August saw the one year anniversary of workers at Amazon in the UK walking out in protest against an insulting pay ‘rise’. Bosses would have hoped that this was a flash in the pan that would soon die out. What has transpired since has been a truly courageous and inspiring struggle, with workers at the BHX4 site in Coventry taking the first ever official industrial action in January of this year.
In an important development, workers at the BHX1 site in Rugeley, Staffordshire have also now joined the strikes, taking their first official action on 3-4 August.
The Amazon struggle is a truly inspiring and courageous battle of workers fighting back against one of the world’s richest men, Jeff Bezos. While Jeff Bezos has been flying around in rockets to the moon, the workforce are treated like machines. Indeed, one of the slogans put forward by the GMB union is ‘we are humans, not robots’ which speaks to the daily degradation that workers face.
Dire situation facing workers
The situation facing Amazon staff was expressed to Socialist Alternative members on one of the Coventry picket lines by one striker who explained ‘I often work 10 hour shifts, 6 days per week. And it is still not enough to pay all the bills and have a life’.
This totemic struggle contains many lessons for the entire labour movement. Not least that struggle for clear demands encourages people to join the union. Beginning with a few dozen members, the GMB now has over 1,000 in the Coventry facility alone. Workers have shown that barriers such as intimidation and Tory antitrade union laws can be smashed through. The huge increase in union membership is a lesson for the union movement. If unions take action, workers will join.
Mass picketing gets results – Amazon shutdown on 5 August
Pickets during the strike have been enormous – sometimes reaching 4-500 workers. Amazon have tried to counter this, erecting huge fences around the site and the roads approaching the entrance. This has had no impact, with further big pickets continuing to take place.
Furthermore, a victory was scored on day of the 5 August rally to mark the one year anniversary of the struggle, with Amazon sending workers home at 3pm on full pay, and telling the night shift workers not to come in.
Despite the poor weather, hundreds attended the rally, hearing speakers from different unions and campaigns, including PCS, GMB, RCN, and NHS Workers Say No, local trade unionists and Amazon workers from Coventry and Rugeley. At the rally itself there was also the presence of members of Acorn (renters’ organisation), UNISON, UCU, RMT, Unite, NEU and many other activists.
The wide array of activists from so many different unions at the solidarity rally indicates the level of support that exists. Union branches have donated tens of thousands of pounds. This is brilliant, but it should be stepped up further. The Trade Union Congress and all individual unions, including GMB, have enormous funds.
They should be fully mobilising their resources to ensure practical support for the Amazon workers by building the biggest strike fund to date. Alongside this, activists from across the sector need to come together to plan for the coordinated strike action that will be necessary to win.
Amazon in the US: Unionisation struggle in Northern Kentucky
It is not just in Coventry where things are heating up. A titanic battle is currently taking place at the Northern Kentucky Air Hub (KCVG). This facility is an enormous Amazon airport vital for the whole profit-making operation). Members of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) are fighting for $30 per hour, increased breaks/leave, workplace translation (many workers are not native English speakers), and full union recognition. Workers at KCVG have sent solidarity messages to Coventry and Rugeley that have been warmly received.
KCVG workers have formed an Organising Committee consisting of active shop floor workers to democratically discuss and agree the way forward for their campaign. These are methods which could be taken up here too, in order to further strengthen the struggle.
Socialist Alternative in the US are helping workers unionise at KCVG. Support has also come from Seattle City Council member and Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant for unionisation efforts in the US and UK, and also showed how it is possible to beat Amazon, who stated:
‘As the socialist city councilmember in Seattle – home to Amazon’s headquarters – I send my utmost support to striking Amazon workers in Coventry and Rugeley. The strike is the most important tool for working-class fightback.
Three years ago, Socialist Alternative and my office led the victorious movement to win the Amazon Tax, a nearly $300m-per-year tax on Amazon and the city’s richest corporations to fund affordable housing. We won despite the strenuous opposition of billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Seattle’s Democratic Party politicians.
Right now in Kentucky, workers at Amazon’s largest air hub in the world, called KCVG, are fighting to unionise. This is the most important union drive taking place in the US right now.
We must join together across continents to take on the Amazon bosses everywhere.’
The courageous struggle by Amazon workers in Coventry has lit a fuse in the fight for unionisation and £15 per hour. This needs to be escalated and coordinated across Amazon’s operation, not just in the UK but across the planet. A victory against Amazon would be a victory for workers everywhere, and the entire movement needs to help make that a reality