Oct. 28th, 2013

pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
When the Mother Jones article on worker condition inside an Amazon warehouse came out, I was not sympathetic. Yes, the company wants you to work fast. I don't consider it damning that a writer on an assignment was unable to meet quota for a highly physical job. Okay, it sounds mean that they will fire you for saying "This is the best I can do" but again, they have the right to retain the fastest workers. It is weird that they will fire you for missing a day your first week, no matter what the excuse, but then hire you back. That's expensive to them and could be fixed with some discretion. And not giving employees lockers is a total dick move. They can't even keep their keys or phones on them in the warehouse, so they have to hide them and pray. Making all the employees break at once is pretty cruel too, given the bottlenecks of metal detector and bathroom.

Debt talks a lot about how slavery, debt, and ripping people from their contexts are intimately linked. Slaves don't get to have social networks like owners, or even poor free people. Slavery often originates as a way of paying off debts/response to debts unable to be paid. Debt itself is about removal of context- people will do things to get out of debt they never would have for the the same amount of money outright. People will accept treatment of debtors for being debt that they would never accept as conditions for getting out of whatever caused the debt in the first place. Somehow the gap between original conditions (sick child) and when the payment comes due changes the moral calculus. And since money's entire purpose is to reduce the context necessary for economic exchange, it does the same thing.

I've had shitty jobs, but I never had a McJob, and I am beginning to recognize the importance of that distinction. I have never felt interchangeable. My shittiest job was summer school tutor. The teachers didn't even want me, my position was funded by a federal grant meant mostly to help the tutors themselves, finding people qualified to take the position would have been trivial... and yet, once I was in the classroom and working with kids, I was an individual with an individual position. I was not irreplaceable, but replacing me had a cost. If I had screwed up, the school would have had reason to pause before letting me go. The thing about McJobs is that no matter how good you are at them, you're replaceable. Even the fastest warehouse picker can be replaced by a finite number of other pickers. It's not until you get late 90s level unemployment levels that unskilled labor any leverage over your employers.

Which explains the unmeetable picker quotas. But why can't they get some g-ddamned lockers? I know the employees are replaceable and the margins low, but I can't imagine there wouldn't be some productivity benefit to employees not spending their entire workday wondering if their car will be there when they get back, and that that benefit exceeds the cost of the lockers. I'm having trouble typing this because I feel like a dirty commie*, but I believe my friends' explanations that it's a deliberate attempt to keep the workers down. That if you consistently tell them they're not even worth lockers, they won't be able to ask for more. I've talked about government and sick systems in poverty, and those are at least nominally designed to help people. Corporations will proudly state they're not allowed to have morals.

Yesterday I talked about the gaslighting involved in subtle racism: why wouldn't the same thing apply here? Once you've accepted that employers want you to fear losing your phone every day, it's not crazy to wonder if they're deliberately setting your quota beyond what a mortal is capable of so they can yell at you. Especially when they will fire you for not promising to try harder, regardless of what your numbers do. Maybe the McWorkers aren't in a position to judge exactly where economic rationality ends and arbitrary cruelty begins and letting that devalue their point is choosing to let the toxin win.

*And then I swing around to "only an unfeeling neocon would be feeling that"

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