The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Crowd Workers Paid below Minimum Wage

Sep 28, 2020

People all over the world, who have lost their jobs, are finding work as “crowd workers.” They work from home using the internet to do menial tasks such as filling out online surveys, transcribing audio, and labeling data for companies developing artificial intelligence.

All crowd workers are paid well below the minimum wage. In the U.S., the companies pay crowd workers $3.01 per hour on average, while those in India earn $1.41, according to the Financial Times. These miserly-paid crowd workers are virtually invisible and no one knows how many of them are out there, except for the companies that exploit them.

Companies split long-distance work-from-home jobs into small tasks, then offer such piecework to crowd workers to be completed anywhere in the world. Like Uber drivers, the companies classify crowd workers as independent contractors and pay them by the task. So each task pays a few cents, and if it is not accepted by the supervisor, the crowd worker can’t even derive that dismal income at the end of the hour.

Amazon, for example, uses crowd workers to fix errors or improve its artificial intelligence programs. Amazon even coined a term, “artificial artificial intelligence” for such work and patented the related concept. Yes, there are two “artificials” in this term, which is Amazon’s admission that its “artificial intelligence” is not real; that it needs human babysitting. Amazon thus built its crowdsourcing website, Amazon Mechanical Turk, for businesses (known as “Requesters”) to hire remotely located crowd-workers to perform discrete on demand tasks that computers are currently unable to do. In 2017, researchers found that 2,676 crowd-workers performed 3.8 million tasks on the Amazon Mechanical Turk website and got a median hourly wage of $2. Only 4% earned more than $7.25 an hour.

Such dismal pay for piecework done at home was supposed to be a relic of the past. But ultra-high-tech business titans like Amazon exploit the same kind of labor in the 21st century to extract ever more profits.