Saturday 23 February 2013

Amazon and Big Brother: the evidence mounts

There I was a week ago, drawing parallels between the way Amazon organises its warehouses and Radio 4's dramatisation of Orwell's 1984.  I didn't mean to single out Amazon alone - this is the way modern management is going, and for all of their poor benighted employees.  But I really had no idea.

I wasn't aware at the time of the German TV's investigation of the Amazon warehouse there, where migrant workers are kept in order by a semi-military cadre of guards, some of them with disturbing neo-Nazi links. If you don't understand German (I don't), you can read about it in the report by the Independent.

But even then, I wasn't aware of half of it.  Across the USA, regional newspapers are investigating the way Amazon runs its warehouses.  The Columbia Journalism Review has pulled some of the strands together.

But again, it is one thing to pretend this is a unique phenomenon by a particularly technocratic and monopolistic company.  The truth is that this tyrannical Taylorism is emerging in workplaces all over the world, encouraged by the more vacuous management consultants - and measuring how long employees spend in the lavatory is much more common than it seems.

It is also miserably ineffective in the long-run.  It wastes all the imagination and common sense of their employees.  But that hasn't stopped its onward march.

Nor is this just about intrusive measurement.  It is about the whole gamut of Soviet-style organisation, from the pompous marble porticos and telescreens, the doublethink and the Junior Anti-Sex League, the empty dehumanising maxims and, most of all, the simplified language.  

Strange that Soviet organisation should be alive and well at the heart of the capitalist world, but the truth is that that kind of dehumanising organisation - first for the poor and powerless and then for the rest of us - was always written into the DNA of both sides in the Cold War.  When people struggle with each other, they get like each other - and the worst of our organisations are now horrible like the worst of theirs.


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