Amazon workers at the conglomerate’s warehouse in Coventry, England, went on strike for 24 hours on Wednesday in a bid to secure a pay rise to £15 an hour.
The action by around 300 members of the GMB union was the first official strike by Amazon workers in the UK since the facility opened with its first logistics center at Marston Gate in 1998. The company employs around 1,400 people in Coventry, near Birmingham Airport . The majority of the workforce in Coventry are not unionised.
Striking workers at the picket line at the Amazon warehouse in Coventry, January 25, 2025 [Photo: Screenshot-GMB Midlands/Twitter]
Coventry was one of several UK locations where Amazon workers were misled over ridiculous salary offers last summer. With inflation already at 13 percent (RPI) at the time, Amazon workers were being offered increases of between 1 and 3 percent. The company relied on local wages and existing wage rates, with some workers being paid just 35p an hour more.
In Coventry and near Rugeley, which had even lower starting wages, the increase was 50p an hour, the equivalent of 5 per cent. Amazon’s entry-level rates range from £10.50 (as in Coventry) and £11.45 per hour in London and south-east England.
By contrast, Amazon paid just £492m in direct UK tax on sales of a staggering £20.6bn in 2020, when warehouse workers faced deadly pandemic working conditions and sales were booming. In 2021, Amazon UK said it paid just £10.8m in tax despite posting a pre-tax profit of £204m.
The tensions that led to the recent strike have been building for years. Describing working conditions to the World Socialist Web Site after the August strike, a Coventry Amazon worker said: “We were treated like caged chickens.”
The worker explained that despite the limited pandemic regulations, the UK must comply “to prevent the spread [of COVID]they were still trying to get us to work in large groups in this very small area.”
In response to the “massive insult” of Amazon’s pathetic wage increase, workers staged an impromptu protest in the company canteen. When they refused to return to their stations, managers cut some workers early and cut wages.
A Coventry worker told the Guardian at the start of Wednesday’s strike: “I shouldn’t have to work 60 hours a week just to pay bills”, describing how workers have to stand 10 hours a day: “If you get caught sitting you get… a six-week warning… if you get caught doing it again, you’re out.”
The strike shows the willingness of Amazon workers to fight for significantly improved wages and working conditions. But the GMB union has nothing in common with these goals. The organization of the Coventry strike is aimed at securing a seat at a table with Amazon management and serving as labor police for the company, which is helping to keep its troubled workforce under control.
In September, after the consultative vote, Amanda Gearing, chief organizer of GMB, said: “If Amazon wants to keep its empire running, it needs to come to a table with GMB to improve workers’ pay and conditions.”
When the December strike vote was announced, Gearing appealed: “It is not too late to avoid strikes; come together with GMB to improve workers’ wages and working conditions.”
As the walkout began on Wednesday, Stuart Richards, GMB’s regional organizer, said that “the real goal of the union is to get Amazon bosses one step closer by kicking and yelling to talk to us.”
Amid Amazon’s wildcat strikes last summer, the GMB signed a rotten deal with Deliveroo, with the company recognizing the GMB as the “representative” of its workers in exchange for the union promising their commitment to “Deliveroo’s sustainable business success”.
The strictly limited strike action organized by the GMB at Amazon stands in sharp contrast to the company’s ruthless actions in enforcing harsh working conditions, job cuts and facility closures. Since Christmas, she has announced that around 18,000 jobs will be cut worldwide, mainly in head offices. In the UK, where it has more than 30 locations, Amazon will close three warehouses in Doncaster in South Yorkshire, Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire and Gourock in western Scotland – and seven smaller delivery locations.
While it claims workers at those locations will be offered jobs at other locations, the warehouses that are scheduled to close are remote from other facilities. Two new distribution centers will be built in Peddimore in the West Midlands and Stockton-on-Tees in the North East of England.
In announcing the strike, GMB made no mention of Amazon workers at other UK plants, let alone the company’s 1.5 million workers worldwide.
Workers in Coventry and other warehouses in Britain must draw on the experiences of their US class brothers and sisters, who were encouraged to unionize by the Democratic Party under President Biden and self-proclaimed radicals like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Far from mobilizing workers against the company in struggle for decent wages and working conditions, the campaign aimed to contain their growing militancy.
Amazon Labor Union President Christian Smalls, right, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), left, at a rally in front of an Amazon facility on Staten Island in New York, Sunday, April 24, 2022. (AP Photo/ Seth Little)
The new Amazon Labor Union (ALU) won recognition in Camp JFK8 on Staten Island, New York, by presenting itself as a “left” alternative to the established AFL-CIO union bureaucracies that have taken responsibility for the destruction of workers’ working conditions for decades .
ALU vice-president Derrick Palmer has expressed his support for the strike in Coventry so workers should pay attention to what happened after this JFK8 ‘victory’. Once recognized, the ALU aligned itself with the anti-working class AFL-CIO and the Democratic government.
Within a few months, Amazon employees drew conclusions about this “alternative”. Workers in Albany, New York, voted two-to-one against unionization at an organization that made little effort to convince workers they had a strategy to fight the company.
The strike in Coventry, the wildcats that preceded it, and the eruption of militancy in Amazonian firms internationally all point to the great power potential of this section of the working class.
Amazon has vast financial reserves and full government support in every country in which it is based. On the other hand, the unions do not offer militant opposition but a corporatist partnership with the companies against the workers. The struggles must be taken into the workers’ own hands through the formation of their own organizations and leadership: grassroots committees of workers operating independently of the unions in each camp and depot, across all roles and levels.
These committees must discuss and coordinate action across national borders with Amazon employees around the world. Instead of agreeing on what Amazon can afford, the committees must formulate demands based on workers’ needs. We urge workers to address the International Amazon Workers Voice and the International Workers’ Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees, established to empower workers to undertake the necessary political struggle against the corporations, the national governments and to lead their union partners.
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