First strike in Amazon’s history in United Kingdom, at Coventry’s warehouse

Despite its refusal to recognize trade union organizations, and an employee intimidation tactic, the American company could not prevent the first British strike, organized by the GMB.

By Eric Albert (London, Correspondence)

A piece in British union history was written, on the night of Tuesday 24 to Wednesday 25 January, in the cold and in front of a simple handful of employees. Shortly after 12:00 a.m., the first strikers of an Amazon warehouse in Coventry, in the center of England, came out of the barriers surrounding the premises and joined some trade unionists who were waiting for them. For the first time in the United Kingdom, the American giant of online sales experienced a strike, which stretched all day on Wednesday.

The direction of Amazon minimizes the scope of the event. There will be “zero impact” for customers, the Coventry center operated “normally” on Wednesday, and only “a fraction of 1 % of our employees in the United Kingdom [75,000 in total] voted for the strike”. However, this line of defense amounts to ignoring the important dams that British trade unionists have managed to bring down.

“We have been trying to organize around Amazon for ten years,” said Amanda Gearing, of the GMB union, who is behind this strike. She has long spent unsuccessful days distributing prospectuses in the parking lots of the American firm warehouses. She also spotted the buses that the employees used to go to work, and took them to try to approach them. In vain.

dispute on wages

On the one hand, Amazon’s management did not want to hear about unions recognition. On the other, the employees were themselves very reluctant. “In the warehouse, there are around forty different languages, and many are wary of unions. For them, it often rhymes with Mafias,” said Darren Westwood, one of the very rare employees to dare to speak with an overdraft.

he is 57 years old and experienced the distant period of “Closed Shops”, these companies where each new employee was forced to become a member of the business union. His attitude was therefore different, but even he was hardly interested in this story. “Honestly, when I left the warehouse, I went around with my car the trade unionists who tried to approach me,” he confides.

Everything changed in August 2022. During the Pandemic of COVID-19, the employees of Amazon had faced a work resurgence. In warehouses, anger rose on working conditions and health protections deemed insufficient. But hope was to obtain a strong increase in salary. Employees, whose remuneration is 10.50 pounds (12 euros) per hour, hoped for a sharp increase. “The rumor was circulating that we would go to 12 pounds per hour,” said Mr. Westwood.

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/Media reports cited above.