A wave of industrial action, much of it unofficial, is sweeping Amazon fulfilment centres across Britain. Workers at LCY2 centre in Essex staged a sit-down strike over a measly 35p pay rise and this is spreading, with over 100 walking out in Coventry and similar actions in Bristol and elsewhere. It’s not just on pay that there is anger. The Victorian conditions in the warehouses are now well known and reflective of a company that is willing to treat workers appallingly in the interests of maximising profits.
While workers have toiled in these conditions for years, Jeff Bezos and Amazon shareholders have been raking it in. The last quarter of 2021 saw Amazon post $14.32bn in profits! All this while Amazon workers access food banks, homeless shelters and worry about rising bills.
What needs to be done?
The examples of Tilbury, Coventry, Bristol and other actions Amazon workers have taken are the first steps in shifting the balance of power back towards the workforce. However, Amazon is unashamedly and viciously anti-trade union, using a range of tactics to prevent organisation. This is because their ‘lean’ business model focuses on super-exploitation of workers to maximise profit. Their raison d’être is to rely on isolating and demoralising individuals who might speak up. What we have seen in the last few days is the power of collective action however.
Recruiting workers into the union, electing committees of stewards to represent workers in each facility and on each shift and drawing up common demands will be important steps to build on this action. The Amazon Labor Union were recently successful in organising to form a union in Staten Island, New York City and organising efforts are happening all over the world. National trade unions like GMB and Unite should be offering support to workers on the ground to organise their workplace but also seeking to coordinate globally to win common demands, including a better contract for all Amazon workers. There is the potential for an international strike to shut Amazon down , drawing in delivery drivers and appealing to customers and others to show support.
Coordinate with others taking action
This is not happening in a vacuum. We have seen rail workers strike back to defend jobs and conditions, CWU members in BT on picket lines and workers across the public sector preparing to ballot. If you are an Amazon worker wanting to fight back, now is the time to reach out to other local trade unions to coordinate actions and build solidarity, like the food and drink deliveries to LCY2 from trade unionists after the canteen was shutdown.
Socialist Kshama Sawant shows how Amazon can be beaten
Amazon have been able to get away with their criminal treatment of employees because they have been given and bought political backing from their friends in parliament. We need to organise independently from the bosses in the workplace, but also in politics.
Socialist Alternative is part of an international organisation. In the US, our members have been instrumental in supporting and helping to organise the fight to unionise Amazon in several cities. Socialist Alternative City Councilmember in Seattle Kshama Sawant stands out as completely different to all the pro-big business politicians. We need socialist political representatives who will stand on the side of workers, not turn a blind eye to profiteering and In Amazon’s home city of Seattle, she has been building upon her victory in making Seattle the first city to introduce a $15-an-hour minimum wage by campaigning to introduce the Amazon tax to take back money stolen by the company. She has consistently faced down Amazon-supporting Democratic politicians. In response, Amazon funded her opponent’s unsuccessful election challenge by over $1m. But a bold campaign, drawing together unions, community organisations and others to protest and demonstrate to beat Bezos meant that we won re-election! This shows that workers can win, if we organise correctly.
While unionising and winning concessions from Amazon management will be a major step forward for all workers, this company will be ruthless in maintaining its position and profitability. This company’s assets, which are on the scale of a small country, should be taken into common public ownership so that your work benefits all, not a tiny elite.
We need democratic workers’ control and management of the facilities. The workers are the people who make this machine tick everyday. We know how it works and we should have a say in how it is run, not a faceless CEO in an air-conditioned office.