Racialized Masculinities and Global Logistics Labor

Racialized Masculinities and Global Logistics Labor

Racialized Masculinities and Global Logistics Labor

640 456 Jake Alimahomed-Wilson

The global capitalist supply chain is controlled by white hegemonic masculinity.[1] Affluent, corporate-elite, straight white men are structurally positioned as the managers and overseers of a vast global logistics labor force comprised primarily of working-class men of color. Throughout the logistics-driven global economy, logistics workers remain highly segregated by both gender and race. Starting from the point of extraction, to production and distribution, and onward to the point of consumption, the modern global capitalist world system is organized by the production of gendered-racial difference. According to Cedric Robinson’s (2000) theory of racial capitalism, “The development, organization, and expansion of capitalist society pursued essentially racial directions, so too did social ideology.” As a material force,” Robinson maintains, “it could be expected that racialism would inevitably permeate the social structures emergent from capitalism.” In conjunction with racial capitalism, the production of social difference, and the devaluation of labor is also gendered; combined, gender and race are defining aspects of global capitalism and key features undergirding the global logistics industry. In this system, gender and race are mutually constitutive[2] forces structuring the composition of workforces and the labor exploitation processes. In light of this, this concept paper attempts to very briefly synthesize the critical study of logistics with theories of racial capitalism (Robinson 2000; Pulido 2017) and sociological theories of masculinities (Acker 2019; Connell 2000) in order to highlight some of the intersecting ways that masculinities, race, power, and domination operate and structure logistics labor.[3]

A Disposable Global Logistics Workforce: Profit, Extraction, and Surplus Value

The devaluation of (racialized) marginalized masculinities (Connell 2000), and subsequent extraction of differential value and profit by elite white men, is a core feature of global logistics. Hegemonic masculinity, personified by elite white corporate men like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, also dominate the business-driven field, or “science” of supply chain management.[4] In contrast, a disposable, global male-dominated blue-collar logistics workforce of primarily of dispossessed men of color, many of whom are migrants, is the driving labor force behind the global logistics industry. Pulido (2017) describes how “nonwhite devaluation” is produced and a source of value extraction via racialized labour systems.[5] Thus, the production of differential value (i.e. the devaluation of gendered-racialized[6] labour) becomes “critical in the accumulation of surplus – both profits and power.”[7] In relation to the global logistics industry, the exploited labor of racialized masculinities is a key source of extraction and generator of surplus value, making the system profitable for the world’s largest transnational corporate retailers such as Amazon and Walmart. The production of gendered and racial difference in logistics also reinforces a global labor hierarchy by “naturalizing” a gendered-racialized ordering of workers between different racial groups of men. In this system, men of color remain concentrated in the most labor-intensive, precarious, dangerous, low wage, and surveillance-driven jobs in logistics; in contrast elite, white corporate men manage and control both workers and the movement of goods (i.e. the circulation of capital).

Not only are capitalist markets imbued with a masculine ethos, but masculinities also shape the workplaces,[8] exploitation processes, occupational identities, and organizational structures of both corporations and unions. Working-class men’s bodies are shaped along racial and class lines and are symbolic of perceived social power and worth and are directly related to labor practices and work.[9] Occupational and class-based identities are formed along both gendered and racial lines. The workplace, particularly in male-dominated jobs such as longshore work,[10] is a key site where masculine power, racism, status, and domination are produced and reproduced.[11] For decades, the Southern Californian waterfront was quite literally a (white) “man’s world” – for decades, working class white men controlled the waterfront. Women of all races, along with men of color (especially Black men), were excluded or marginalized by white-male longshore workers on the waterfront.[12] Today, about 90% of the dockworkers working in the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are still men, but the majority of these men are now men of color.

Racialized Masculinities and the Gendered-Racialized Supply Chain

The expansion of global logistics was made possible by the large-scale appropriation of a global gendered-racialized labor regime of low paid, dispossessed marginalized masculinities. These male-dominated workforces are populated by racially subordinated masculinities and structurally positioned by capital as “cheap,” disposable workforces undeserving of a “family wage.”[13] Marginalized masculinities, embodied by poor and working-class men of color, many of whom are from the Global South, have become the primary exploited workforces in global logistics. Marginalized masculinities are subordinated in the global gender hierarchy and manifest “in exploited or oppressed [racialized] groups such as ethnic minorities, which may share many features with hegemonic masculinity but are socially de-authorized” (31). Racialized masculinities dominate the blue-collar workforces in global logistics in nearly every sector, from the global shipping industry, to warehousing, longshoring and port labor, trucking, and last mile logistics delivery operations. Therefore, the exploitation of racialized masculinities are an essential component of both global capitalism and logistics.

