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addabook - Seasonal Associate
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Seasonal Associate
Heike Geissler
read on July 30, 2019

I suspect, but don't really recall, that I first heard about this book in The New Yorker, and I was much looking forward to "a labor memoir for the Amazon era." Amazon has taken its lumps over the last decade, particularly from investigative pieces from Mother Jones, for having horrible working conditions in FCs (i.e., grossly negligent and deadly, allegedly). I've read those articles, but was interested in hearing a longer form account of the experience of working there.

Surprisingly, I didn't find too much here. Seasonal Associate is not an expose about inhumane working conditions at Amazon in particular, I think it was more a criticism of blue-collar unspecialized labor more broadly. I'm not making excuses for Amazon - Geissler's experience sounded terrible. She is more or less dehumanized, turned into a commodity cog in a large machine, and pushed to be as efficient as possible. She does not receive any special comforts, and is generally reminded at every turn (implicitly and explicitly) that she is replaceable. The book is a (lightly fictionalized) chronicle of trying to keep her sanity in such an environment; the little things that she thinks about during the work day, the workplace gossip she invents (not being able to have long/meaningful interactions with other employees), small acts of resistance against the corporation in order to feel like something greater than she's been made to be, and observations of general corporate ineptitude and inefficiency.

Geissler doesn't excoriate Amazon here. I wouldn't even say she attacks Amazon. This is no Mother Jones. Geissler doesn't place blame on Amazon for the way things are, rather, she acknowledges that this just is the way things are, and laments it. This is what it's like doing menial labor in the 21st century. This is how far we've come, this is what we're worth.

You thread the locker key onto a ribbon and hang it around your neck. You carry the luminous vest in one hand, not putting it on right away. That's your sign of not belonging, a small luxury that interests no one, an act for which you'll soon have no time.

Anything you could possibly want from this company, you'd have to tell the company's customers and make them understand. You'd have to win the company's customers over to your side to get paid for the training day, but just you try getting hold of them all.

Anyway, 75 percent of the customers would probably respond to your request to get paid for the training day with: Why? I didn't get paid for my training day either.

The opening of the book, below, is stone-cold. It really is the essence boiled all the way down.

Is all this a matter of life and death? I'll say no for the moment and come back to the question later. At that point, I'll say: Not directly, but in a way yes. It's a matter of how far death is allowed into our lives. To be precise: compared to that which kills us, death is nothing but an innocent waif. Or: death, compared to that which kills us, is a gentleman with good manners and a shy look in his eye.

 

From now on, that which kills us is your constant companion; that much I can say.

Author Bio:

Heike Geissler is a German writer based in Leipzig. Her novel Seasonal Associate, which is based on her own experiences, describes what happens when she's no longer able to make a living as a freelance writer and translator and takes a seasonal job at an Amazon Order Fulfillment center. Translated by Katy Derbyshire.