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The Warehouse

The Warehouse

Workers and Robots at Amazon

by Alessandro Delfanti

Amazon's despotic automation and surveillance technologies may well be its downfall

'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. 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. He looks at new technologies including robotic arms trained by humans and augmented reality goggles, showing that their aim is to standardise, measure and discipline human work rather than replace it.

Despite its innovation, Amazon will always need living labour'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?

Alessandro Delfanti teaches Digital Media at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Biohackers: The Politics of Open Science (Pluto, 2013).

'This accessible and richly detailed book brings together fascinating interviews with Italian Amazon workers, historical and economic analysis, and thoughtful critique'

- Lisa Nakamura, Lisa Nakamura, Director of the Digital Studies Institute and the Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan

'Delfanti has done here what more critics of Amazon should - listen carefully to the people whose work makes the corporation function. Those of us fighting for a better future than Amazon's dystopia have much to learn from this book'

- Dania Rajendra, Inaugural Director, Athena Coalition

‘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’

- Veena Dubal, Professor of Law, University of California, Hastings College of Law

‘Deftly examines the dichotomy between Amazon's public personas and its union-busting, worker-surveilling behavior in fulfillment centers around the world’

- ‘Engadget’

List of figures
A note on methods
1. Relentless
2. Work hard
3. Have fun
4. Customer obsession
5. Reimagine now
6. Make history

Published by Pluto Press in Oct 2021
Paperback ISBN: 9780745342177
eBook ISBN: 9781786808653

135mm x 215mm