Men of Color and Amazon’s Global Logistics Empire

Today, Amazon is now widely considered one of the world’s largest logistics corporations.[14] Amazon’s agenda-setting logistics and supply chain management practices are transforming global commerce including the ways consumer goods are transported and consumed around the world (Alimahomed-Wilson and Reese 2020).[15] Amazon’s global logistics empire serves as a significant site to explore the intersections of racial capitalism and hegemonic masculinity. The executives at Amazon are disproportionately elite white men. These affluent white men reap the benefits of a corporate structure that enriches a small group of elite men. They are the architects of Amazon’s global supply chain, the overseers of workers, the managers of the supply chain, and innovators of Amazon’s anti-worker technologies of surveillance and control in warehousing and last mile logistics operations. Amazon’s top executives typify hegemonic masculinity in contrast to its blue-collar workforce which primarily depends on the low paid exploited labor of racialized masculinities. At Amazon, Black and Latinx workers comprise 24.5 percent and 17 percent respectively of the total workforce.[16] While men are the majority (55%) of Amazon’s blue-collar workforce, women (45%) are quickly becoming a major segment of Amazon’s blue-collar labor force.[17] In particular, women of color are overrepresented at Amazon’s warehouses. Women of color are the most underrepresented in Amazon’s elite executive ranks. In contrast, Amazon’s warehouses are increasingly staffed by Latinx women, Somali Muslim women in Minnesota, and Black women throughout the United States. Of note, women of color are also leading much of the resistance of Amazon’s warehouse workers, including wildcat strikes and walk outs over poor working conditions.[18]

What makes Amazon distinct from other big tech corporations is its massive logistics infrastructure, and its large blue-collar workforce of thousands of workers in warehouses, including fulfilment centres, sorting centres, and delivery centres. In the United States – home to Amazon’s largest workforce – the majority of these workers are men of color. In contrast, Amazon’s management and elite executives remain disproportionately white men. In fact, over 60 percent of Amazon’s management is white; and 73 percent of all managers are men. Hegemonic masculinity is a defining feature of Amazon’s corporate structure. According to Amazon’s “Diversity Report, 2015,” of Amazon’s top 115 executives, only one executive was Black.[19] In contrast, over 85 percent of Black workers employed by Amazon work in blue-collar jobs that are the most back-breaking, and labor-intensive within warehousing operations.[20] The vast majority of Amazon’s contingent and subcontracted delivery drivers in Southern California are also men of color. [21] Latinx men in particular are overrepresented in Southern California’s network of subcontracted Amazon Delivery Service Provider (DSP), package delivery drivers. Los Angeles’ last mile delivery drivers are low paid and precarious. These workers endure a relentless pace of work and are under constant surveillance.

Differential value extraction is institutionalized via Amazon’s “extreme high-churn model”[22] which operates vis-à-vis the racialized surveillance of labor.[23] The high-churn model forces warehouse workers to work at an unsustainable pace in order to satisfy Amazon’s productivity goals. Men of color’s racialized bodies are shaped and impacted by this physically demanding blue-collar work. Gendered-racialized ideologies about working class men of color’s bodies associate these workers as “naturally fit” for the hard labor of warehousing. Working-class men’s bodies are therefore literally shaped on the job.[24] Amazon has developed a “proprietary productivity metric” which sets productivity targets while simultaneously monitoring workers’ movements. The surveillance-driven productivity metric ensures workers “push their bodies to the brink to avoid automatic termination for missing quotas.”[25] The high-churn model disproportionately impacts men of color, and a growing number of working class women of color working at Amazon’s warehouse facilities, leading to high turnover rates and increased exposure to dangerous working conditions.[26] The devaluation of racialized masculine labor is an integral component behind Amazon’s supply chain management strategy.

