haldar13_Jens Büttnerpicture alliance via Getty Images Jens Büttner/picture alliance via Getty Images

Amazon’s Satanic Mills

Independent reporting has increasingly shown that Amazon owes much of its success to a brutal and systematic strategy of treating its workers like expendable units of production. It is no wonder that momentum is now building behind unionization efforts, just in time for the holiday shopping season.

HANOI – With Britain suffering through its worst cost-of-living crisis in decades – owing to high inflation and soaring energy prices – hundreds of workers at an Amazon warehouse in Coventry this month demanded a wage hike. If the demand is not met, they say they will go on strike in November, just ahead of Black Friday and the holiday shopping season. As with other recent labor actions by US rail workers and British Royal Mail employees, the Amazon workers’ move has kicked off a debate about who is to blame for the threatened disruption: the elves in the workshop or Father Christmas?

Amazon owes its success to a variety of factors, including a sophisticated data-driven approach. But its real genius lies in its logistics breakthroughs – including route optimization, fleet planning, and metadata management – that allow it to minimize “click-to-ship” time and provide customers with unprecedentedly fast and reliable on-time deliveries. Amazon Prime-branded planes and trucks shuttle packages around the world, operating like clockwork even through a pandemic that grounded much of the rest of the economy.

The mastermind behind the operation is a man named Jeff Wilke, who combined Taylorism (dividing production into narrow, closely monitored and measured repetitive tasks) and Fordism (assembly-line techniques) to create a warehouse model capable of processing more than a million units per day. With the help of robots and close surveillance, human “pickers” and “stowers” now process several times as much merchandise per hour as they once did.

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