An Anarchist Survey of Amazon: Crashing the Party and Amazon Go
Filed under: Analysis, Anarchist Movement, Capitalism, Technology, US
Filed under: Analysis, Anarchist Movement, Capitalism, Technology, US
“Each day sees the new Amazon towers rise higher into the air, promising to bring ten thousand more of these high paid workers to the city and heighten the volatility of the current situation. Not all of these workers are happy or amused about the situation they’re in.”
Since the conclusion of our previous survey, two interesting events occurred in various Amazon facilities. In one instance, a fulfillment center was torched in the British Midlands. In another instance, coordinated strikes hit Amazon in Germany and Northern Italy. All of this preceded the holiday sales blitz and threw Amazon into internal chaos. At the end of the holiday season, all Amazon could tout was its toxic accomplishment of shipping one billion commodities and selling “tens of millions” of talking Alexa units. When the shopping extravaganza was over, the corporate employees of Amazon were rewarded with a lavish spectacle to sooth their overworked souls.
Their annual Post-Holiday Party was held within the CenturyLink Stadium, otherwise known as the Seahawks Stadium in Seattle. The entire facility was commandeered by the corporation and when we arrived it appeared as if a football game were taking place. Police directed traffic in and out of the stadium area and a stampede of well dressed parties flooded towards the entrance. This was the only day of the year where their employer gave them something for free. This was where our survey began.
Security was very lose and we entered without issue or incident. This laxness was due in large part to the fact that Jeff Bezos was not going to be there. Our first observation was that the majority of Amazon employees in Seattle are between the ages of 25 and 35, many of whom wore Romanesque laurels around their heads. The only major exceptions were immigrant tech employees on H1B visas who were mostly in their 40s and early 50s. Our first stop was the silent dancing area where two hundred employees danced to music over specialty headphones provided for the occasion. It was eerily reminiscent of the celibate loner cult depicted in the film The Lobster who danced silently to their headphones in the middle of a forest.
We snapped the enclosed photograph in the middle of this surreal and disturbing environment, after which we proceeded to the next area where we encountered twenty steaming silver trays of macaroni and cheese. The quality was quite good but the abundance of this dairy-rich food proved to be slightly nauseating. In the next area we found doughnuts, cookies, and Starbucks coffee, all of which was provided for free. At the entrance of the stadium we managed to obtain several alcohol tickets which could be redeemed at the various bars. Each guest was meant to only have two tickets, after which they could pay seven dollars per drink. Our group bypassed this for the entire evening, as bottles of wine and cans of beer were easy to steal in this environment. The service workers had no incentive to care. There were SPD officers and King County Sheriffs hired for the event but they were stationed near the front doors away from the food.
Our second major observation was that everyone in the stadium betrayed a compulsive willingness to stand in line, even when there was no apparent reason. Our group initially found ourselves standing in various lines only to discover they were entirely pointless. With this simple object lesson in mind, we proceeded to cut every line we encountered with great success. We eventually made it into the stadium where we passed beneath a gate reminiscent of a concentration camp. This was apparently part of the 80s theme and emblazoned with the shiny command HAVE FUN. The mildly Vaporwave aesthetic of the evening drew from the current love of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things. Given this was Amazon, the retro aesthetic even included a real life CIA conspiracy lurking in the background of this neon-lit stadium party. Rather than serving hamburgers and hotdogs to Seahawks fans, the vending stands in the stadium now distributed a variety of free food to the Amazon employees. We cut in line at every occasion and enjoyed complimentary pho, empenadas, fried chicken, tomato bisque soup, and other savory items. It was quite overwhelming but we managed to get through it.
Each employee was allowed to bring a “plus-one” and it soon became clear why Lorde was invited as the main performer at the event. With this famous singer headlining a free Amazon party, the mostly male workforce was better able to secure a date for the evening. While there were many exceptions, the majority of attendees were coupled off for the event. We noticed several older men with younger dates, just as we observed the majority of millennial employees to have dates drawn from their own age group. This transparent tactic to increase the appeal of male Amazon employees in Seattle and fuel their sexual economy was plain to see during this Post-Holiday Party. Tens of thousands packed in to see Lorde perform but they seemed to prefer watching her through the projection screens rather than dancing before them in person. Lorde caused a minor stir when she asked the crowd if some random art object in the stadium was in fact the Amazon logo. She claimed she didn’t know, that she didn’t have an account, and she received scattered boos from the employees in response. She reminded the crowd that Amazon had yet to plant itself in New Zealand and left it at that. She finished her performance to a sea of smartphone cameras and then departed, scattering the crowd back into the stadium.