Racialized Masculinities and the Global Logistics Supply Chain

Beyond Amazon, the global supply chain also reveals deep patterns of gendered-racialized labor segregation and exploitation. The devaluation of men of color’s labor and subsequent extraction of differential value and profit is a foundation of the global logistics infrastructure. About 99% of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers who work at sea on container vessels are men. However, the vast majority of this nearly all male-workforce is now mostly structurally vulnerable workers (racialized masculinities) from the Global South. Men of color, primarily from the Philippines, China, Indonesia, and India provide the majority of labor power that makes low cost global shipping possible. McKay’s (2007) research on Filipino seafarers – who represent about 25 percent of the total workforce – demonstrates how “the combination of a segmented labor market analysis with a theory of multiple masculinities helps us begin to make sense of the contradictory character of Filipino seafarer masculinity” (630).[27] Gender and race work shape the artificial naturalization of low wages, poor working conditions, justifying a lower standard of living for working class racialized masculinities.

Latinx men, including a large number of immigrants, are the primary blue-collar labor force in Southern California’s massive logistics industry. About 90% of the Los Angeles harbor area’s 16,000 port truckers – or “troqueros” as they are more commonly referred to – are men of color from Central America, primarily from El Salvador.[28] These workers face very low paid and working conditions that resemble “sweatshops on wheels.” The deterioration of working conditions in the port drayage sector has been further amplified by the misclassified employment statuses of these drivers, which has also further undermined collective action efforts and fueled a race to the bottom.[29]

Over the past few decades, both capital and supply chains have become more concentrated.[30] The key nodes in logistics systems today are mostly located on the outskirts of major urban metropolitan areas and depend on large concentrations of labor, most of it low-paid.[31] Therefore, the logistics-driven transformation of Southern California’s Inland Empire region was not solely an outcome of the region’s transportation infrastructure, nor just its large consumer market, but also flourished due to the area’s significant gendered-racialized workforce. According to Kim Moody, “these [new warehouse] clusters are based around large metropolitan areas and all draw on what you might call the ‘reserve army of labor’ – mostly workers of color who came into these warehouses in the last ten to fifteen years.”[32] Juan De Lara (2018) notes that global commodity chains transformed Southern California just as Latinxs and immigrants were turning California into a majority non-white state thereby linking the expansion of global logistics to racial capitalism.[33]

Over 80% of all warehouse workers working in the Inland Empire region are Latinx; of which, 70% of whom are men.[34] Approximately, nearly one-third of these warehouse workers are Latinx women, who on average are the lowest paid of any group of warehouse workers. In fact, Latinx women earn approximately US $4,000 less than their Latinx male counterparts.[35] As Bonacich, Alimahomed and Wilson (2008:342) note, “Racialized labor systems are gendered, creating a complex intersection of race-class-gender divisions among workers. All women face a gendered division of labor, but women of color face especially onerous pay and poor working conditions.”[36] Finally, Allison, Herrera, Struna, and Reese’s (2018) study of earnings inequality among Inland Southern California’s warehouse workers found that Latinx immigrant women are disproportionately employed in the low-wage packing warehousing jobs. They describe this intersectional exploitation process as a “matrix of exploitation,” whereby gender, race and citizenship status significantly impact the annual incomes of warehouse workers.

Future Research on Gender, Race, and Logistics

Critical logistics continues to emerge as a field that has the potential to more fully interrogate the centrality of gender and race in shaping the organization and exploitation processes of logistics labor.[37] The production of gendered-racial difference reinforces a hierarchy in the corporate global supply chain and naturalizes a gendered-racialized division of labor. This taken-for-granted expropriation of surplus value generated by a disposable global labor regime of mostly racialized masculinities makes the circulation of goods profitable for the world’s largest corporations. New avenues of research should consider the growing workforce of women of color in logistics work. The gendered racial division of labor across the global supply chain must therefore be understood as an outcome of a central organizing logic of gendered-racial capitalism.


Jake Alimahomed-Wilson is Professor of Sociology at California State University, Long Beach. He is the author of Solidarity Forever? Race, Gender, and Unionism in the Ports of Southern California (2016) and co-author (with Edna Bonacich) of Getting the Goods: Ports, Labor and the Logistics Revolution (2008). He is the co-editor (with Ellen Reese) of The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy (2020) and co-editor (with Immanuel Ness) of Choke Points: Logistics Workers Disrupting the Global Supply Chain (2018).


