Amazon strikes hit Prime week as union membership passes 900

GMB organiser on watching the movement grow - 'it's been absolutely amazing'

Amazon workers in Coventry hit a 20-day strike milestone on Tuesday as they take to picket lines again this week targeting Amazon Prime Day.

Paving the way for worker organisation in the UK against the world’s largest online retailer, union membership and staff moral continues to grow at the Coventry warehouse, despite setbacks. Staff are asking for a wage increase to £15 an hour as well as union rights.

However, the GMB union was forced to withdraw their bid for union recognition after accusing Amazon of using ‘dirty tricks’ to push up workforce numbers, and therefore prevent the union from reaching the 50 per cent membership threshold needed.

But resolve among workers remains high, union organiser Stuart Richards told LFF today, as they move towards the year anniversary of the first wildcat Amazon strikes at the beginning of August.

Richards, who’s been supporting Amazon workers for five years, said it had been ‘absolutely amazing’ to watch the growth of the movement and the determination of workers.

This week also marks the start of their second six-month mandate for strike action, after members voted by a resounding 99% majority to extend their industrial action. Union membership has now just past 900.

“Let’s be honest, we were starting to get a little bit worried,” Richards reflected on the last strike ballot. “This is taking some real sustained effort and so far the company has been unwilling to engage at any level at all.”

He went on: “But what we’ve seen yesterday and today has been absolutely amazing.

“The workers are taking it completely in their stride. We had just under 50 new members join us yesterday specifically to come out on strike. Their resolve is absolutely huge.

“We are so proud of it and seeing it grow is absolutely amazing. We always thought and hoped we could get something going, but this is a completely different level.”

Despite suffering a knock back when their union recognition bid was denied, Richards said they will keep trying to get the numbers to meet the threshold.

After the latest workforce figures from Amazon, who have supposedly kept around 1,300 new workers on site in order to stop the union reaching their membership target, Stuart said their new goal for membership is to reach 1,350 workers.

“They’ve kept on temporary staff and brought in new workers, and there is a big turnover so we’re going to have to see what happens. But we’re working on the assumption that they can’t just keep throwing money at the business.

“We would need 1,400 to be safe. But again, we’re set on going and trying to get to that number.”

Workers have also suffered financially from the impact of the expanded workforce, as many staff relied on overtime to support them in the cost-of-living crisis but the increased numbers have reduced these extra hours.

“Workers at Coventry have to do overtime to be able to afford to live and support their family,” said Richards. “So they do over the normal 40 hours and are working up to 6 days to try and bring that income in.

“Bringing in lots of other workers now means that overtime has effectively disappeared, so the cost-of-living crisis is a double whammy now as they can’t even get the hours to bolster their income to give them the money they need.”

Amazon has said that they, ‘offer competitive pay, comprehensive benefits, opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern, work environment.’

But Richards accused the company of engaging in a ‘propaganda war’ as he claimed there was a ‘huge amount of advertising on social media’ in the local area saying how Amazon is a great employer, which he believed was to mitigate the effects strikes may be having on public perceptions of the company.

Amazon workers in Germany are also on strike this week and sent a message of solidarity to the workers in Coventry, stating ‘your fight is our fight’ and that they are part of a ‘worldwide movement’ for better conditions and money at Amazon.

Richards reflected on the huge impact international recognition has had for the strikers.

“It’s a huge lift for workers, because it’s a little place in Coventry and they’ve felt incredibly isolated, so the fact they’re seeing people from right across the world turn around and say, ‘you’re doing a brilliant job, we’re standing with you and not only that we’re doing the same thing’ – it has made a real difference.

“They feel as though they’re not alone here and part of a wider collective trying to do something incredibly important.”

Workers are walking out on Tuesday 11, Wednesday 12 and Thursday 13 of July.

(Photo credit: Darren Westwood / Twitter)

Hannah Davenport is trade union reporter at Left Foot Forward

Left Foot Forward’s trade union reporting is supported by the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust

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