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Workers protest, strike on global day of action to ‘Make Amazon Pay’

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Picture: @NazmaAkter73 / X / Taken on November 24, 2023 – Garment workers in Bangladesh stage a protest as part of the global Make Amazon Pay campaign. Workers in different parts of the world took to the streets on the fourth global day of action to “Make Amazon Pay” to protest the corporation’s anti-worker policies, its role in fuelling the climate crisis, and its complicity in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

By Peoples Dispatch

Workers and activists in different parts of the world downed their tools and took to the streets on Friday, November 24, to mark the fourth global day of action to “Make Amazon Pay.” Convened by Progressive International and UNI Global Union, the campaign organised actions across 31 countries to protest the exploitative practices of the tech and commerce giant.

The action was held on ‘Black Friday,’ which is considered to be the biggest retail shopping day in the US, with companies announcing major discounts and sales to lure buyers.

“Workers know that it doesn’t matter what country you’re in or what your job title is, we are all united in the fight for higher wages, an end to unreasonable quotas, and a voice on the job,” said UNI Global Union’s general secretary Christy Hoffman.

In the UK, 1,000 members of the GMB Union went on strike at Amazon’s warehouse in Coventry, the 28th day of action organised by the workers amid an ongoing dispute over low pay. In January, they were the first workers employed by Amazon in the UK to go on strike.

The striking workers were also joined on the picket line by trade union members and activists from countries, including Germany, Italy, and the US.

“We’re living in poverty conditions while Jeff Bezos gets richer and richer off our hard work, and we’re just struggling to put food on the table,” Jessie Moreno, an Amazon worker from California, US, told the Guardian.

“In the US, my Teamster siblings and I are on strike against Amazon’s unfair labor practices. We have taken our picket line across the country and now we’re joining our colleagues from around the world to demand respect, fair wages, and a workplace where our health and safety are a priority. Amazon is no match for the power of its workers united,” Moreno, who is a member of Amazon Teamsters Local 396 in California, was also quoted as saying in a press release.

A report by the National Employment Law Project found that workers in Amazon warehouses were making up to 18 percent less (US$822) a month as compared to workers in other warehouses in the US. A survey of Amazon workers in Europe, the US, and Australia also found that the company’s invasive monitoring practices had led to a majority of workers experiencing deteriorating mental health.

Workers in Coventry are fighting for a £15 wage (US$ 18.9), having secured some increases and bonuses over the past year— “We’re still below what they [workers] were earning in 2018 in terms of inflation. So for a company that earns huge amounts of money, it’s not too much to ask that they pay their workers a wage that they can actually live on, feed their families and heat their homes,” a member of the union said.

“I want them to realise that we are people … we’re not just numbers,” Marie, a worker at Amazon said.

Picture: @WarOnWant / X / Taken on November 24, 2023 – A demonstration was also held outside Amazon’s headquarters in London on Friday.

Strikes were also organised across five Amazon fulfilment centres — in Koblenz, Leipzig, Rheinberg, Dortmund, and Bad Hersfeld — by the Ver.di trade union amid a decade-long struggle for a collective bargaining agreement.

Meanwhile, the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL) organised a strike at the Amazon facility in Castel San Giovanni in the Piacenza province. Among the issues raised by workers in Italy were an increase in pay in line with Amazon’s own record economic growth, the failure to increase the amount allocated in the food stamps, the lack of attention to health and safety issues and welfare provisions, and the use of disciplinary measures for “futile reasons.”

Picture: Filcams CGIL Nazionale / Facebook / Taken on November 24, 2023 – The Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) organised a strike at the Amazon facility in Castel San Giovanni in the Piacenza province, to coincide with a general strike called by the CGIL and the Italian Labour Union (UIL) ‘to raise wages, to extend rights and to oppose a budget law [the 2024 Budget Law] that does not stop the dramatic impoverishment of women workers, men, and women pensioners and offers no future to young people’.

The action coincided with a general strike called by the CGIL and the Italian Labor Union (UIL) “to raise wages, to extend rights and to oppose a budget law [the 2024 Budget Law] that does not stop the dramatic impoverishment of women workers, men, and women pensioners and offers no future to young people. In support of another economic, social and contractual policy, which is not only possible but necessary and urgent.”

Actions will flow into the next week as Amazon’s ‘Black Friday’ sale is set to end on Monday. In Spain, Commissiones Obreras (CCOO) is set to hold one-hour strikes across distribution centres in the country, 30 of which employ 20,000 workers, between November 27 and 28. The action will focus on issues including insufficient health and safety provisions, inadequate pay, and the repeated failure of Human Resources to address concerns raised by workers.

According to the Make Amazon Pay campaign, workers will be holding 150 protest actions across the world to raise certain common demands. These include raising workers’ pay in all Amazon warehouses, including hazard pay and premium pay during peak times; adequate break time; suspending “the harsh productivity and surveillance regime Amazon has used to squeeze workers”; extending paid sick leave; and health and safety protocols.

Other key demands include an end to all forms of casual employment and contractor status, proper procedures to raise concerns, and the reinstatement of all workers fired punitively for their organising efforts or for speaking up about health and safety conditions.