Notes

[1] This article draws on some of my previous publications, including: Alimahomed-Wilson, Jake. 2016. Solidarity Forever? Race, Gender, and Unionism in the Ports of Southern California. Lexington Books.; Alimahomed-Wilson, Jake. 2019. “Unfree Shipping: The Racialisation of Logistics Labour.” Work organisation, labour & globalization, 13(1): 96-113.; Alimahomed-Wilson, Jake. 2011. “Men Along the Shore: Working-Class Masculinities in Crisis. Nordic Journal for Masculinity Studies, (6)1:22-44.; Bonacich, Edna, Sabrina Alimahomed, and Jake B. Wilson. 2008. “The Racialization of Global Labor.” American Behavioral Scientist, 52(3): 342-355.

[2] Collins, Patricia Hill. 1990. Black Feminist Thought. Routledge: New York.

[3] Robinson, Cedric. 2000. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, pp.39. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.; Pulido, Laura. 2017. “Geographies of race and ethnicity II: Environmental racism, racial capitalism and state-sanctioned violence.” Progress in Human Geography, 41(4): 524-533.; Acker, Joan. “Is Capitalism Gendered and Racialized?” In Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Social Class, edited by Susan J. Ferguson, pp. 115-124. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publishing.; Connell, R.W. 2000. 2000. The Men and the Boys.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

[4] See: Cowen, Deborah. 2014. The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade, pp. 201-202. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

[5] Pulido, Laura. 2017. “Geographies of race and ethnicity II: Environmental racism, racial capitalism and state-sanctioned violence.” Progress in Human Geography, 41(4): 524-533.

[6] While global logistics remains a male-dominated workforce, women of color are a fast-growing labor force, particularly in warehousing and last mile logistics operations.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Acker, Joan. “Is Capitalism Gendered and Racialized?” In Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Social Class, edited by Susan J. Ferguson, pp. 115-124. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publishing.

[9] Connell, R.W. 2005. Masculinities. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[10] Alimahomed-Wilson, Jake. 2011. “Men Along the Shore: Working-Class Masculinities in Crisis. Nordic Journal for Masculinity Studies, (6)1:22-44.

[11] Rivoal, Haude. 2019. “Working-Class Masculinities in the Logistics Industry.” Into the Black Box, October 7. http://www.intotheblackbox.com/articoli/working-class-masculinities-in-the-logistics-industry/. Accessed March 25, 2020.

[12] Alimahomed-Wilson, Jake. 2016. Solidarity Forever? Race, Gender, and Unionism in the Ports of Southern California. Lanham: Lexington Books.

[13] Historically, the gendered “family wage” was usually only extended to white working-class men and white families.

[14] Moody, Kim. 2020. “Amazon: Context, Structure, and Vulnerability.” in The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy, edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese. London: Pluto Books.

[15] Alimahomed-Wilson, Jake and Ellen Reese. (Forthcoming) 2020. The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy. London: Pluto Books.

[16] Clement, J. 2020. “Number of Amazon Employees, 2007-2019.” Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/234488/number-of-amazon-employees/. Accessed March 5, 2020.

[17] Greene, Jay. 2015. “Amazon Far More Diverse at Warehouses than in Professional Ranks.” Seattle Times, August 14. https://www.seattletimes.com/business/amazon/amazon-more-diverse-at-its-warehouses-than-among-white-collar-ranks/

[18] While this paper concentrates mostly on men of color’s labor positions in logistics, is very important to study race, gender, and class and women of color’s increasing labor participation in working-class logistics jobs, including warehouse work is an important site of study. For example, Somali Immigrant women in Minnesota, have been labor leaders in organizing Amazon’s workforce. See: Gurley, Lauren Kaori. 2019. “60 Amazon Workers Walked Out Over Warehouse Working Conditions.” Vice, October 3. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pa7qny/60-amazon-workers-walked-out-over-warehouse-working-conditions; Bruder, Jessica. 2019. “Meet the Immigrants Who Took on Amazon.” Wired, November 12. https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-immigrants-who-took-on-amazon/. Accessed March 26, 2020.

[19] Amazon Staff. 2018. “Our Workforce.” About Amazon, December 31. https://www.aboutamazon.com/working-at-amazon/diversity-and-inclusion/our-workforce-data. Accessed March 2, 2020.