We had initially planned to lay a curse on Jeff Bezos, believing he would introduce Lorde to the crowd. As we would learn that evening, the CEO never came to these events. They were simply a release valve for the overworked employees who have every reason to despise him as a person. This exceptional evening was meant to compensate for the alienation these people otherwise experience inside and outside of the workplace. At least 15,000 employees aged 25-35 were on display last night as the new capitalist subject meant to replace the traditional worker. Outside of their stadium party, these capitalist subjects are meant to drive up housing costs, maintain high standards of living, and remain in their alienated world of tech induced consumption and narcosis. Many of them are growing sick of this arrangement, based on our observations inside the stadium.
Perhaps in another time our group might have been overwhelmed by the luxury and extravagance of this Post-Holiday Party, succumbing to its opulence and finding ways to rationalize its existence. As it was, we found this spectacle to be entirely undesirable and yet vastly illuminating. We glimpsed the local Amazon workforce in its entirety and beheld a vital portion of its contemporary misery. These people are so used to waiting in line they can do nothing else. They drift from feeding trough to feeding trough until its time to go home to their expensive housing unit in preparation for the work week.
The negative economic effect these people have on Seattle is well-documented and yet these workers seem to be all but paralyzed in the face of the current situation. Their wealth is contrasted every day with the network of favelas and encampments that have spread throughout the city. Each day sees the new Amazon towers rise higher into the air, promising to bring ten thousand more of these high paid workers to the city and heighten the volatility of the current situation. Not all of these workers are happy or amused about the situation they’re in. Many are starting to think for themselves and will one day challenge Jeff Bezos from inside his own war camp.
We had planned to level a curse at Bezos similar to the one leveled by the three witches against Macbeth, King of Scotland. This will have to wait for another time, although the trajectories of Bezos and Macbeth are already tracking very closely. With all his enemies defeated in the path to the throne, the mad king Bezos now awaits his final destruction. We will continue our efforts to study and subvert Amazon’s workforce in Seattle in the hope that it will prove useful for others. We’ve made contact with dozens of employees and the rebellious seeds we’ve planted are now locked in an irreversible growth pattern. People like Jeff Bezos can’t even see the angry roots creeping beneath his fragile castle. We will release another study in the coming days. Good luck in all your efforts. Let’s hope we can figure this all out before it’s too late for everyone.
For the third survey in our series on Amazon, we decided to stop by the grand public opening of the Amazon Go convenience store. The internet was abuzz the night before, especially after a New York Times journalist revealed he’d attempted to steal from the new automated store in the name of journalism. We arrived at 10:10 AM on Monday the 22nd, 2018. This was a lull-time between the spectacular opening at 7:00 AM and the lunch rush at 12:00 PM. Nothing prepared us for what we saw next.
(our simple message)
We unfurled a large banner which read YOUR FUTURE IS TOTAL SHIT! and stood directly across from the front door. Only then did we realize what lay before us. Enclosed in a transparent glass cube at the sidewalk level were six service-workers actively preparing the food being sold inside the Amazon Go store. We had no intention of delivering this particular message to these particular workers, and yet whenever they looked up from wrapping sandwiches inside their glass box, they saw the words YOUR FUTURE IS TOTAL SHIT!. In this regard, our action was perhaps overtly cruel and we would like to apologize to each worker inside that glass box.
(service workers in their glass box at Amazon Go)
Nevertheless, after first exhibiting signs of horror, depression, and anger at our message, these service workers eventually began to laugh and smile. They must have intuited that our message was aimed not at them but at the well paid tech workers swiping their smartphones at the automated turnstiles on the other side of their glass box. While the sandwich and salad makers earn less than 40,000 a year, the customers who will patronize Amazon Go earn upwards of 100,000 a year and can afford the overpriced food in Amazon Go. The store is not meant to be open on weekends, only on the busy weekdays where Amazon’s projected workforce of 50,000 well-paid employees will be disgorged for the lunch hour. Our message (YOUR FUTURE IS TOTAL SHIT!) was aimed at this new techno upper class and it was delivered to hundreds of them as they filed into Amazon Go. There is nothing natural about one group of poorer people having to work on display in a glass box while another, wealthier group gets to act like they aren’t there.
