A wave of unofficial wildcat strikes is sweeping across Amazon’s UK warehouses, with hundreds of workers across the country independently staging walkouts, sit-ins and work slowdowns in protest of derisory pay rises from the e-commerce giant.
Starting on 3 August 2022 with Amazon’s LCY2 warehouse in Essex, when 700 logistics workers spontaneously walked out after receiving a 35p pay rise offer, Amazon staff have now staged strike actions in at least 10 Amazon facilities over similar offers from the company.
At the time of publication, Amazon workers also have staged wildcat strikes (meaning they were conducted without the involvement or support of a union) in Rugeley, Coventry, Swindon, Rugby, Doncaster, Bristol, Dartford, Belvedere, Hemel Hempstead and Chesterfield, with more expected in the coming days.
The strike actions taken so far include walk-outs from shifts, sit-ins in the warehouse canteens, and work slowdowns, whereby workers are actively attempting to not reach their productivity targets. Workers at some of the facilities are, for example, processing one package an hour, so they can still be paid.
At each of the warehouse sites, Amazon – which does not recognise unions in any of its UK warehouses – offered its work force pay rises between 35p and 50p per hour, depending on their locations and amount of time at the company. While the offer represents a 3% increase on current salaries, the June 2022 inflation rate was 9.4%.
“Starting pay for Amazon employees will be increasing to a minimum of between £10.50 and £11.45p/h, depending on location. This represents a 29% increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to Amazon associates since 2018,” said an Amazon spokesperson.
“On top of this, employees are offered a comprehensive benefits package that includes private medical insurance, life assurance, income protection, subsidised meals, an employee discount and more, which combined are worth thousands of pounds annually, as well as a company pension plan.”
Writing in Notes From Below, a publication dedicated to documenting the everyday struggles of working class people against capitalism and the state, an anonymous Amazon worker from Coventry noted that warehouse staff had been waiting for information about the pay rise since April, and were expecting at least another £2 per hour. Instead, they were offered 50p.
“We only planned to go on strike two hours before it actually happened. We had seen the strikes at Tilbury and Rugeley fulfilment centres on TikTok during our break time, and it inspired us to strike,” they said.
“We watched those videos at 11am, and started spreading the idea of a walkout through word of mouth around the warehouse. By 1pm, we had over 300 people who walked out and stopped working. At the beginning, we had no help with the strikes from any trade unions. We organised it all ourselves.”
They added that, after speaking as a collective to the general manager about the reasoning behind the 50p pay rise, workers were told they would not get paid unless they returned to work: “But everyone stayed, still refusing to go back…Our struggle is far from over. We have more collective action planned for the following days, as we keep fighting for a proper pay rise.”
Unions voice support
While the strikes were organised spontaneously by workers, a number of unions have come out in support of their actions. For example, a United Voices of the World (UVW) spokesperson told The Big Issue: “UVW stands in full solidarity with all the brave Amazon workers taking action in their fight for a fair deal at work.
“Employers are offering below inflation pay rises to drive down our wages, which are being eroded by inflation. We need to stand up for ourselves and let the bosses know we’re not going to accept this transfer of wealth to the rich. We encourage all low-paid workers to join us so we can stand together and fight back with all tools at our disposal.”
Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, was similarly supportive: “Unite will stand with any Amazon worker who takes action against this insulting 35p pay offer. Across the country, workers are taking action and winning the proper pay rises they deserve. Workers at Amazon – one of the wealthiest companies on earth – deserve nothing less.”
GMB union regional organiser Steve Garelick also said that Amazon needs to “drastically” improve pay and work conditions: “Amazon is one of the most profitable companies on the planet. They made a fortune through the pandemic when people were unable to shop on the high street. Now, with household costs spiralling, the least they can do is offer their workers decent pay.
“Amazon continues to reject working with trade unions to deliver better working conditions and fair pay. Their repeated use of short-term contracts is designed to undermine worker’s rights.”
On 9 August, GMB – which represents some of the Amazon employees, but is not recognised by the company – submitted a formal pay claim to the e-commerce giant asking for a real terms rise for all workers. GMB has also submitted reginal claims in Coventry, West Midlands and London.
Amazon was previously hit with a wave of strikes throughout March and April 2020, when workers across Europe and the US walked out in protest against “unsafe working conditions” and “corporate inaction” at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the strikes started in Spain and Italy around 16 March, the first US-based Amazon strikes occurred on 30 March 2020 – one at the company’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York, and one at a delivery station in Chicago.
Chris Smalls, one of the striking JFK8 workers that was fired for his role in organizing a walkout, later went on to help form, and become president of, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU). In April 2022, workers at JFK8 voted to be formally unionised under the ALU, forcing Amazon to formally recognise a trade union of its workers in the US for the first time ever.
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