered a book described as new that was priced low. It was the Library of America edition of works by one of America's foremost writers, James Baldwin. My card was charged, but the book never shipped. The dealer, a second-party used dealer in Oregon selling through Amazon, employed several delaying tactics in response to my queries. Amazon told me to contact the dealer directly. They offer this advice up-front, but hide well the process of contacting them directly. Finally, after two months, I demanded a refund from Amazon. Because more than sixty days had transpired since the original order, they refused.

I was furious and resolved to cease all business with Amazon.

It was five years before I relented and bought another book from Amazon--two actually: Chess Bitch by Jennifer Shahade and Breaking Through by Susan Polgar. I had been buying from Amazon nearly monthly prior to this problem. After four years of occasional orders from the online giant, I cautiously placed another order through a second-party dealer. The book arrived as described, and I placed a couple more orders, always making certain that the rating was five-stars and 100%.

Last week, I ordered a book from jwbasilbooks via Amazon. Their rating seemed strong, although a mere 98% going back one year, and down to 93% for the lifetime of their work through Amazon. The order was cancelled the next day.
Greetings from,

We're writing to inform you that your order 002-6768021-8472203 from jwbasilbooks has been canceled because the item(s) you purchased were out of stock. Please return and place your order again at a later time.

Our sellers strive to minimize canceled orders. We're sorry for the inconvenience this has caused. Your credit card was not charged for this order. If you have any questions regarding the cancelation of this order, please contact jwbasilbooks.

If you're still interested in this item, please search for it again on

from the email
I tried rating the seller because they indicated quite clearly that the item was in stock. I realize that books do go out of stock between the time a book is ordered and when it is packaged for shipping. When the print run is too small on a surprise bestseller, this inconvenience is common. Obscure academic books published half a decade ago, however, do not fly off the shelves. Rather, a bookstore that mines the inventory of other bookstores, as I think is the case for this seller, does not keep its inventory up-to-date. As long as they are selling exclusively through eBay and Amazon, many hundreds or even thousands of cancelled orders will not affect their rating. When they are able to deliver as promised, they get good marks. When they fail, one person knows.

I've ordered the book for a few dollars more from They have yet to fail me.

As I learned back in 2002, Amazon makes efforts to hide the "contact us" option on their website. It took less effort this time--only eight or ten clicks--but I was able to email this note:
It should be possible to rate sellers that cancel orders. I am deeply suspicious that some cancel many orders. A dealer that lists an old and obscure item as in stock, then cancels an order because the item is out of stock SHOULD NOT HAVE A 100% RATING OVER THE PAST 30 DAYS!


Amazon replied to my complaint:

I understand that you'd like have the possibility to rate the seller even though the order is canceled

Even though orders canceled by sellers no longer appear in Your Account, you can still leave feedback for sellers who canceled the order by clicking the "Your Account" link on the top right-hand side of the homepage.

Go to the Orders section and click "Leave Seller Feedback".

from the email
jwbasilbooks no longer shows 100%!!

Harpoon Books has processed the order that I placed through AbeBooks. Brian W. Richardson, Longitude and Empire: How Captain Cook's Voyages Changed the World (2005) is on its way.

04 May 2011

The Haymarket Affair: Contrasting Histories

On this day in 1886, thousands of people gathered for a protest rally at Haymarket Square in Chicago. The previous day, police had fired into a crowd of strikers who had been confronting strikebreakers at the McCormick Harvester Works. Two striking workers were killed, perhaps more. The Chicago Daily News reported six deaths, and this figure was repeated by August Spies in his circular calling workers to arms (Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy [1986], 190).

Howard Zinn reports four deaths in his A People's History of the United States (1980) and quotes part of Spies' leaflet:
Workingmen to Arms!!!
...You have for years endured the most abject humiliations, ... you have worked yourself to death ... your Children you have sacrificed to the factory lord--in short: you have been miserable and obedient slaves all these years: Why? To satisfy the insatiable greed, to fill the coffers of your lazy thieving master? When you ask them now to lessen your burdens, he sends his bloodhounds out to shoot you, kill you!
... To arms we call you, to arms!
as quoted in Zinn, 270-271 (ellipses in Zinn)
This circular was published and distributed the evening of 3 May 1886 and set the stage for tensions the following evening at Haymarket Square. According to Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot's History of the United States (1994), "August Spies set the table for more violence" (439). Schweikart and Allen quote the first three sentences of the circular, "Revenge! Workingmen, to arms! Your masters sent out their bloodhounds!" (439).

Tensions had been building for months. On one side were the police, the state militia, the leaders of industries, a "Citizens' Committee" that met daily to plot strategy. On the other side were members and leaders of labor unions. The Chicago Mail, Zinn tells his readers, had suggested on 1 May watching and making an example of Albert Parsons and August Spies of the International Working People's Association: "Keep them in view. Hold them personally responsible for any trouble that occurs. Make an example of them if trouble occurs" (as quoted by Zinn, 270).

Despite the militant rhetoric, the protest at Haymarket Square was peaceful. As it was nearing its conclusion, 180 police marched towards the speakers stand. Then a bomb exploded, "wounding sixty-six policemen, of whom seven later died" (Zinn, 271). One died instantly (see summary at "The Dramas of Haymarket").

Police reacted quickly to the blast, firing into the crowd, killing at least four demonstrators. There are accounts that suggest many of the wounds suffered by the police were due to friendly fire.

The Chicago History Museum's website offers a good synopsis of the effects of the melee:
Acting with overwhelming public support, the police arrested dozens of political radicals. In the trial that followed, eight anarchists were found guilty of murder. After appeals to the Illinois and United States Supreme Courts failed, four of the defendants were executed on November 11, 1887.
"The Dramas of Haymarket,"
Howard Zinn list those executed: "Albert Parsons, a printer, August Spies, an upholsterer, Adolph Fischer, and George Engel" (271). Schweikart and Allen mention the conviction for murder and the governor's pardon of three. A Patriot's History does acknowledge, "trials produced evidence that anarchists only loosely associated with the Knights had been involved" (439). Zinn is more specific:
Some evidence came out that a man named Rudolph Schnaubelt, supposedly an anarchist, was actually an agent of the police, an agent provocateur, hired to throw the bomb and thus enable the arrest of hundreds, the destruction of the revolutionary leadership in Chicago.
Zinn, 271-272.

Patriot's and People's Contrasts

Howard Zinn does not list specific sources for quotations, but has an extensive bibliography for each chapter. Larry Schweikart and Paul Allen source every quotation. Absent from their citations are the standard left-wing labor histories found in Zinn's list, such as Philip Foner, A History of the Labor Movement in the United States, 4 vols. (1947-1964). Neither text cites The Haymarket Tragedy (1986) by Paul Avrich, which was published several years after Zinn's text. Avrich credits the compositor, Hermann Pudewah, for the word "revenge" at the beginning of Spies' circular.

More telling differences emerge in the spin of these two texts. A Patriot's History offers minimal information concerning the labor movement, and credits the well-known Knights of Labor for the protest activities. A People's History crafts a more detailed account of a multitude of organizations, naming Spies' International Working People's Union, one of several engaged in organizing the strike at McCormick Harvester Works. It highlights the struggle for the eight-hour work day, while A Patriot's History manages to discuss union organizing and strikes without naming a single issue. A Patriot's History does manage, however, "High wages also diminished the appeal of organized labor" (438). In contrast, A People's History emphasizes immigrant labor, noting, "There were 5 1/2 million immigrants in the 1880s, 4 million in the 1890s, creating a labor surplus that kept wages down" (266).

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