By Finn McKenna
This week brings the arrival of multinational e-commerce giant Amazon to Baldonnell Business Park in Dublin. The opening of this facility has already been met with comment by the trade union movement in Ireland. This is an anti-worker company par excellence, whose Dickensian regime has become notorious globally.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has stated that Amazon “must respect” its workforce and that they “welcome Amazon workers into the union and look forward to assisting them in dealing with the full range of employment and workplace issues”. The facility brings with it 500 jobs. This clearly poses an opportunity for the CWU to lay down a marker and hit the ground running with a mass recruitment campaign.
This should not mean a paper membership that merely adds to the union’s subs base, which has been the approach of unions such as SIPTU in many workplaces in the private sector. These workers must be organised around a fighting programme and vigilant campaign against low pay and poor working conditions, and with democratic structures to oversee and ensure its implementation.
Amazon’s track record:
Amazon is a brutal exploiter of workers in the US and its practices must not be accepted here. Let’s look at its track record:
- Workers toil in unsafe, degrading conditions. Reports of workers urinating into bottles and fainting due to exhaustion and heat are all too common. Amazon is known to have ambulances wait outside its facilities as overwork routinely causes physical collapse.
- Workers are constantly watched and worked off their feet by management which push workers to extremes. Meeting daily quotas runs workers ragged.
- When Covid-19 workers swept through the US, Amazon workers were expected to continue to work in extremely unsafe conditions with no protection. The earliest initiatives of Chris Smalls and the Amazon Labour Union in Staten Island, New York, were born out of responding to the extremely haphazard, callous approach that the corporation took towards its workforce at the beginning of the pandemic.
- It engaged in a union-busting campaign in Alabama, propagating all sorts of false ideas and utilising various scaremongering tactics to discourage workers from voting for unionisation.
The list goes on. We should proceed from these facts and state unequivocally that workers in Dublin need to be organised in a union from the off.
Lessons from ALU in the US
The CWU should carefully study the lessons of the Amazon Labour Union in the US. The ALU tenaciously campaigned for over 18 months to ballot workers for unionisation in Staten Island. The approach and methods of the union rank-and-file should be replicated. The CWU has an opportunity now to actively campaign to unionise the Amazon facility in Dublin. This would entail;
- Organising a recruitment campaign which would mean CWU staff and representatives regularly going down to the facility to make connections with workers. The ALU were tremendous at listening to the lived experiences and fears of their members, and it was through active listening and vouching that they’d advance struggle around issues that workers faced that they were able to achieve a victory in Staten Island.
- Announce a targeted campaign for workers to join around inflation-busting pay and safety and dignity in the workplace.
The ALU has laid down a marker for Amazon workers and unorganised workers generally. In the last week workers in a number of fulfilment centres in Britain have taken unofficial industrial action after they were offered an insulting 35p an hour pay rise from this highly profitable company.
Jeff Bezos and his billionaire ilk can be taken on if workers in Amazon organise their enormous collective power. This is an opportunity the trade union movement must seize upon as a step towards organising all workers in this period of capitalist crisis.