A piece of British trade union history was written on the night of Tuesday January 24 to Wednesday January 25, in the cold and in front of a mere handful of employees. Shortly after midnight, the first strikers from an Amazon warehouse in Coventry, central England, emerged from the barriers surrounding the premises and joined some trade unionists waiting for them. For the first time in the United Kingdom, the American online sales giant experienced a strike, which lasted all day on Wednesday.
Amazon management downplays the scope of the event. There will be “zero impact” for customers the Coventry center was working ” normally “ Wednesday, and alone “A fraction of 1% of our employees in the UK [75 000 au total] voted for strike. However, this line of defense amounts to ignoring the major roadblocks that the British trade unionists have succeeded in bringing down.
“We have been trying to organize around Amazon for ten years”, underlines Amanda Gearing, of the GMB union, which is behind this strike. She has long spent fruitless days distributing flyers in the parking lots of the American firm’s warehouses. She also spotted the buses that employees used to go to work, and took them to try to approach them. In vain.
Dispute over wages
On the one hand, Amazon management didn’t want to hear about union recognition. On the other hand, the employees themselves were very reluctant. “In the warehouse, we speak about forty different languages, and many are wary of the unions. For them, it often rhymes with mafias”explains Darren Westwood, one of the very few employees to dare to speak openly.
He is 57 years old and has known the distant period of the closed shops, those companies where each new employee was obliged to become a member of the company union. So his attitude was different, but even he wasn’t interested in this story. “Honestly, when I left the warehouse, I drove my car around the trade unionists who were trying to approach me”he confides.
Everything changed in August 2022. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Amazon employees faced an upsurge in work. In the warehouses, anger was rising over working conditions and sanitary protection deemed insufficient. But the hope was to get a big pay rise. The employees, whose remuneration is 10.50 pounds (12 euros) per hour, hoped for a sharp rise. “Rumor was circulating that we would go to 12 pounds an hour”said Mr. Westwood.
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