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Worker Resistance on Amazon Warehouses


In Logic magazine, Sam Adler-Bell writes about the results of his extensive and fascinating investigation into worker resistance at Amazon warehouses (“fulfillment centers”). It has become widely known that working at one of these warehouses is fast-paced, mundane, and relentless. Traditional labor organizing has made few inroads at Amazon warehouses so far, but as Adler-Bell shows, this hasn’t prevented emloyees there from excercising forms of solidary and insubordination, from sharing tips on how to fool productivity scanners, to subtle sabotage. Check out an excerpt from the piece below.

These small acts of individual resistance — means of asserting one’s humanity against a system elaborately designed to blot it out — are versions of what sociologists and anthropologists call “weapons of the weak.” They tend to arise when relatively powerless groups contest the conditions of their subjugation by powerful subjugators. James C. Scott’s seminal 1985 study of Malaysian peasant resistance by the same name taxonomizes these quotidian acts of defiance, including foot dragging, dissimulation, desertion, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, and sabotage.

Amazon has built a vast logistics empire by subjecting its workforce to extreme forms of technological discipline — designed to keep workers isolated, fearful, and maniacally productive. This piece sets out to surface the “weapons of the weak” wielded by workers to resist this regime. I talked to current and former Amazon employees, spoke with warehouse worker organizers, read exit interviews on Indeed and Glassdoor, and visited online forums where Amazon workers congregate to complain, commiserate, shoot the shit, and seek and offer advice. I learned a great deal about the regime of total surveillance and bodily control that Amazon has built to manage its growing logistics workforce. And I learned about the counter-strategies that workers deploy to resist the dehumanization, boredom, pain, and mental anguish that Amazon’s disciplinary apparatus exacts.

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