Unionisation efforts at Amazon UK have been growing in strength. Workers are out again this week, with strikes for the first time at the Rugeley site today and tomorrow, and in Coventry on 4-5 August.
This industrial action will culminate with a mass rally on Saturday, to commemorate the one year anniversary since the first walkout at the Coventry warehouse.
The dispute initially started over an insulting 50p per hour pay rise – at a time when inflation is still nearing 8%. Instead, Amazon workers, organised in the GMB union, are demanding £15 per hour.
This call has clearly found an echo, with more Amazon employees than ever voicing their concerns over their workplace environment.
To smash formal recognition efforts by GMB, Amazon resorted to hiring 1,300 new workers, so that they could claim that the union hasn’t actually organised 50% of the site’s staff.
As a consequence, the BHX4 distribution centre has now become overcrowded, further worsening working conditions. This has left some staff unable to secure a workstation. As such, they are often assigned petty tasks such as sweeping and cleaning.
One year ago today Amazon workers started the fight back.
Today Amazon faces the start of the biggest week of strike disruption in its history.
1100 workers walking out.
2 fulfilment centres.
26 total strike days.
Watch ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/x4L55ntO0a
— GMB Midlands (@GMBMidlands) August 3, 2023
Management has also routinely spread lies about the union in the warehouse, with signs scattered about warning workers to speak to their managers instead of union reps.
The bosses say they can’t afford to raise workers’ pay. Yet Amazon is more than willing to spend millions on strike-day security, anti-union consultations, and legal battles. This shows what this battle is really about: preventing workers from organising and fighting back.
Amazon is notorious for its treatment of its staff. The company frequently monitors the duration and performance that workers spend on tasks. This leaves workers constantly competing with each other, with ranking tables displayed in the warehouse.
Workers face the threat of replacement if they can’t meet productivity targets, with those suffering from injuries and overwork left in the gutter.
This hyper-exploitation is the product of the capitalists’ thirst for profits. If that means deteriorating conditions, dangerous workplaces, and damage to life and limb for workers, then so be it.
GMB membership in BHX4 is now over 1,000, bringing them within reach of the 50% needed for formal recognition. But the strike has also spread nationally, with ballots at the Mansfield and Rugeley fulfilment centres.
Within a month of their consultative ballot in Rugeley, the workers learned that Amazon plans to close the site. Many see this as an indirect response to union organising. If the bosses are ruthless enough to hire 1,000 new workers to stop a union drive, then they’re ruthless enough to fire 1,200 workers for the same purpose.
But the bosses’ belligerence is backfiring. The workers have proven that they are ready to fight, with a strike ballot registering 86% approval for action. Unionised staff at the Rugeley fulfilment centre will therefore be walking out today and tomorrow – the second Amazon site to officially strike in the UK.
The new union membership is ready to battle the global giant for as long as it takes. They remain determined to fight for the fair pay and decent conditions that they deserve.
The main challenge facing the union is how to grow – both inside the union and nationally.
Workers rise up
To take the first step against this huge multinational takes amazing courage – especially for those who rely on their job to maintain their visa status.
The warehouse floor relies on people of all backgrounds, languages, and nationalities to keep operations running.
Initially this posed a barrier to getting the message out across the warehouse. But all the workers share the same struggles, and word about persistent issues soon spreads across different language groups.
The livelihoods of these workers will always be threatened, however, as long as Amazon can use their precarious international status to divide and exploit them.
The union must explain to these workers how the current battle goes beyond pay, and how, organised and united in solidarity, workers can show the true power of their class.
Amazon operates across the entire world. Already, the Coventry strikers have received support from the American Amazon Labor Union.
It is only by connecting the local struggle to the broader workers’ movement, nationally and internationally, that workers can hit Bezos and the bosses where it hurts: by striking a blow against the gargantuan profits of the largest corporation in the world.
As the saying goes: Not a wheel turns, not a light bulb shines, without the permission of the working class. In this case, this motto must be: Not a delivery truck moves, not a parcel is shipped, unless the demands of the Amazon workers are met.
- Victory to the Amazon workers! Solidarity! Spread the strikes!
- Fight for £15 per hour! Fight union-busting bosses!
- Expropriate Bezos and the billionaires! Put workers in control!