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No joke: Amazon’s Twitter army of witty low-paid workers defending billionaire Bezos is a dystopian nightmare

Dr Lisa McKenzie
Dr Lisa McKenzie

Dr Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic. She grew up in a coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire and became politicized through the 1984 miners’ strike with her family. At 31, she went to the University of Nottingham and did an undergraduate degree in sociology. Dr McKenzie is the author of ‘Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.’ She’s a political activist, writer and thinker. Follow her on Twitter @redrumlisa.

Dr Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic. She grew up in a coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire and became politicized through the 1984 miners’ strike with her family. At 31, she went to the University of Nottingham and did an undergraduate degree in sociology. Dr McKenzie is the author of ‘Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.’ She’s a political activist, writer and thinker. Follow her on Twitter @redrumlisa.

No joke: Amazon’s Twitter army of witty low-paid workers defending billionaire Bezos is a dystopian nightmare
Humour has always been used by those at the bottom of society to cope with their situation. But Amazon hand-picking ‘funny’ staff to promote its dodgy working practices on social media feels like the ultimate insult.

I think we’re all aware of the strange times we’re living in. But sometimes you read a story that completely blindsides you, that makes you ask yourself, is this an April 1 joke? And then you realise… nope, we really are living in an Orwellian dystopia. 

This week, reports have emerged of how Amazon is monitoring its warehouse workers’ sense of humour. This is absolutely bizarre. Why would it need to know or even want to know whether its employees can deliver a good punchline? The story takes an even stranger twist when you consider Amazon specifically started a programme called Veritas, which was designed to keep an eye on employees’ quickness and their humorous responses, apparently both on the warehouse floor and on their social media sites.

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I have no idea how Amazon is monitoring its staff’s wit, or what method of analysis it’s using. But what’s obvious is exactly why Amazon and Jeff Bezos feel the personalities of those employed to pick and pack are so important. 

And – surprise, surprise – it has nothing to do with their skills in locating your order, and everything to do with protecting and defending Bezos and Amazon from mounting scrutiny from the public, media and politicians about the working environment, pay and conditions employees have to accept. 

High-profile US politicians Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have recently publicly called out Amazon and Bezos, making the point that they need to be more transparent and open in allowing trade unions to be established in their facilities. 

Hence the Veritas programme, which seeks out employees to wittily and authentically fight the corner for Bezos and Amazon on social media. 

I find this practice extremely dark and menacing. Bezos is a legitimate target – he’s rich and powerful, and can fully arm himself with lawyers and PR companies that can navigate any problems worldwide. So, why does he need his poorly paid employees to defend him? 

This is a cynical and nasty tactic using the most vulnerable people within his company to fend off criticism. We all know that attacking low-paid workers over their position is unacceptable, yet Bezos is, in effect, using those workers – whom he already exploits for cheap labour – as human shields against Amazon’s poor working environments. 

I worked in a factory for 10 years, doing a soul-destroying job. I had very little agency and worked to the pace of the machine. An eight-hour shift in these working conditions is long and hard, and can feel extremely oppressive.

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But just like the generations before me, who worked in factories and in heavy industry, I found ways to make the work bearable through friendship and banter with mates. We loved ‘taking the mick’ out of the bosses. 

This trait of using humour in working-class communities to overcome difficult situations and oppressive bosses is universal. Working-class culture is always about laughing at each other and ourselves, but using that humour to make your situation seem not so bad. 

That’s why many working-class people are funny – because humour all over the world is a tool for resistance and resilience. We laugh at our bosses, we laugh at the system and we laugh at ourselves. But when the basis of working-class resistance and culture is being used by the bosses and the system to protect them, then this is the ultimate in symbolic violence, and a despicably calculated and cruel measure.

I get the feeling that, like all of these new-age dressed-down narcissistic moguls of the tech industry, being a billionaire and all-powerful is not enough for Bezos. He needs to be seen to be loved and adored by the people he exploits. I wish this was an April 1 joke, but sadly it’s not.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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