WORKERS at the online retail giant Amazon warehouse in Minnesota were out on a six hours-long strike yesterday called to coincide with the company’s largest sales event of the year in the first major US strike the company has faced.
July 15 was the start of a two-day Amazon ‘Prime Day’ where consumers are offered large discounts – discounts that workers in their warehouses pay for through a brutal regime of exploitation.
This regime includes the constant monitoring of workers by electronic devices that measure to the second their work rate, toilet and meal breaks.
The speed demanded by Amazon from its workers in fulfilling orders pushes them to the absolute limit with workers complaining that they are forced to work a 10 hour day with only two half-hour breaks and having to walk up to 10 miles a day through the vast warehouse picking and packaging goods.
Failure to meet these productivity quotas results in automatic dismissal, last year 300 workers were fired by Amazon at its Baltimore warehouse for not meeting ‘efficiency standards’.
Compounding the already punishing work conditions at what Amazon calls ‘fulfilment centres’ is the recent decision by the company to offer one-day delivery to its Prime customers, a massive increase on the unrealistic pressure it already applies.
The significance of this Minnesota strike is that it is the first organised stoppage in the US during Amazon’s major promotional event, and it is being taken by workers who are denied union recognition, it reflects the rapidly growing campaign to organise Amazon workers across the US.
In Europe more than 2,000 workers at seven Amazon sites across Germany, the second-biggest market for the company after the US, have gone on strike over pay under the slogan ‘No more discount on our incomes’. In a statement the Verdi union said: ‘While Amazon fuels bargain hunting on Prime Day with hefty discounts, employees are being deprived of a living wage.’ Unions in Germany have been battling Amazon over better pay and conditions for workers since 2013.
In the UK yesterday, the GMB union (which is not recognised by the company) demonstrated outside Amazon warehouses around the demand ‘bosses treat your workers with respect’.
The ‘respect’ Amazon treats its workers with can be seen in the ‘brutal’ working conditions the GMB revealed earlier this year at the warehouse in Rugely in the Midlands where they discovered that ambulances were called 115 times, including three for women due to pregnancy/maternity and three for major trauma. While workers across the US and Europe are taking and demanding action, the call for Amazon to treat them with ‘respect’ is an insult.
Amazon bases its huge profits not on, as it likes to boast, great technological innovations but on the capitalist formula of exploiting its workers mercilessly, making them work till they drop and then sacking and replacing them with another stream of young workers desperate for a job.
The technology they have embraced is the technology designed to screw every last drop of blood from the working class for the lowest possible wages.
Amazon are not alone in this, and indeed are set to join up in the US with gig economy delivery service Deliveroo in a move to introduce new machinery that can pack boxes four to five times as fast as human workers.
Instead of treating workers with respect and stopping treating them as robots, Amazon is stating if you can’t work like a robot then you will be replaced by machines that can, and you can starve for all we care.
Under capitalism the vast scientific and technological developments are not used to advance the living standard of workers but as a cudgel to beat them in the pursuit of even greater profit.
The response of workers in the US and Europe to this is to rise up against this exploitation – as can be seen in the strikes against Amazon – led by a new generation of young workers internationally who are determined to fight.
They are rapidly reaching the conclusion that the fight against exploitation and for their rights as workers must be won though a struggle to remove capitalism through socialist revolution.
This is the only way forward.