Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 53 Number 24, August 12, 2023 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Marking a year of organising self-defence in the face of the giant, union recognition or not:

Support the Amazon Strikes!

Recent strikes at the Amazon fulfilment centres in Coventry and Rugeley mark a year of action over very low pay and poor working conditions. They represent a milestone in the struggle of these workers to effectively organise their self-defence in the face of the refusal of the company to recognise their union.

Workers struck work in Rugeley and Coventry between August 3 and 5 - Photo: Express and Star

The strike dates coincide with the anniversary of the first Amazon walkouts to take place in Britain, after workers were offered a pay rise of just 35p. Workers struck work in Rugeley and Coventry between August 3 and 5. Twenty-six days have now been lost to strike action at Amazon this year [1].

Those first strikes last August were informal. Amazon workers staged their first ever official strike in Britain on January 25 this year at the Coventry centre [2], after 98% of workers at Coventry had voted for a £15 wage increase, condemning the company's imposition of a 50p pay rise to £10.50 an hour, a fraction over the legal minimum of £10.42 for workers aged over 23 years [3].

The fight has been for a decent standard of living, both in terms of pay and over their atrocious working conditions. Workers report severe conditions, with constant monitoring for so-called "idle" time including toilet breaks [4]. They also complain of arduous shifts [5]. People have been working round the clock to make ends meet, often neglecting their families and children, working sometimes 60 hours per week [6]. Amazon warehouses have also been reporting hundreds of health and safety incidents annually to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) [7]. Management has been ignoring all requests to listen to workers' concerns, according to the GMB union.

Amazon strike rally in Coventry - Photo: Socialist Worker

At the end of last year, Amazon workers faced threats to miss out on a £500 bonus, the company having made the payout dependent on no "unauthorised absence" between November 22 and Christmas Eve, in a possibly illegal move to break "Black Friday" protests and unofficial strikes at a number of sites [8].

A minority of workers are currently participating in the current strikes. Of the 1,500 workers at Amazon's Coventry site, a few hundred have been on strike. Nevertheless, the GMB hailed the successful ballot and subsequent strikes as an historic victory in their 10-year battle to organise inside Amazon's British warehouses, despite the company's hostility towards trade unions.

GMB initiated union recognition at Amazon Coventry on April 27, 2023. On August 9, the union submitted a formal pay claim for real terms rise, in another a step towards a formal industrial relationship between the multinational and the trade union [10].

Workers have been conscious of similar battles taking place elsewhere in the world. In January 2023, over half of 8,000 workers at the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, voted to join the officially certified Amazon Labor Union. The company plans to appeal the certification.

The strikes also come in the context of Amazon's announcement at the beginning of January of its plans to cut 18,000 jobs globally. This includes consolidating British operations, closing three warehouses and seven delivery sites, and opening fewer but larger distribution centres, causing shocks to affected local communities. The Rugeley site will close, with staff offered jobs at its new Sutton Coldfield site [11].

Aside from specific issues in the monopoly-controlled retail and distribution sector, in which Amazon plays a dominating, oligarchic and transnational role, there is the general issue of the difficulty workers face in organising to defend their interests in the present reality where the old arrangements of civil society no longer operate, creating fundamental problems for trade unions, which arose as organisations within those arrangements. The present conditions instead involve imposition, and, in the case of Amazon, refusal even to recognise these unions. In such circumstances, the assertion by the Amazon workers of their union and successfully-organised strike action represents a victory.

In asserting themselves, these workers are upholding the dignity of their labour, which Amazon seeks to drive down to the lowest levels, treating their employees not as people but as mere objects. The GMB campaign has been ongoing on since 2013, and as far back as 2017 a union survey of members listed the following key concerns:

The Amazon workers know their worth. As the union tells MPs in a recent model letter, "Amazon workers are key workers and time and again in the pandemic we showed our worth, keeping households stocked with essentials and dispensing goods that got the public through the Covid restrictions." [13]

Workers' Weekly commends the Amazon workers in getting organised under difficult conditions and organising their actions to improve the appalling working conditions and levels of pay at Amazon. Enough is Enough!

1. "Amazon faces biggest day of industrial disruption in its history", GMB, 27 Jul 2023
2. "Amazon workers stage first ever UK strike", GMB, January 24, 2023
3. "Amazon workers in Coventry to go on strike for seven more days", Jasper Jolly, The Guardian, Mon 13 Feb 2023
4. "Amazon strikes: Workers claim their toilet breaks are timed", Dearbail Jordan & Zoe Conway, BBC News, January 25, 2023
5. "First industrial action at Amazon UK hopes to strike at firm's union hostility", Heather Stewart, The Guardian, Sun 22 Jan 2023
6. "Amazon strikes: Staff inspired by US union, says Coventry worker", BBC News, January 28, 2023
7. "GMB calls for parliamentary inquiry into Amazon as conditions for workers worsen", GMB, February 17, 2020
8. "Amazon warehouse workers stage Black Friday strikes and protests around world", Mark Sweney, The Guardian, Fri 25 Nov 2022
9. "Coventry Amazon workers make historic bid for union recognition", GMB, 27 Apr 2023
10. "Pay claim submitted for Amazon workers", GMB, 09 Aug 2022
11. "Amazon to axe 18,000 workers as more US tech firms cut jobs", Dan Milmo and agencies, The Guardian, Thu 5 Jan 2023
12. "The Amazon campaign so far", GMB, 2020
13. "Make Work Better in Amazon", GMB, 2023


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