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Author: Sarrah Kassem

The COVID-19 pandemic has only further magnified the already growing political-economic and societal power of platforms. This article delves into the different realities of platform workers by juxtaposing two cases: location-based Amazon warehouse workers and web-based Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) workers. Informed by a historical materialist approach that accounts both for the contextual conditions and the agency of workers, this article asks: how does the organisation of workers (location-based vs. web-based) relate differently to their labour organisation and mobilisation in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? By investigating agency through analysing the structural power of workers (that is, marketplace and workplace), this article argues that both Amazon warehouse workers and MTurk workers experienced a further dwindling of their already weak marketplace power as a result of larger co-evolving political-economic conditions. The former workforce did experience, however, an increase in their workplace power given the growth of Amazon during the pandemic. The fact that they are location-based plays a crucial role in framing their struggle vis-à-vis the direct health risks and their ability to mobilise to disrupt the circulation line. MTurk workers, on the other hand, experienced a further weakening of their workplace power. Given the challenges in disrupting web-based gig labour, workers continue to express their agency through more alternative forms by instrumentalising digital spaces to foster solidarity and support each other for better working conditions. These contrasting case studies shed light therefore on the wider repercussions of the nature of the platform and its relation to the political-economic conditions for labour’s agency.

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