November 25, 2013

German Amazon workers strike again


Why won’t these striking workers renounce their worldly desires?

German workers are striking again at Amazon warehouses this Monday, and have vowed to continue their fight for fair wages through the busy holiday shipping seasons.

As reported by Reuters and Stuttgarter Nachtrichten, German union Ver.di has called a strike for at least two Amazon warehouses, in Bad Hersfeld and Pforzheim, this Monday. This follows several other strikes this year. Amazon, as is their policy in Germany and elsewhere, has refused to engage in any collective bargaining with employees.

At stake in the current strikes: the union wants workers at those warehouses to be paid wages commensurate with those standard in the mail order and retail sectors. Amazon insists that these workers are more properly classified in the logistics sectors, and that they are paid above average wages for similar jobs elsewhere. We discussed all of this in greater detail this past May, when five hundred Amazon workers walked out for a day in an earlier bid to bring Amazon t the table.

We’ve also frequently discussed the terrible working conditions in Amazon warehouses—it is no exaggeration to say that workers are treated as expendable, as chattel rather than as people. And just this weekend the Daily Mail of all places ran an article about the terrible treatment of Amazon employees.

What, then, makes this strike notable? Ver.di spokesperson Stefanie Nutzenberger is correct that their intention to “concentrate on days that will be especially disruptive to business” could prove more effective. But even more notable, if baffling, is this response from Amazon, as quoted by Reuters.

“So far the strike action by Verdi has had no impact on shipments to our customers,” Amazon spokesman Stefan Rupp said in an e-mailed statement.

This is sly: a brief, strong message to readers which cuts workers out of consideration entirely. It speaks to that reptilian hindbrain in us all, only concerned with food, sex, and whether our bulk order of toilet paper will arrive soon. But then:

He affirmed the company’s stance that it sees no benefit for its workers in the kind of collective agreement Verdi demands.

This is magnificent. Rupp deserves a raise for this. Maybe after the striking workers get their raises. Not ony, Rupp, claims, have the strikes had no effect, but he sees no benefit for them? These workers are primarily fighting for higher wages! Is Amazon, through Rupp, trying to convince us all of the benefits of a life of poverty? It’s a seductive argument in some cases, sure. Were it shouted out of a cave by an anchorite I might buy into it. But Rupp works for a corporation that generated $8.7 billion in Germany alone last year. They are not, perhaps, the most convincing proponents of a simple lifestyle, though I suppose there is a simplicity in simply saying what you want to be true and expecting it to happen.



Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.