After an initial mobilisation in January this year, Amazon warehouse workers in Coventry are once again moving into action, with the GMB union announcing a new set of strike dates for the coming weeks.
Over 300 workers took the first brave step back on 25 January, when they walked out from the BHX4 distribution centre in Coventry, formed a picket line, and successfully urged several delivery trucks to turn back.
I’m backing Amazon workers taking strike action today! Solidarity to all @GMB https://t.co/s29ugbqgUe #AmazonStrike #MakeAmazonPay
— Barry Cross (@ygwerin) February 27, 2023
This last strike only brought out a fraction of the total 1400-strong workforce. But the picket made up for that with its boldness. Significantly, public solidarity and support was clearly visible, with passing drivers honking their horns, and delegations from across the local labour movement visiting.
This is the first warehouse in the UK to take on Jeff Bezos’ multinational giant through official strike action. This is especially impressive considering that Amazon is notorious for its union-busting tactics in other countries.
Amazon is also infamous for its harsh working conditions in its warehouses. As one Coventry worker put it, they “treat the robots better than us”.
Workers are closely monitored at all times to ensure that targets are met. Returning just a minute late from a break can put a permanent mark on your record.
Facing this pressure-cooker environment, and with an insulting pay increase offer of 50p per hour, it is no surprise that these workers have been pushed into taking action.
Spin and lies
These militant moods have been further inflamed by the arrogance of Amazon bosses, who put their spin doctors into overdrive following the first strike.
Responding to Coventry strikes, the e-commerce firm claimed that they have made “a 29% increase in the minimum hourly wage since 2018”.
This is deliberately misleading, since the national living wage has gone up by 27% in this period. In other words, in reality, Amazon has only ‘increased’ pay by 2%.
Furthermore, the bosses have paid for this pay increase by cutting back on the company shares given to workers when they sign up. This has resulted in a net-loss in the overall pay packets of workers, who are already on the sharp end of inflation and rising bills.
Bezos himself, meanwhile, is sitting pretty on an estimated fortune of around $130 billion, according to the latest figures. It’s a safe bet that he won’t be visiting a food bank or scrimping in order to pay his electricity bill any time soon!
Arrogance and contempt
Scandalously, since the walkout on 25 January, these workers have found themselves marked down as having taken unauthorised absences – despite their strike ballot giving them official protection to withdraw their labour.
This could lead to some workers being charged with ‘gross misconduct’, which is a sackable offence. This is a clear attempt at intimidation by the bosses.
Nationally, meanwhile, Amazon has announced plans to shut down its warehouses in Doncaster, Hemel Hempstead, and Gourock. This will leave 1,300 workers at risk of either losing their job or being forced to relocate.
All the while, the company is planning to build two new warehouses (in Peddimore and in Stockton-on-Tees), with the justification that the other distribution centres are outdated and are therefore unable to meet their targets.
This is a staggering reminder that mega-corporations like Amazon are solely interested in pursuing profit, without any consideration for their workers, whether in Coventry or elsewhere.
Only the beginning
This is why more workers will be walking out from the Coventry warehouse in the coming days and weeks: on 28 February, 2 March, and from 13-17 March.
It is clear that Amazon’s vicious, vindictive tactics to subdue dissent are backfiring. Now is the moment for the trade unions to seize on this, and to go on the offensive.
For starters, GMB should make every possible effort to spread the strike, in order to overcome management’s efforts to minimise disruption and keep the warehouse operating.
300-400 workers taking action is an inspiring start. But to truly hit the bosses where it hurts, in their profits, the union must take steps to organise the rest of the workforce, and convince everyone to join the walkout.
The way to do this is to appeal to non-unionised warehouse staff with a bold campaign of hard-hitting demands that tackle the brutal conditions within Amazon and the cost-of-living crisis.
This should include calls for: an immediate inflation-busting pay rise, alongside wage increases automatically linked to prices; a stop to the surveillance of workers and sweatshop methods on the shop floor; and an end to union victimisation, with the immediate removal of any managers carrying out such repression.
On this basis, GMB could galvanise all 1,400 workers at the facility.
David vs. Goliath
In addition, this strike needs to spread beyond Coventry. The next step is to organise disputes in every Amazon warehouse and centre in Britain, and to appeal for international solidarity from workers facing the same battle across Bezos’ multinational.
Amazon bosses can face down one or two local battles. But the further this strike spreads, the harder it will be to deal with.
Ultimately, Amazon workers’ fight is part of the wider class struggle that is unfolding across Britain. And if workers can land a blow against one of the biggest monopolies in the world, then this will inspire countless others to join the fray and take similar action.
Just like the story of David vs. Goliath, the giant always seems invincible – until he’s struck down.