Worker As Futurist and the
Workers' Specualtive Society
Worker as Futurist
Workers Reclaiming the Power of the Imagination
The Worker as Futurist Project is an online workshop where rank-and-file Amazon workers develop short, speculative fiction (SF) about “the world after Amazon.”
A 2022 pilot project saw over 25 workers gather online to discuss how SF shed light on their working conditions and futures.
In 2023, 13 workers started to meet regularly to build their writing skills and learn about the future Amazon is compelling its workers to create.
In late 2023 or early 2024 the workers’ short fiction will be published in print, online and in audio formats.
Meanwhile, check out our podcast, The Workers’ Speculative Society, featuring interviews with authors, activists and researchers fighting back against the future Amazon is building.
Amazon, the world’s largest e-retailer and web service provider, is a breathtakingly powerful corporation at the vanguard of a new form of digital capitalism. Not only is the company dramatically transforming the global economic landscape, it is actively seeking to transform the future through the use of advanced robotics, artificially intelligence, cutting-edge logistics and new forms of labour control.
But who makes the decisions, and who pays the price?
Workers at Amazon are not only highly exploited, they are also denied any influence over the future their work is helping to create. Amazon’s future-making machine is fundamentally undemocratic.
The Worker as Futurist project aims, in a small way, to place the power of the imagination back in the hands of workers.
This effort is in solidarity with trade union mobilizations and workers self-organization at Amazon. It is also in solidarity with efforts by civil society to reign in Amazon’s power.
- PILOT: In the Spring of 2022, the project assembled over 25 rank-and-file Amazon workers to participate in a speculative fiction film club.
- PHASE ONE: In early 2023, 13 rank-and-file Amazon workers were recruited to participate in the project.
- PHASE TWO: From February to April 2023, 13 worker-writers were compensated to participate in six weekly workshops. These combined, on the one hand, meetings with experts on Amazon or on creative writing and, on the other, intensive skill-building.
- PHASE THREE: From April to August 2023, the participants are supported to develop drafts of SF short stories in response to the prompt “the world after Amazon.” We meet in bi-weekly “community of practice” meetings and share works-in-progress on a Discord server.
- This process is supported by the development of an ongoing research podcast featuring interviews with experts and activists in speculative fiction and in the fight against Amazon’s undemocratic future.
- PHASE FOUR: In Summer 2023, participants will deliver 2,500-3,000 short fiction on the theme “The World After Amazon.” In cooperation with a professional editor, these will be prepared for publication. Some may also be submitted to periodicals for publication.
- PHASE FIVE: Late in 2023 or early in 2024 the worker-writers stories will be published in an omnibus collection, available in print and freely online. Additionally, actors will record the stories to be released on the project podcast and as a free audiobook.
- THE FUTURE: From 2024 onward, the Worker as Futurist project will morph into a participant-led project to encourage workers to write speculative fiction and to publish the results.
The Worker as Futurist project is led by Dr. Max Haiven, Canada Research Chair in the Radical Imagination and co-director of RiVAL: The ReImagining Value Action Lab. His most recent books include Palm Oil: The Grease of Empire and Revenge Capitalism: The Ghosts of Empire, the Demons of Capital, and the Settling of Unpayable Debts
Max is joined by:
- Xenia Benivolski, a curator writer, and lecture focusing on sound, music, and visual art. Her writing appears in art publications and academic journals such as e-flux journal, Artforum, Art-Agenda, Infrasonic, and Flash Art.
- Stella Lawson is an MA student in Lakehead University’s Social Justice Studies program and lives in Montreal.
- Dr. Sarah Olutola, is Assistant Professor of Writing at Lakehead University, researching children’s literature, youth culture, representations of race in popular media culture, postcolonialism and global capitalism.
- Dr. Graeme Webb is an instructor in the School of Engineering at the University of British Columbia. He recently completed his dissertation, Science Fiction(ing): The Imagination, Crisis, and Hope (2020), which focuses on discourses of technology and social change.
Funding for Worker as Futurist is provided by the Social Sciences a Humanities Research Council of Canada, an independent academic funding organization, and by the Canada Research Chairs program.
