Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has massively increased his personal fortune during the pandemic, due to the ruthless exploitation of his workforce. Trade union leaders must give Amazon workers confidence to unionise and fight back.
A confidential information leak has exposed how Amazon is investing a significant amount of money – hundreds of thousands of dollars – in sophisticated technology to track and counter unionisation among its employees.
Asrevealed in an article on vox.com, this involves a new tracking software known as the geoSPatial Operating Console, or SPOC. This can be used to “analyse data on unions around the globe”, and to track the activities of workers attempting to get themselves unionised.
Amazon is well known for its anti-union profile. It is infamous for its sacking of unionised workers, the hiring of blacklegs during strikes, and the use of police to baton-charge pickets.
It is no surprise at all, therefore, that this giant multinational corporation is thinking of applying this technology precisely in this period. Clearly, Amazon is expecting to see unionisation drives among its staff!
In the recent period, Amazon workers throughout Europe – Italy, France, Germany, Poland, just to quote a few examples – have shown their determination to fight against gruelling shifts.
Workers are frequently made to move 3,000 packages in just eight hours; do compulsory night shifts; take breaks at the beginning of the shift; and work on temporary contracts.
Today, however, there is an added element: we are all working without serious safeguards that protect us from COVID contagion. We are asked to risk our health every day, and sometimes even our lives. The bosses know that this could trigger a wave of labour militancy.
We see here what the priorities of the Amazon bosses are. Instead of investing money to reorganise production and guarantee safer working conditions, Jeff Bezos and his henchmen are spending money to spy on their workers.
This reveals the cynicism of the bosses. The pandemic has hugely raised demand for home delivered goods. Therefore the pace of work has increased, and the bosses need to squeeze even more out of the warehouse and delivery staff.
In these conditions, they don’t want to be unprepared for what is coming. A fightback by Amazon workers could break out at a national level, and even across Europe. We have also seen strikes at Amazon in the United States, demonstrating the enormous potential power that workers have when organised and mobilised.
In the past, those workers who dared to speak out against the lack of safety measures faced dismissal. But it is now time to say enough is enough. This recent leak reveals what lengths the bosses are prepared to go to spy on their workforce, as they prepare for battle with their workers.
Just as the bosses are preparing for battle, we workers must also equip ourselves to take them on. This doesn’t mean a struggle based on legal procedures. We shouldn’t get bogged down in discussing whether the use of this technology is legal or illegal. At the end of the day, the capitalist courts exist to defend the billionaires and their profits.
Preparing for battle means stepping up the drive to unionise on a large scale. It means launching a solidarity campaign among other groups of workers, including Amazon customers, and making them aware of the methods being used by the bosses.
Above all, Amazon workers need full backing from their unions. This poses the need for a leadership that is prepared to fight.
Joining a union in a company like Amazon is not an easy thing. But it is not a question of just having the courage to do so. It is a question of having a trade union leadership that inspires the confidence of the workforce – the confidence that they will get the full backing they need to take on a ruthless corporation like Amazon.
The Amazon bosses are prepared to go to any length to stop their staff from joining a union. But no amount of technology can hold back the unstoppable mood of anger that is brewing, provided this energy is harnessed and channeled through organisation and united action.
If the union leaders showed the same determination as that of Bezos and the bosses, joining a union would not be such a tough decision to take.