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

Tracking Workers Every Second

Nov 7, 2022

Workers in jobs like UPS and Amazon know what tracking on the job is like. Cameras in the trucks and on the warehouse floors capture every move; GPS trackers spy on their locations foot by foot, second by second.

Tracking is extreme in office work too. Bosses can monitor what a worker is doing, keystroke by keystroke. During Covid, when so many began working from home, companies adopted even more extreme tracking and tied it to a worker’s pay.

At a company called WorkSmart, one salaried worker had to work 60 hours a week to make her 40 hours of pay, because any computer idle time was docked from her hours! No stopping to think, no working things out on paper, no conferences or phone calls off the computer. Even bathroom break time was deducted!

After an invention called a “mouse jiggler” hit the market, jiggling a computer mouse every so often to satisfy the snooping software, the software companies retaliated and developed screenshot captures. UpWork takes a screenshot of a worker’s computer every five or ten minutes, sent to a boss who can check if it’s idle or not.

Hospice chaplains working for Allina Health, a Minnesota health system, were graded on their “productivity” by how many patients they visited, disregarding how much actual attention each dying person and their family might require. Drug addiction counselors at UnitedHealth Group were charged with “idle time” because they didn’t use their computer while in intense counseling sessions or interventions.

Blue-collar workers have long faced the “efficiency” drives of bosses who time-study and stopwatch their every second. Advanced computer capacity can now push extreme exploitation on the white-collar work force as well. Eight of the 10 largest private U.S. employers now track the productivity stats of individual workers.

Just as factory workers fought the “speed-up” on the shop floor, office workers fight the computerized speed-up. Amazon workers’ complaints and their unionizing campaigns made Amazon change its official “time off task” allowance (for bathroom breaks) from 10 to 15 minutes. Barclays Bank employees in England caused an “uproar” that stopped harassing emails accusing them of slow work.

If the tables were turned, and the bosses had to endure our oversight of their work, they’d never last. A designer of one spying program thought it was great—until he tried it out on himself. He experienced stress and anxiety that interfered with his work! He concluded that such programs were actually dangerous, and left the company—which, however, still sells the UpWork spyware.