The Worker as Futurist project has no and will never have any affiliation with Amazon.
- NOTES FROM BELOW: A long-standing UK-based project committed to the liberatory potential of workers’ writing.
- WORKER WRITERS SCHOOL: A US-based initiative to encourage and support workers to write and share their experience.
- OCTAVIA’S BROOD: A pathbreaking collection of short speculative fiction from social movement organizers and participants.
In early 2023 13 rank-and-file Amazon workers attended six workshops.
In the first half, we learned about Amazon, speculative fiction, and creative writing from invited experts; the second half of each session was a writing workshop.
During Spring/Summer 2023 participants are being supported to work on unique pieces of short speculative fiction about "The World After Amazon"
Starting in June 2023 our team will release regular episodes of The Worker' Speculative Society, a podcast about Amazon's takeover of the future and the fight against it, featuring interviews with labour organizers, speculative fiction authors, scholars and workers.
We aim to publish a collection of participating workers' writing in early 2024 in a book that will also include information about the project.
The project team is also working with online and print magazines to publish participants' writing to a broader audience.
The Workers' Speculative Society
A podcast about work and writing within, against and beyond Amazon's world
The Workers’ Speculative Society is a research podcast about the world Amazon is building and the workers, writers and communities that are demanding a different future.
It is part of the Worker as Futurist Project, which supports rank-and-file Amazon workers to write speculative fiction about “The World After Amazon. It is hosted by Xenia Benivolski, Max Haiven, Sarah Olutola, and Graeme Webb and is an initiative of RiVAL: The ReImagining Value Action Lab, with support from the Social Sciences a Humanities Research Council of Canada. Editing and theme music by Robert Steenkamer.
Search for “RiVAL Radio” in your podcast app, or use these links:
Portrait of the Author as Amazon Worker
Heike Geissler on logistics work in the shadow of communism
Heike Geissler is a prominent German novelist and writer who lives and works in Leipzig, once a major city in communist former “East Germany,” today a major logistics hub for Amazon and site of the “reunified” country’s first strike against the American corporation.
In her 2014 memoir Saisonarbeit (published in English in 2018 as Seasonal Associate), Geissler meditates on the months she spent working at an Amazon fulfillment centre and what it tells us about work under capitalism today.
Poetry By and For Workers
The Worker Writers School
Since 2011, the poet Mark Nowak has been facilitating rank-and-file workers’ writing through the Workers Writers School. In collaboration with PEN, trade unions and other organizations, the WSS’s workshops “create a space for participants to re-imagine their working lives, nurture new literary voices directly from the global working class, and produce new tactics and imagine new futures for working class social change.” On this episode, Mark joins us along with long-time participant Lorraine Garnett, who reads several of her poems and discusses the School’s impact on her life.
WSS09 - September 26
Workers' Writing as Revolutionary Praxis
Jamie Woodcock on Workers' Inquiry and science fiction
How has writing been part of the coming-to-consciousness of the working class and our ability to imagine and fight for different futures? We speak with Jamie Woodcock, senior lecturer of management at the University of Essex about the history of Workers’ Inquiry, a method where intellectuals and workers collaborate to learn about the changing nature of capitalism and his own project, Notes From Below, which supports workers to write about their experiences. We also discuss his initiative Red Futures, a magazine of Marxist and radical science fiction.
WSS08 - September 12
Cory Doctorow on sci-fi and Amazon's empire
Cory Doctorow is an essayist, novelist, activist and public intellectual whose work focuses on themes of technology, intellectual property and the prospects for freedom in our digital age. Since the 1990s he’s been on the forefront of struggles for the rights of creators, including ongoing work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Today, he is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Locus, and many other publications. In this interview, we speak about his recent book (co-authored with Rebecca Giblin) Chokepoint Capitalism and the grave threats that Amazon and other huge corporations pose to creative freedom and the wellbeing of authors and the world.
We also speak about his own career as a speculative fiction writer and the politics of the genre in an age when capitalism is getting pretty dystopian.
