The revolt Amazon can no longer ignore

But the union’s success in overcoming this bureaucracy in Coventry has sparked the interest of Amazon workers around the world, who are trying to organize a global movement to challenge the company. As Amazon’s third largest market (after the US and Germany), unions view the UK as a critical cog in the company’s mission to internationalize the labor movement. “I know they’re watching,” says Westwood, adding that he’s received messages of support from France and Germany.

Workers in those countries know they are more likely to force Amazon to the negotiating table if unions can strike in several countries at once. “Amazon is an international company and they respond to strikes in one country by relying on fulfillment centers in another,” said André Scheer, secretary of the German trade union Verdi. When Amazon workers strike in Germany, customer packages from neighboring Poland or the Czech Republic seep into the country instead.

The strike in Coventry takes place in the same week as Amazon workers from Germany, Poland, Canada, the US, France and Spain convened in Geneva to plan further protests. Unions are now looking to build on the success of November’s coordinated Black Friday protests against Amazon, which swept through more than 30 countries from Costa Rica to Luxembourg, according to UNI Global, an international union involved in the #MakeAmazonPay campaign.

The strike in Coventry is not the first time British Amazon workers have publicly complained about pay and working conditions. In August, employees of warehouses across the country detained unofficial protests in warehouse canteens. But compared to other countries, UK organizing efforts have had a slow start. Amazon workers in central Germany have been striking off and on for a decade, while a Staten Island warehouse became the first U.S. site to unionize in April 2022.

Workers at the Coventry warehouse are currently paid around £10.50 ($13) an hour. But the union representing them, GMB, is calling for that figure to be raised to £15 an hour, which would bring British workers’ wages equivalent to the $18 hourly wages their American colleagues receive. Amazon’s local regional director, Neil Travis, describes the company’s pay as competitive, in line with or higher than comparable jobs locally. Yet many employees here have weathered the pandemic — a period in which Amazon saw quarterly profits triple — and claim they deserved that pay raise.

Even on the other side of the pandemic, long hours are still taking their toll on Westwood. He says his shoulder hurts at night after more than three years of moving pallets in the Coventry warehouse. But the 57-year-old is also concerned about the management culture within Amazon. “The way management treats people is shocking.” He says he was recently told to lean against a wall and catch his breath. When he objected – “This is not the army!” – said his manager that the call was “logged”; immortalized on his record.

For others, that management style is epitomized by the monitoring software Amazon says employees use to track their performance. Garfield Hylton, also a GMB union member, describes his day at Amazon as haunted by a number; what he calls his “rate”. Every morning and afternoon, a manager comes to him to tell him how productive he’s been according to the company’s algorithms.

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