A Worldwide Workers' Revolt Against Amazon Has Begun
Posted by Gerard on April 19, 2021, 10:54 am
"The union drive at Amazon’s 885,000-square-foot warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, failed. But the historic campaign nabbed global headlines and added fuel to ongoing workers’ revolts across the world. |
Strikes by Amazon workers in Italy, Germany and India are coalescing into an international struggle against the world’s fourth-most valuable company and its grueling working conditions and intensive surveillance.
Since the dawn of capitalism, bosses have found innovations to oversee and extract more work from the overstressed bodies of their labor force. But Amazon’s minute surveillance of workers — who, at the Bessemer facility, are mostly Black and women — would make the Stasi blush. At the company’s warehouses, workers use hand-held devices that track their every move and assess their speed and accuracy. What is particularly novel about Amazon, as Joe DeManuelle-Hall writes in the movement publication Labor Notes, is how it brings together productivity innovations to create a régime of terror on the shop floor, with pressures that infamously force workers to pee in bottles rather than take breaks.
Amazon, along with Walmart, its fiercest competitor, is the 21st century’s quintessential factory floor.
Wearing “angry Amazon” masks, demonstrators in Berlin lament Amazon’s poor working conditions with the motto, “Make Amazon pay.” The rally was in response to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos receiving the Axel Springer Award for his “visionary entrepreneurship” on April 24, 2018. MARKUS HEINE/SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES
Blue-collar Amazon workers keep the cascade of goods around the world flowing; they are the muscle that fulfills consumer desire as it barrels down the arterial lanes of Amazon.com. These ground logistics leave behind more than just pixel dust, wreaking devastating environmental havoc: a carbon footprint in the millions of metric tons, rivaling roughly the annual emissions of Norway.
Through the alchemy of supply chain management, the goods sold through Amazon — everything from PlayStations to yoga pants — travel via cargo vans, airplanes and ships across a global infrastructure of roads, skies and oceans on their voyage to customers’ doorsteps.
Like the 19th-century workers forging steel for Andrew Carnegie, refining oil for John D. Rockefeller or building cars for Henry Ford, Amazon workers are up against a titan of industry: Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world. Bezos took advantage of the new and unregulated terrain of e‑commerce to behave as ruthlessly as those titans of yore.
“Jeff Bezos and his crew of techies and quants simply did what robber barons have always done: Raise, spend and sometimes lose other people’s money, dodge taxes, swindle suppliers and avoid unions,” Kim Moody writes in the essay collection, The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy.
Now, understanding how critical they are to fulfilling Amazon’s promise of just-in-time delivery, Amazon workers are organizing for control of their workplaces. Their indispensability is their leverage to negotiate safer working conditions, dignity on the job and pay commensurate with the value they’ve produced: $21.33 billion in net income for Amazon in 2020 (a $9.7 billion increase during the pandemic) and $67.9 billion more for Bezos’ already obscene oodles of wealth.
And the spark ignited in Alabama is catching on. Perry Connelly, a 58-year-old Bessemer worker, says the union campaign received an outpouring of support from around the world. He realized that, by challenging Amazon in the South — a regional stronghold of anti-union fortification — “we’ll be making a huge difference not only in Alabama, but globally.”
Organizers Syrena (left) and Steve, with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, greet workers outside an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., on March 27. PATRICK T. FALLON /AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
A Global Resistance
Workers around the world — from Colombia to Nigeria to Myanmar — have expressed solidarity with Amazon’s workers in Alabama. When Italy’s largest labor federation, Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL), went on strike March 22 at 15 Amazon warehouses (alongside other unions), workers carried a banner that read, “From Piacenza to Alabama — One Big Union.”
“Amazon workers in Europe understand that an organized workforce in the United States would be a gamechanger,” says Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, which has coordinated international Amazon worker actions.
Of Amazon’s estimated 1,538 facilities of all types worldwide, 290 are in Europe, 294 are in India, and 887 are in North America. The bulk of those are in the United States — with more on the way as Amazon expands into urban areas. (Amazon also has a smaller presence in Brazil, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.)
“The campaign in Bessemer has grabbed the globe’s imagination,” Hoffman says. “It is an inspiration to see workers in Amazon’s home country, in a hostile environment, stand up for change.”
In the United States, labor law largely favors employers, with rampant illegal infractions against collective bargaining rights common and punished by a slap on the wrist. Amazon has aggressively exploited this advantage to shut out unions, demanding nothing short of complete surrender from workers: “If workers became anything less than docile, managers were told, it was a sign there could be union activity,” according to a story in the New York Times. It doesn’t stop at union-busting. There’s also wage theft: Amazon was fined $61.7 million by the Federal Trade Commission for stealing tips from its drivers.
In Europe, Hoffman says, workers are covered by collective-bargaining agreements as part of sectoral bargaining, which enables unions to set standards for all employers in an industry, regardless of union membership at any one individual employer. But even with these safeguards in Europe, sectoral bargaining isn’t a panacea.
Members of Italy’s Uiltrasporti trade union demonstrate for better working conditions at Amazon as part of a 24-hour strike March 22, which included 9,500 warehouse workers and 15,000 drivers. NICOLÒ CAMPO/LIGHTROCKET via GETTY IMAGES
The Italian strike, for example, was mainly motivated to “[improve] the general working conditions of the subcontractors,” according to an email statement from Leopoldo Tartaglia, a representative of CGIL’s international department. Most subcontractors in Italy have union representation as part of national collective-bargaining agreements, but Amazon can still exploit loopholes, and self-employed drivers enter contractual relationships directly with Amazon.
“Amazon has always refused to discuss with unions the conditions of the subcontractors,” Tartaglia wrote.
The strike’s demands included a reduction in drivers’ workloads and hours, bargaining over shifts and scheduling, and compliance with pandemic-related health and safety regulations. The unions say 75% of Amazon’s 40,000 delivery workers in Italy participated (Amazon claims that figure was only 10%).
The strike snarled Amazon’s logistics operations, delayed deliveries for days and prompted the head of Italy’s Ministry of Labor and Social Policies to compel the company and the trade unions to negotiate.
Like Hoffman from the UNI Global Union, Tartaglia views organizing in the United States as critical to worker power at Amazon internationally. “International solidarity is in our DNA,” he wrote of Italy’s trade federations.
International efforts against Amazon have been building for some time. The UNI Global Union helped mobilize thousands of Amazon workers in four European countries to strike on Black Friday 2018. Like the workers in Alabama, their rallying cry was, “We are not robots!”" Go to: https://inthesetimes.com/article/workers-world-unite-amazon-union-busting-organizing-labor-rights?link_id=2&can_id=023a832f64d749fa2a53c7060d0ca988&source=email-a-worldwide-workers-revolt-against-amazon-has-begun-robert-reich-on-the-gops-phony-anti-corporate-turn&email_referrer=email_1146422&email_subject=the-amazon-union-drive-in-bessemer-was-just-the-beginning-robert-reich-on-the-gops-phony-anti-corporate-turn for full article.