Amazon European workers are planning action on a grand scale

Andreas Gangl joined Amazon in 2009 at the age of 36 and worked at the company’s cave fulfillment center in Bad Haasfeld, a small hot spring town in central Germany. The first job was pretty good. Wages were comparable to other manual roles, and the daily workload printed on paper consisted primarily of books and CD packages.

In 2013, Bad Haasfeld became Germany’s first integrated Amazon fulfillment center. Two years later, the organization, led by Gangl’s colleague Christian Krähling, was the founding site of Amazon Workers International (AWI), an organization with members in 175 fulfillment centers around the world.

Since then, Gangle and his cohort have won small victories. Nevertheless, he says his work now is “unmatched.” Wages are stagnant and relationships with management are deteriorating. Gangl and his 2,700 colleagues carry the center, which is the size of a 15-soccer field, today, from clothing to fitness equipment, and everything in between. Handheld scanners now deliver orders and monitor all movements.

Unlike Amazon employees in the United States, no one in Bad Haasfeld relies on PET bottles to urinate to achieve their goals, as far as the local union knows. But bottles are still a problem, beer, spirit, wine to be precise, and fulfillment workers need to pack large bottles. It’s much more energetic than shifting a paperback book.

The pandemic has created more work under more severe conditions. Workers are subject to temperature checks, all-day mask wear, and social distance, and have ample room. “That’s not really good,” says Gangl. Amazon’s global profits have increased by almost 200% since 2019, and CEO Jeff Bezos has added £ 51 billion to his personal wealth during the pandemic. Employees at the Bert Haasfeld Fulfillment Center earn € 10.40 (£ 8.95) per hour and have had to work to earn as much since the beginning of the last ice age, about 2.5 million years ago. did.

Gangl was one of about 500 Amazon employees in Germany who went on strike for four days on the Easter weekend. Their demands haven’t changed since 2013, says Andre Shear, secretary of Verdi, a Berlin-based trade union that coordinates behavior. The combination of social distance, disinfection, masks and other measures is increasing stress and pressure. As a result, the strike has become “very urgent,” he says.

Last month, Verdi demanded a 4.5% salary increase and better working conditions in retail and mail-order businesses. It wants Amazon to be considered a retail outfit. The company is currently classifying itself as a logistics company using industry benchmarks that regulate low payments.

Meanwhile, Amazon emphasizes that the strike affected only six of Germany’s 15 fulfillment centers. “At the remaining six sites, the majority of our employees worked normally,” said a company spokeswoman. The company claims that the starting salary, which will rise to € 12.41 (£ 10.67) two years later, exceeds Germany’s minimum of € 9.35 (£ 8.03). “We already offer great salaries, good benefits, and great opportunities for career growth while working in a safe and modern work environment,” added a spokesman. “The union knows this.”

Germany is the second largest market outside the United States, producing more than a quarter of all e-commerce. However, with less than 10% of workers on strike, Verdi has little influence in the negotiations. Amazon’s international presence also means that you can strike and whac-a-mole. If the output is low in Germany, you can dial up in Poland or the Czech Republic.

“If people go on strike in Germany, it’s okay. The product still arrives,” said John Mara Matinas, an activist at Make Amazon Pay, a group that mobilizes workers and politicians around the world. I will. “Therefore, it is really difficult to make these strikes effective.”

He added that politicians are “always one step behind” Amazon. And the German people are still relatively unaware of the employees of tech companies compared to those who work in legacy industries such as automobiles and chemicals with strong and generations of union representatives.

Amazon never comes to the table for negotiations with Verdi, Maramatinas adds. “And our treatise is that even if strikes always happen, this will continue. This is one of the most powerful strike movements in the last few years, but what without social support? “If we want to deliver our luggage as a society every Christmas, we need to discuss under what circumstances this is happening,” he adds.

Last Friday, Amazon announced that it would add 5,000 employees to Germany this year and increase its local workforce to 28,000.

By 2024, up to 3,400 software engineers will be moved to the 28th floor of the Edge Tower, a 36-story skyscraper on the site of the former Berlin Wall. Anti-gentrification protests seize the Friedrichshain district where the Amazon Tower is being built, and Google has to abandon plans to open a campus in nearby Kreuzberg, reflecting the 2018 protests No longer get.

It also gives Malamatinas, who organized a protest against the tower, “hope for the future.” More importantly, we need to expand cooperation between Amazon workers in Germany and elsewhere. Staff in France, Italy, Spain and Poland have already begun union activities, and strikes for delivery staff are planned in the Indian cities of Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune and Delhi.

In Alabama, Bessemer Center workers are voting to determine if they have formed the first union in Amazon’s 27-year history. If so, it will have a significant impact on the company’s global business. Despite the decline in membership, a recent poll by the think tank Data for Progress found that 69% of American voters favored Alabama workers.

“If we had a union in the United States, this would double,” says Malamatinas. “If one fulfillment center collapses, everything goes well. All you need is a strike in Poland, the Czech Republic, etc.,” he adds. International cooperation between unions is Amazon’s “greatest horror,” says Malamatinas. In 2013, German workers had minimal contact with foreign peers. “It’s exploding now,” he says. If this trend persists, Malamatinas has made it clear what it means. “Amazon will be messed up because it can’t play this game again.”

Amazon is an international megacorporation building more and more places, says Osrem Demirel, a member of the European Parliament of the far-left German party The Left. “These sites will also be used immediately to take advantage of the struggling workforce and the impact of strikes. In this regard, the struggle is taking place internationally, and unions and workers. It is just right that they are also networked with each other. “

It’s not easy. Since 2013, Amazon has organized an opposition to strikers, printing “Pro Amazon” and “Anti Verdi” T-shirts.October last year Recoding Published internal memo on page 11Outlined plans to develop technology for monitoring unions.

In December 2020, Krähling, the founder of AWI, died at the age of 43. “He was our leader and our champion,” says Gangl. “And a friend to me. He promoted the organization and networked in the field.”

Gangle hopes AWI can continue to spread Clering’s influence far beyond Bad Haasfeld. “We are watching very carefully what is happening in Alabama,” he says. “Now there is a union movement in Jeff Bezos’ homeland, and people want better working conditions across Europe.”

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Amazon European workers are planning action on a grand scale

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