Malcolm Katrak

PhD Candidate
Malcolm Katrak photo
Dissertation Title
Labour Resistance in the Amazon Warehouse: Mobilization, Unionization and Law Reform

I completed my graduation from the University of Mumbai in 2017. Thereafter, I was a clerk to Justice (Retd.) S.N. Variava, Former Judge, Supreme Court of India. After completing my clerkship, I pursued the European Master in Law and Economics (EMLE), which was funded by the J. N. Tata and Pirjosha Godrej scholarships. After successful completion, I received a joint LL.M. from Erasmus University, Rotterdam and University of Hamburg as well as a M.Sc. in Law and Economics from the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai. Since 2020, I have been a faculty member (Assistant Professor) at the Jindal Global Law School, India. Currently, I am on leave from my position at Jindal, to pursue further studies in Canada. At Jindal, I started researching on informal labour and platform work, leading me to pursue a Research LLM at Osgoode under the guidance of Prof. De Stefano. To further expand my understanding of management-labour relations beyond the law and policy perspective, I decided to pursue a PhD. My PhD under the guidance of Prof. Slinn, considers ways in which workers have organized at Amazon warehouses, specifically concentrating on the different approaches to organization. The broader ambition of my research is to advance the scholarly agenda seeking to strengthen collective representation in the wake of reinvigoration of labour movements across different sectors in recent years.

I tweet at @KatrakMalcolm


Amazon, which has been characterized as a panopticon, has deployed surveillance technologies to algorithmically manage its workforce, produce heat maps to identify places with a high probability of union organizing, and, ultimately, create a Taylorist division of labour. Amazon’s digital Taylorism has resulted in countervailing efforts by labour in various forms, especially collective organizing. Labour resistance against Amazon has been visible not only in the traditional workplace through a spate of protests, mobilization campaigns, and unionization efforts both in the U.S. and Canada but also in online spaces of work, resulting in broader coalitions being formed across geographies.

In the U.S., these efforts have been characterized by the presence of organizations such as the Amazon Labour Union (ALU), a worker-led project unaffiliated with established unions, and worker centers such as the Warehouse Worker Resource Center and Awood Center, whereas established unions such as RWDSU have not witnessed the same kind of success. After the monumental success of the ALU, outlets questioned whether tackling Amazon requires labour to be necessarily ‘disorganized’. On the other hand, a few years later, the ALU approach which seemed like the crest of a wave has suddenly become a “war of attrition”, with funding issues and structural cleavages.

Unlike the U.S., established unions, such as Teamsters and the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), have been at the forefront of organizing Amazon warehouse workers across different provinces in Canada, although these efforts have only enjoyed limited successes. Notably, the CSN has adopted a coalitional approach with the Immigrant Worker Centre (IWC-CTI) resulting in the formation of the ’Amazon Worker Committee’ that regularly updates workers on activities inside Amazon’s fulfillment centers. While the CSN refrained from impeding the workers’ organizing activities inside the fulfillment centers, it was not until the Montreal Amazon Workers Union (MAWU) sought engagement with the CSN that the established union took up the mantle.

The approaches taken in the U.S. and Canada may not have necessarily resulted in tangible outcomes for Amazon’s warehouse workers, but differences in organizing approaches do indicate a profound shift in collective organizing for Amazon’s warehouse workers. In the U.S., the Staten Island victory by the ALU and successes by the worker centers may have led to a decline in confidence in established unions. Moreover, rank-and-file organizations such as the Amazonians United have categorically expressed their contempt for the top-down and often hesitant approach of established unions. Nonetheless, established unions have indicated through their structure and power that even after successive losses, a strong challenge could be mounted against Amazon. For independent unions such as the ALU, it is critical to have self-sufficiency, which in turn requires contributions from the workers themselves. The lack of funding and internal disagreements faced by the ALU are a testament to the problems posed by the independent organizing model.

In this context, this research, firstly, aims to examine, through case studies focusing on the ALU, MAWU-CSN/IWC-CTI, and the Teamsters' efforts in Ontario and Alberta, when and why would workers aim to form coalitions, and whether forming coalitions with alt-labour movements may be helpful for collective organizing of warehouse workers. Secondly, building upon these case studies, the PhD addresses the pressing need for labour law reform by considering a range of policy proposals including, but not limited to, multi-employer bargaining and sectoral bargaining solutions, extension mechanisms, certification process, minority representation, and stringent ULP penalties. Moreover, the case studies could also help in gauging the responses of independent and established unions to have coalitions with different organizations in other sectors, creating the possibility of different sites of contestation.