Amazon’s business, and Jeff Bezos’s wealth, expanded at a dizzying pace over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic; meanwhile, Amazon workers continue to burn out from the relentless pace of work and are struggling to keep up with the cost of living. As the cost-of-living crisis deepens around the globe, workers across industries in the UK—from healthcare and railway workers to civil servants and university lecturers—have been resorting to industrial strike action to secure the increased pay they desperately need. Now, hundreds of workers at an Amazon warehouse in Coventry have joined the wave of strikes and have made history as the first group of workers to strike at Amazon in the UK. In the latest installment of our Workers of the World series, Ross Domoney reports from the Amazon picket line in Coventry. This video is part of a special Workers of the World series on the cost of living crisis in Europe.
Producer, Videographer, and Video Editor: Ross Domoney
This story, with the support of the Bertha Foundation, is part of The Real News Network’s Workers of the World series, telling the stories of workers around the globe building collective power and redefining the future of work on their own terms.
Protester: Strike. You can turn round if you want. This is a picket line.
Ross Domoney (narrator): Amazon workers have just blocked the road leading to their workplace.
Protesters: “The workers united!”
“Will never be defeated!”
“The workers united!”
“The workers united!”
“Will never be defeated!”
“Bring your colleagues on the picket line and show strength!”
Ross Domoney (narrator): Their managers look on, as the strikers try to get more workers on their side.
Mike Ekiesesay (Amazon worker and GMB union representative): Are you a member ma’am as well? Are you a member?
Ross Domoney (narrator): Employees at this warehouse in Coventry are making history as they stage the first ever strike against Amazon in the UK.
Police officer: All I’d like, Okay, is for the traffic to flow so I can unblock the [traffic] island
Protester: You’ve got the right to go and talk to anyone who’s in the queue.
Mike Ekiesesay (Amazon worker and GMB union representative): The cars here in the long queue most of them want to be a member, but they don’t know [how]. They don’t have that right information. So we’re out here on this picket line just making them realize some of the information encouraging them to be part of the picket line. Yeah, do you want better pay? Everyone wants better pay. I work in Amazon, I know right. I worked through the pandemic in Amazon.
I started in 2020. It was a very depressing era with the COVID going on, with the social distancing.We were still coming to work, but we were not allowed to socially connect with each other due to the rules and regulations that was being put in place. Most importantly, it was one of the most busiest periods in Amazon, because Amazon was one of the companies that was still sending orders and deliveries outside because people didn’t have the chance to go out. So Amazon was sending deliveries outside so that means they have earned, they are one of the companies that have earned a lot during the pandemic and considering such a huge gain and then paying their workers who have put in that hard work, just 50p. It’s an insult, and I feel like Amazon can do more.
Ross Domoney (narrator): The GMB union, which has nearly 460,000 members across all industrial sectors, stepped in to support the Amazon workers after they were offered a pay rise of just 50 pence.
Stuart Richards (GMB union Senior organizer): This is an employer that isn’t exactly known for its good employment relations and certainly not its relationship with the trade unions. As we’ve seen in the ten years that we’ve been supporting Amazon workers, Amazon will not seek to engage with us at all. So the engagement we have with our members is primarily offsite on gate jobs. So this is a huge step forward.
Amazon spends a huge amount of time and money trying to keep us out of the warehouse. They think we are the union. Effectively they’ve got it very, very wrong in this instance. The union’s in there, the union’s actually this group of workers taking strike action. This is a huge step forward for us. This is a huge step forward for them. And hopefully the beginning of a move that we can take in supporting Amazon workers, not just in this warehouse, but others, to actually start to unionize, and get better pay and conditions.
Protester: “Stuart, can I have a cup of tea, two sugars?”
Amanda Gearing (GMB union Senior organizer): We’ve got all sorts of issues that are happening inside. But the bulk of the issues are around the way that they play one worker off against another worker with regards to their targets. So it’s a real pressured environment in there.
So you’ve got people that have got all sorts of injuries because they’re just not able to stop, take the right breaks, they are not able to do manual handling or anything like that because it’s a really difficult environment and if they don’t work as hard as they possibly can, they find themselves on a disciplinary.
Garfield Hylton (Amazon worker): The complaint that I would have is that when we then fail in our job, we need time off to recover, we may find ourselves being punished by Amazon’s health policy. When the robots break or don’t work, they have a team of expensive technicians to service them and they’re put back to right. Whereas if we go off because of it, burnout for want of a better word, we then will face a disciplinary procedure which will then kind of have an adverse effect on us. If we go off again we can find ourselves quickly being threatened with the loss of the job.
We all work making a company one of the billion dollar companies in the world, but we still don’t feel appreciated. So with the cost of living and everything going on right now that is really draining on a lot of people. It’s making a lot of people feel depressed because they have to drive from a very long way to get to work and then when they get to work, put in a lot of hours, instead of them getting paid properly, they just get a pay rise of 50p.
Rashvinder Saund (Amazon worker): In terms of inflation things have gone up so much that it’s led for us to actually make a stand. I mean, before I was sitting on the actual fence, I was just observing and thinking, should I, shan’t I, should I, shan’t I? And then I thought, hang on a minute. You know, there’s more and more people joining GMB and actually I think I need to support my colleagues. Hence why I came out and thought, why not? You know, every voice matters. So that’s one of the main reasons really, it’s just purely the fact of not being able to have enough money coming in to pay our bills. You know, it’s just basic needs.
Stuart Richards (GMB union Senior organizer): If we don’t get to a point where those bosses start to listen, engage, and actually resolve the issues that we have here, we’re going to see an escalation of what’s already happening. We’re going to see a continuation of those disputes until we drag those employers kicking and screaming to the point at which they start to resolve those issues.
Amanda Gearing (GMB union Senior organizer): I mean, it’s across the UK, but it’s also global as well, to be honest. I mean, Amazon workers across the globe are coming together. We had Chris Smalls that has been organizing in New York over this week and meeting with some of our workers. So, you know, it’s absolutely fantastic. We’ve got other fulfillment centers that are contacting us now and saying that they want to do the same thing. You know, the pay at the moment is just appalling and people can’t live on that pay. So, you know, they feel like they’ve got nowhere to go.
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