Amazon Calls In the Pinkertons

Comisiones Obreras, Spain’s largest labour union, is suing Amazon for spying on warehouse workers’ labour organizing in Barcelona. According to Spanish newspaper El Diario, The Pinkerton Detective Agency, serving as Amazon’s global security consultant, sub-contracted intelligence gathering to Barcelona-based security company Castor & Polux.

A spokesperson for Comisiones Obreras said that while Amazon “may be very advanced technologically, they are archaic when it comes to labour relations.” The union says Amazon’s collection of photographs and personal information of not only workers but also sympathetic journalists and trade unionists – as alleged by El Diario – violates not only their freedom of association but also the right to privacy and personal data protection.

Who are the Pinkertons?

The Pinkertons – originally the Pinkerton Detective Agency and now owned by Swedish firm Securitas AB – were founded in the US in the mid-nineteenth century. The Pinkertons began as a private security agency providing armed guards to trains and stagecoaches and generally protecting the interests of the wealthy on the lawless frontier. By the end of the century, however, they had become infamous as strike-breaking mercenaries.

In their most notorious incident, the Pinkertons armed a gang of men from local boarding houses and sent them off to an armed face-off with steel workers at a Carnegie plant in Pittsburgh. The resulting 1892 Homestead Massacre ended with half a dozen dead and several dozen injured on both sides. Congress passed the Anti-Pinkerton Act the following year.

The Pinkertons’ corporate logo, the all-seeing eye

What do the Pinkertons do today?

Today, the Pinkertons are not shooting people in the streets, but they market themselves as security – for a fee – in an insecure world, one part data-driven risk management, another part heavily armed first responders in a crisis.

On the day after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, the Pinkertons received 30 calls from American companies and multinationals. As communications and other basic infrastructure went down, the Pinkertons dispatched hundreds of armed agents to the island to secure business interests. Whether it’s natural disasters or simply that the rich and powerful have abandoned the pretence of social equality and nation-building, the resulting chaos is good business for the Pinkertons.

And, of course, the agency is also gathering information on union organising and other corporate “risks.” This includes the kind of espionage practised in Barcelona, as well as even more nefarious activities like the Pinkerton Dedicated Professional service, in which a Pinkerton agent is hired by the company as though they were any other employee, in order to gather intel on other employees and low-level managers.

In a world in which the Pinkertons count 80 percent of the Fortune 1,000 as their clients, according to the New York Times, the agency is taking shape as a sort of private-sector secret police for the corporate monopoly era.