July 18, 2018
Workers in Spain, Poland, and Germany strike against Amazon’s brutal labor practices on Prime Day
by Simon Reichley
Workers at Amazon fulfillment centers across Europe—in Spain, Poland and Germany—went on strike this week, protesting the company’s abysmal pay, inhumane management practices, and refusal to enter into collective bargaining agreements with workers.
The movement to strike began with workers at a Madrid fulfillment center. In May, they called for a Europe-wide general strike in the lead up to Amazon Prime Day. From the letter:
Last March in MAD4 [fulfillment center] we started an intense struggle to gain back a collective agreement that enshrines our historical rights and sets better working conditions, as we deserve. On March 21st and 22nd we called for a strike that was supported by over 95% of the workers. Since then, we have continued with our actions in order to put pressure on the company.
However, we know that Amazon is using its logistic network in Europe to counter the effect of our respective strikes. We in Madrid believe that only if we struggle together will we gain recognition for our demands. Similarly, only with a joint action at a European level will workers organize in those places where there is no union representation yet.
At the end of the letter, the authors promise to be in touch with workers at other centers around Europe to coordinate efforts. This week, the fruits of that labor appear to have bloomed, if fleetingly. On Monday, Reuters reported that Verdi, the German United Services Trade Union, was organizing a walkout involving thousands of employees at six different fulfillment centers. At the same time, workers in Poland staged a “work to rule,” a labor action in which they performed the absolute minimum required by their contract, diligently observed all safety regulations, and took full advantage of all breaks and rest periods. It boggles the mind that such an action should be deemed radical, but guess what? Capitalism.
The Spanish Workers’ Commissions (CCOO) and General Workers’ Union (UGT) told reporters at Reuters that the Spanish strike had been a terrific success, with eighty percent of workers at Spain’s largest distribution center walking off the job for the duration of Prime Day.
Not that anyone should give a shit what Amazon has to say about all this, but spokespersons for the company rejected the CCOO and UTG’s numbers, instead insisting that, like, nothing at all was happening in Poland, and claimed that “Amazon’s Fulfillment Center jobs are excellent jobs providing a great place to learn skills to start and further develop a career.” (Emphasis, um, added.) They also note, with pride, that, after two years, warehouse workers can earn $14.31 an hour, possibly more. How these people sleep at night is a complete mystery.
As Michael Sainato noted in the Guardian just before the most recent wave of strikes, Amazon’s staggering growth over the last decade has been nothing but bad news for workers everywhere. We’ve been waiting for years for the government or for Amazon’s competitors to do something about it, but it increasingly seems the only thing acting as a check on Amazon’s rapacious appetite is organized labor militancy. Here’s hoping that comrades in Europe can pave the way for similar action in Amazon’s US installations.
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.