We were seen by upwards of 1,000 individuals during the hour we held our banner. Several journalists talked to us at length about our positions and did not seem to mind the animal masks covering our faces. One tech worker at Amazon said “thanks for reminding me” in regards to our message. Another tech worker claimed “you’re not wrong.” An older man of the Baby Boomer generation wearing a puffy orange Amazon jacket approached one of us an asked if we’d ever heard of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. According to him, these digital forces were “going to change everything.”
(the digital forces poised to “change everything” inside Amazon Go)
We assured him this was not the case and that his nostalgia for the original Star Trek series wouldn’t save him from the collapse of his generation’s capitalist system. This seemed to disturb the man and he wandered back to his corporate overlords with an air of depression. This man was clearly part of the Amazon Go team, as they all appeared to be wearing identical puffy orange Amazon jackets. Another member of this team later told the media: “The number one problem for people is time poverty. People want good food fast and they want it to be convenient.” This team’s disconnection from reality cannot be overstated.
We didn’t stay for the lunch rush, an opportunity that would have provided us with high media exposure. Instead, we got to observe something like the normal functioning of the store. It was as mundane as you can imagine: people using money to buy food from an automat. As one of our members told The Washington Post: “This grocery store is a fantasy like there’s innovation here. But the implications are that the workforce is split into two classes: the people making $100,000 and up and others who have to scrape to survive.”
(This future is total shit)
“This grocery store is a fantasy like there’s innovation here. But the implications are that the workforce is split into two classes: the people making $100,000 and up and others who have to scrape to survive.”
The barrage of internet articles that accompanied the opening of Amazon Go mention how the trial run of this technology created a long line out the door, defeating the whole point of the store. A few of these articles repeatedly compare Amazon Go to a modern convenience store and claim the average 7-11 actually employs fewer people (5) than the new Amazon Go (20). While this observation might seem profound on a superficial level, these commentators are forgetting that Amazon Go is more like Whole Foods with its pricing and caters to a wealthy clientele, unlike 7-11. Oddly enough, the Amazon Go store employs fewer people (20) than the average Whole Foods store (300). Both have the same owner, and soon enough they’ll be integrated. After purchasing Whole Foods in August 2017, Amazon made its largest acquisition and took giant steps towards its automated future where food magically arrives on the shelf with no human context provided.
The well paid tech employees who patronized Amazon Go had these things called “choices.” No matter what they “chose” to do with their lives, their inherited privileges would prevent them from ever living in a tent encampment on the side of the freeway. Most normal people in this capitalist nightmare don’t have the privilege of “choices.” They must either work for 15-20 dollars an hour making sandwiches at Amazon Go or miss their rent payment and be forced to live in the jungle camp. Homelessness and unemployment are the only forces that keep this wretched capitalist system running. Without the threat of homelessness no one would work these shit jobs. There’s nothing natural about capitalism. It’s a ruthless machine built on the exploitation of the dispossessed who either make sandwiches in the glass box or navigate the nocturnal wastelands of this dying system. Luckily for us all, some people have already left capitalism and we wish to extend their territory to every corner of the earth.
(our offering to Santa Muerte, patroness of prostitutes, orphans, criminals, etc.)
By the time we release this article, the media orgy over the automated convenience store will have likely passed and the first critical voices begun to emerge. Amazon Go represents one of the thin, fragile threads holding the fabric of capitalism together. This new luxury automat will provide a meager distraction from our crumbling reality by “redefining the way we shop” and “changing the entire shopping experience.” These mystifying experiences are the last bulwarks of a charmless and brutal system now in its final death spasms. Jeff Bezos is one of the captains competing for the helm of this sinking ship. He’s locked into his egotistical role as Captain Kirk aboard the Starship Enterprise, guiding us all into his brave new world of automation, surveillance, control, and misery. Unlike the utopia depicted in the original Star Trek where money is abolished, Jeff Bezos can only conceive of a techno-capitalist dystopia where the privileged luxury class leaves this ravaged and burning earth on rocketships built by Amazon. We must prevent his future at all costs. We’ll continue our survey in the coming days, this time with many others and at a time of our choosing. Let this serve as a preamble for what comes next.
A anarchist newspaper from Seattle.