The Warehouse: Workers and Robots at Amazon (Paperback)
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"Takes us to the heart of Amazon’s empire and masterfully unpacks the intensive labor, hyper-surveillance, and gamification of work that warehouse laborers experience each day."—Veenav Dubal, Professor of Law, University of California
"Work hard, have fun, make history" proclaims the slogan on the walls of Amazon's warehouses. This cheerful message hides a reality of digital surveillance, aggressive anti-union tactics, and disciplinary layoffs. Here is a hard look at a huge corporation whose behavior is reminiscent of the tumult of early industrial capitalism, the hundreds of thousands of workers who help Amazon fulfil consumers' desire are part of an experiment in changing the way we all work.
In this book, Alessandro Delfanti takes readers inside Amazon's warehouses to show how technological advancements and managerial techniques subdue the workers rather than empower them, as seen in the sensors that track workers' every movement around the floor and algorithmic systems that re-route orders to circumvent worker sabotage.
Delfanti writes, “What lies between your home delivery and Bezos’ bottom line is a series of technological systems that organize the company’s massive workforces, speed up work, and contribute to making jobs more precarious and unstable. It is human labor that keeps the commodities moving, in concert with and under the direction of a complex infrastructure of both software and machinery.” When thought of under those conditions, it is easy to see what Amazon’s size and power is worrisome, as it applies to consumers and competition, but especially to labor.
He looks at new technologies including robotic arms trained by humans and augmented reality goggles, showing that their aim is to standardize, measure and discipline human work rather than replace it. Despite its innovation, Amazon will always need living labor's flexibility and low cost. And as the warehouse is increasingly automated, worker discontent increases. Striking under the banner “we are not robots,” employees have shown that they are acutely aware of such contradictions. The only question remains: how long will it be until Amazon's empire collapses?
Amazon's despotic automation and surveillance technologies may well be its downfall
About the Author
Alessandro Delfanti teaches Digital Media at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Biohackers: The Politics of Open Science (Pluto, 2013).