Given Amazon’s notorious union-busting practices, the campaign has demanded respect for workers’ rights, for unions to be provided access to worksites, and for Amazon to bargain with unions.

On Friday, members of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF), a garment workers union, took to the streets in Bangladesh as part of the day of action. The protesters, overwhelmingly women, raised demands including the right to freedom of association, action to prevent gender-based violence and sexual harassment.

The action was held in the wake of major protests by garment workers to demand a fair wage, which saw deadly violence.

Picture: @NazmaAkter73/X Taken on November 24, 2023 – ‘Garment workers make the clothes that Amazon sells and profits from. But Amazon doesn’t even recognise us as its workers nor sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety to keep our factories safe,’ Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation President Nazma Akhter says.

“Garment workers make the clothes that Amazon sells and profits from. But Amazon doesn’t even recognise us as its workers nor sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety to keep our factories safe. That precarity leaves us open to even more abuse: dangerous working conditions, a minimum wage below the $209 per month we are demanding, and trade unionists attacked and killed by police,” SGSF President Nazma Akhter stated.

Actions were also held in several places in India on November 24, including in the capital of Delhi, by organisations including the Telangana Gig and Platform Workers Union, the Rajasthan Gig and App Based Workers, and the Amazon India Workers Association.

“We have to stand for 10 hours and work. There is absolutely no sitting arrangement. When women are menstruating, there is no provision for a room to rest. There are hourly targets of 60 small packets, 45 medium packets, and 35-40 large packets…If we do not hit our targets, we are spoken to in an abusive way,” a worker said in a testimony shared by the campaign.

Among the demands raised include an increase in the monthly minimum salary of INR 25,000 (US$300) over the existing INR 10,000 (US$120), an end to the contract system, workplace protections against harassment, and the setting of practical targets for workers that take into account their physical and mental health.

Picture: @AiwaIndia / X / Taken on November 24, 2023 – A protest action was also held in Indonesia by the Indonesian Trade Union Association (ASPEK) on Friday.

Beyond the workplace-specific demands raised by unions during the global day of action, the protests also drew attention to the role played by Amazon in fuelling the climate crisis— with the company’s carbon footprint surpassing that of two-thirds of the world’s countries.

According to the Make Amazon Pay campaign, while the company recorded a minuscule 0.4 percent drop in its emissions in 2022, it would still take Amazon until the year 2378 to reach its stated target of net zero emissions by 2040. In fact, its total emissions have risen by nearly 40 percent since its founder Jeff Bezos announced Amazon’s ‘Climate Pledge’ in 2019 — a figure which in itself is likely to be a significant undercount.

Across France, Attac, a civil society organisation “committed to social, fiscal, and ecological justice” organised “Amazon out of service” actions on November 24 and 25, with activists pasting stickers, tape, and posters over Amazon Lockers which are used for self-service parcel delivery.

“Black Friday is the symbol of a model that leads us to a dead end, destroys the planet, territories and solidarity. Massive tax evasion, job destruction, deterioration of working conditions, climate-killing activities… there is no shortage of reasons to stop major e-commerce brands,” Attac said in a statement.

In several countries, including Canada, the UK, and Japan, protests were also organised against Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is its cloud technology, to protest the climate impact of the corporation’s data centres. While Amazon has touted its use of renewable energy, the expansion of its data centres, in Ireland for instance, have raised serious concerns about not only the country’s own climate targets but of extreme instability in the national electricity grid.

Not only that, Amazon has also partnered with fossil fuel companies to market oil and gas, and to use its technologies to unlock potential deposits. The construction of Amazon’s headquarters on ancestral land held sacred by Indigenous Khoi and San peoples in Cape Town, South Africa is also another clear example of the ever-present threat it poses to the rights of local communities and the environment.

Meanwhile, protesters also condemned Amazon’s tax-dodging practices, including during an action in Luxembourg, which houses its European headquarters. Despite making around US$ 38 billion from sales in Europe in 2022, Amazon did not pay any taxes in Luxembourg for a fifth consecutive year.

Critically, the global day of action drew attention to Amazon’s complicity in the Israeli occupation and apartheid — specifically through the Project Nimbus cloud computing project, which it provides to the Israeli occupation forces and the government.

In May 2021, as Israel was bombing the besieged Gaza Strip, killing over 250 Palestinians, Google and Amazon signed a US$1.2 billion contract with the Occupation to provide cloud services allowing it to expand its mass surveillance of Palestinians as well as the expansion of its colonial settlements on Palestinian land by providing data to the Israel Land Authority (ILA).

Amazon is now planning to invest a further US$7.2 billion in the Israeli Occupation over the next 14 years, with the launch of AWS data centres. The corporation has also had business with the Israel Aerospace Industries, which at one point, was servicing 80 percent of Amazon’s aircraft.

“As the assault on Gaza intensifies, so will the complicity of these companies. The webs of evil run deep, and our fight against Amazon is only the start. Stand with the workers on global strike today, and don’t cross the picket line,” said Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla, the co-general coordinator of Progressive International.

“It is a worldwide declaration that this age of abuse must end,” Gandikota-Nellutla said of the protests, “Amazon’s globe-spanning empire, which exploits workers, our communities and our planet, now faces a growing globe-spanning movement to Make Amazon Pay.”

This article was first published on Peoples Dispatch