Reproducing disposability: Unsettled labor strategies in the construction of e-commerce markets

Once the logistics revolution’s paradigmatic retail model, big box retail’s declining growth over the last 15 years has left retailers searching for new outlets of expansion. One solution to this problem has been to construct e-commerce markets in order sell delivery as much as the goods delivered. Similar to Walmart’s ascendance, warehousing is again at the vanguard of these new retail models. Significantly, e-commerce’s demands on warehousing dramatically increase the amount of labor warehouses employ and the quality requirements of warehouse work. This article investigates how warehouse labor is being reproduced and restructured in order to construct e-commerce markets. My research indicates an emerging management strategy to meet these demands by scaling back their reliance on labor market intermediaries. I demonstrate this trend through the examples of two different warehouses where management stopped using temp agencies in one case and reduced their reliance on agencies and third parties in a second case. While these changes moved workers closer to “standard” forms of employment, their disposability was reproduced through discourses of “unskilled” labor and logistical practices of retention. These insights develop our understanding of flexible labor’s production in logistics and challenge broader understandings of labor market intermediaries’ significance.

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Volume 36 Issue 4

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