[20] Greene, Jay. 2015. “Amazon far more diverse at warehouses than in professional ranks.” Seattle Times, August 14. https://www.seattletimes.com/business/amazon/amazon-more-diverse-at-its-warehouses-than-among-white-collar-ranks/. Accessed March 2, 2020.

[21] Alimahomed-Wilson, Jake. 2020. “The Amazonification of Logistics: E-Commerce, Labour, and Exploitation in the Last Mile,” in The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy, edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese. London: Pluto Press.

[22] Tung, Irene and Deborah Berkowitz. 2020. “Amazon’s Disposable Workers: High Injury and Turnover Rates at Fulfillment Centers in California.” National Employment Law Project, March. https://www.nelp.org/publication/amazons-disposable-workers-high-injury-turnover-rates-fulfillment-centers-california/ Accessed March 2, 2020.

[23] For more on racialized surveillance in logistics see: Alimahomed-Wilson, Jake and Spencer Louis Potiker. 2017. “The Logistics of Occupation: Israel’s Colonial Suppression of Palestine’s Goods Movement Infrastructure.” Journal of Labor and Society, 20(4): 427-447.

[24] This is also the case for dockworkers, see: Alimahomed-Wilson, Jake. 2011. “Men Along the Shore: Working-Class Masculinities in Crisis. Nordic Journal for Masculinity Studies, (6)1:22-44.

[25] Tung, Irene and Deborah Berkowitz. 2020. “Amazon’s Disposable Workers: High Injury and Turnover Rates at Fulfillment Centers in California.” National Employment Law Project, March. https://www.nelp.org/publication/amazons-disposable-workers-high-injury-turnover-rates-fulfillment-centers-california/ Accessed March 2, 2020.

[26] Important research on Amazon’s women of color warehouse workers, see: Reese, Ellen. 2020. “Gender, Race and Amazon Warehouse Labour in the United States,” in The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy, edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese. London: Pluto Press.

[27] McKay, Steven C. 2007. “Filipino Sea Men: Constructing Masculinities in an Ethnic Labour Niche.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 33(4): 617-633.

[28] Bonacich, Edna and Jake B. Wilson. 2008. Getting the Goods: Ports, Labor and the Logistics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

[29] Kaoosji, Sheheryar. 2018. “Lessons Learned from Eight Years of Experimental Organizing in Southern California’s Logistics Sector,” in Choke Points: Logistics Workers Disrupting the Global Supply Chain, edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Immanuel Ness. London: Pluto Books.

[30] Moody, Kim. 2020. “Amazon: Context, Structure, and Vulnerability.” in The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy, edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese. London: Pluto Books.

[31] Moody, Kim. 2017. On New Terrain: How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

[32] Alimahomed, Wilson, Katy Fox-Hodess, and Kim Moody (Interview by Chris Browne). 2018. “Seizing the Chokepoints.” Jacobin, October 9: https://jacobinmag.com/2018/10/choke-points-logistics-industry-organizing-unions Accessed March 5, 2020.

[33] De Lara, Juan. 2018. Inland Shift: Race, Space, and Capital in Southern California. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[34] Allison, Juliann Emmons, Joel S. Herrera, Jason Struna, and Ellen Reese. 2018. “The Matrix of Exploitation and Temporary Employment: Earnings Inequality Among Inland Southern California’s Blue-Collar Warehouse Workers.” Journal of Labor and Society.

[35] De Lara, Juan. 2013. “Warehouse Work: Path to the Middle Class or Road to Economic Insecurity?” USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. http://www.warehouseworkers.org/usc-report-warehouse-work-path-to-the-middle-class-or-road-to-economic-insecurity/de-lara-report-slider/ Accessed March 2, 2020.

[36] Bonacich, Edna, Sabrina Alimahomed, and Jake B. Wilson. 2008. “The Racialization of Global Labor.” American Behavioral Scientist, 52(3): 342-355.

[37] Important recent scholarship includes in this area includes: Benvegnù, Carlotta and Haude Rivoal. 2020. “New Technologies, Old Inequalities? Race, Class and Gender in the Context of the ‘Fourth Logistics Revolution.” Conference Presentation at the American Sociological Association, San Francisco, CA.; Rivoal, Haude. Forthcoming. Men in Blue: The Fabric of Masculinity into a Big Supply Chain Company.