WSS07 - September 5
Prototyping Ways of Being
Syrus Marcus Ware on sci-fi activism and imagination
Co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Canada and the Wildseed Centre for Art and Activism, Syrus Marcus Ware explores the importance of future imagining for Black, queer, trans, disability and collective liberation projects.
He speaks to us about the importance of speculative fiction for social movement organizers and radical dreamers. Syrus is a Vanier Scholar, visual artist, activist, curator, and educator.
Syrus is an Assistant Professor at the School of the Arts, McMaster University whose work in curation, painting, installation and performance has been widely exhibited in Canada and internationally. Their writing (fiction, non-fiction and academic) can be found in many leading and grassroots venues.
WSS06 - AUGUST 29
Léonicka Valcius on the work of the literary agent
Léonicka Valcius is a literary agent specializing in championing the work of racialized and equity-seeking writers in genres including YA fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, kid lit, romance and sci-fi. In this interview, Léonicka breaks down how the publishing industry is changing and the consequences, good and bad, for emerging authors trying to disrupt the dominant scripts of the fantastic and futuristic.
WSS05 - AUGUST 15
Robots + Workers + Warehouses
Alessandro Delfanti on technology and labour struggles at Amazon
Amazon presents its “revolution” in logistics as a bloodless technological coup against the forces of convention, waged in the name of customer satisfaction. But in Alessandro Delfanti‘s book The Warehouse: Workers and Robots at Amazon, the University of Toronto professor reveals that its labour exploitation all the way down. In this episode he helps us understand the stakes of a struggle not only for workers’ rights, but for the future of technology.
WSS04 - AUGUST 11
"We've been through our own apocalypse"
David A. Robertson on the indigenous speculative imagination
In his 2020 memoir Black Water, award-winning author David A. Robertson reflects on how his Cree heritage and his family’s survival of colonialism has shaped his imagination. In this conversation, he speaks of the joys and challenges of writing speculative fiction for adults and children, informed by Indigenous worldviews and struggles. Approaching fiction as a work of community-building, he speaks to the need for courage to push back against dominant narratives.
Robertson is author of numerous bestselling books for readers of many ages in a wide diversity of imaginative genres. In 2021 he received the Writers’ Union of Canada Freedom to Read Award and was named Globe and Mail Children’s Storyteller of the Year. He has won Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award several times.
WSS03 - July 25
Amazon Versus the Radical Imagination
Robin DG Kelley on the importance of freedom dreams
The legendary thinker and radical historian Robin DG Kelley joins us to discuss the importance of the radical imagination and the history of workers’ writing.
He is author of many books on the history of labour and anti-racist struggles, as well as on luminary proletarian creative figures. These include Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class, and Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times.
In this interview, Kelley explains how corporate and capitalist power has never failed to mobilize racism. Yet working people have consistently turned to the written word as a tool of solidarity and a means to demand a different future.
In an age of digital capitalism where corporations like Amazon dominate the market for books, films and other “content,” reclaiming the power to create and share works of the imagination are more important than ever.
WSS02 - July 18
Logistics and Labour
Charmaine Chua on Amazon's supply chains and workers' resistance
Amazon’s exploitation of data, robotics, and workers has created a breathtaking global empire.
Charmaine Chua, a labour organizer with Amazonians United and an assistant professor at University of California Santa Barbara’s Department of Global Studies, is uniquely well qualified to guide us through what that means, for workers and for the world.
Her work focusing on the ways working people resist and build solidarity against what can seem like insurmountable odds.
WSS01 - July 11
Empire of Words
Marc McGurl on Amazon and the fate of literature
In Marc McGurl’s Everything and Less the Stanford University professor of American literature explores the fate of the novel in the “Age of Amazon.”
Well known for his illuminating studies of the institutions that surround how we read and write, McGurl turns his attention to what he suggests may be the most important shift in literature in our moment: the fact that, today, one corporation has disproportionate control over the market for books and especially e-books.
In this interview, we consider the consequences for readers, writers and the future of the written word.
The World After Amazon
Here, in early 2024, we will publish speculative fiction by rank-and-file Amazon workers in both text and audio formats.