Amazon workers ‘Black Friday’ strike

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WORKERS at six Amazon distribution centres in Germany and one in Italy began a 24-hour strike on Friday, in a protest timed to coincide with ‘Black Friday’ to demand better wages from the American online giant.

In Germany, Ver.di union spokesman Thomas Voss said some 2,500 workers were on strike at Amazon facilities in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig, Rheinberg, Werne, Graben and Koblenz. In a statement, Ver.di board member Stefanie Nutzberger, said workers faced ‘high pressure to create more and more in less time, permanent performance controls and monitoring, and a poor leadership culture.’

In a warehouse near Piacenza, near Milan in northern Italy, hundreds of workers walked off the job to demand ‘dignified salaries’. Over 500 employees were carrying out their first ever strike at the Piacenza warehouse. Strikers have also refused to work overtime until 31st December, covering the whole of the online retailer’s peak season. Piacenza is Amazon’s main Italian hub, employing 4,000 people.

The German union has been leading a push since 2013 for higher pay for some 12,000 workers in Germany, arguing Amazon employees receive lower wages than others in retail and mail-order jobs.

The Italian one-day strike was hailed by one of the nation’s umbrella union leaders, the UIL’s Carmelo Barbagallo, as having ‘enormous symbolic value because it’s clear that progress, innovation and modernity can’t come at the expense and the interests of workers.’

The chief of the CISL union federation, Annamaria Furlan, called on Amazon to work with unions for ‘proper industrial relations, employment stability and dignified salaries’. The Italian strike at the facility near Piacenza was called for permanent workers. The unions advised workers who are on short-term, zero-hours contracts to stay on the job, so they wouldn’t risk losing future work.

• A new report by the European Commission warns that while Spain’s economy is improving it is among the worst performers in the union for income inequality, and young people are in a precarious position.

Spain, along with Greece, Bulgaria and Lithuania faces a ‘critical situation in terms of income inequality’ according to the draft 2018 Joint Employment Report by the European Commission, which uses data from 2016 and early 2017.

The richest 20% of households in the country received an income share 6.5% times that of the poorest 20%, compared to an average of 5.1 times across the EU, and almost twice as high as the values for the best performers. And though in general the economic situation across the union continues to improve, there are ‘very substantial differences’ between member states.

Unemployment ranges from 3.1% in the Czech Republic to 17.3% in Spain and 21.6% in Greece.

Youth unemployment in particular is a problem for Spain, sitting at 40% compared to an EU average of 18.7%, while more than 70% of young workers in the country are working under a temporary contract (compared to only 13.1% for workers aged 25-49).

The delicate situation for Spain’s youth is also reflected in its early school leaving rate, which is close to 20%, meaning it is flagged as a ‘critical situation’. The EU average is 10.7%, and the target set for member states is 10%. The European Commission did however praise a Spanish digital skills training programme of training designed for the digital industry and new business models as an example of ‘good practice’ when it comes to investing in re-skilling young people in order to make them ‘more employable’.

But the share of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the Iberian nation is significantly higher than the EU average, and 22% of the population is at risk of monetary poverty, compared to countries like Denmark and Finland where it is below 12%.

Spain’s 17.3% unemployment rate is ultimately one of the worst, and with a long-term unemployment rate of 9.5% ‘the long term unemployment challenge still appears to be pressing in Spain’, the report concluded.

In France, pensioners have demonstrated at the old port in Marseille. The gathering last Thursday was in protest against the steady decline of their disposable income. Pensioners in France represent nearly a quarter of the population, numbering between 16 and 18 million.

Food bank collections were set up at over 200 stores in the Alpes Maritimes with people able to donate food on Friday and Saturday. Figures show that last year nearly two million people were able to benefit representing the equivalent of 210 million meals.

Mayors across France have stated their worry at increasing financial cuts and the effect this may have on their coffers. The suppression of the taxe d’habitation has reportedly not helped, while districts are said to be feeling the strain of the end of assisted contracts too. This, as well as other pressures from the state, have reportedly put many Mairies in uncertain financial situations.

The region of Auvergne appears to have been hit especially hard. Two mayors from the region said they were worried and angry about the future of their area. Hervé Prononce, mayor of Cendre (Puy-de-Dôme) feared for the financial future of his 5,000-inhabitant town; while Bernard Pasciuto, mayor of the 20,000-inhabitant town of Cournon-d’Auvergne, alleges his Mairie has lost 2.8 million euros in public funds in the last four years.

‘We are in the position of not being able to hire anyone, but we are being asked to do a better job; it’s impossible to do,’ Pasciuto said. The news emerged ahead of the 100th Congress of Mayors, which took place in France last week. Many sought to make sure President Emmanuel Macron was aware of the straitened circumstances, and wanted to open a dialogue with him over how to improve the situation.

• France’s CGT union announced on Saturday that it will file a complaint against Leroy Merlin ‘for insults and misuse of the interim on Saturday’. A CGT statement said: ‘We had already relayed the letter from the Federation of Commerce to the Minister of Labour, regarding the registration of employees of Leroy Merlin, and the insults brought by the management of the logistics warehouse of Leroy Merlin Valence, against temporary workers.

‘Two months later, the response of management has not satisfied the workers so the CGT branch of Leroy Merlin, decided to file a complaint. ‘“Vicious”, “idler”– these were some of the qualifiers used by the management of the Leroy-Merlin logistics platform of Valence in the Drôme. After the discovery of this scandalous file, the management had not given a satisfactory answer to the staff representatives.

‘The heads of services who acknowledged having written these insults are still stationed in Leroy-Merlin. The CGT therefore decided to file two complaints, one for insult, the other for misuse of the interim.

‘The dramatic thing is that not only are they in place, and they do not apologise to all the staff but in addition to that, they smile broadly, grinning, when they hang out on the platform,’ said Karim Bacheri, central CGT delegate of the Leroy Merlin group.