Amazon faces Black Friday protests, strikes in 40 countries

Thousands of Amazon warehouse workers in about 40 countries plan to take part in protests and strikes to coincide with the Black Friday sales, one of the busiest days of the year for online shopping.

Employees in the US, UK, India, Japan, Australia, South Africa and across Europe are demanding better wages and working conditions as the cost-of-living crisis deepens, in a campaign called “Make Amazon Pay “. The campaign is coordinated by an international coalition of trade unions, with the support of environmental groups and civil society.

“It is time for the tech giant to immediately stop its terrible and dangerous practices, respect the law and negotiate with workers who want to improve their jobs,” said Christy Hoffman, secretary general of UNI Global Union, one of the organizers of the campaign. .

Tension with workers has been a long-standing issue at the e-commerce giant, which has faced complaints of unfair labor practices, as well as employee activism and union drives at some facilities. In what was seen as a watershed moment, workers at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, voted earlier this year to join an emerging union.

“While we are not perfect in any area, if you look objectively at what Amazon is doing on these important issues you will see that we take our role and impact very seriously,” Amazon spokesman David Nieberg said.

He cited the company’s goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and that it “continues to offer competitive wages and great benefits and invents new ways to keep our employees safe and healthy.”

Unions in France and Germany – CGT and Ver.di – are leading the latest collective action, with coordinated strikes at 18 department stores, set to disrupt shipments to key European markets.

Monika di Silvestre, head of Ver.di’s Amazon committee in Germany, said workers were particularly concerned about how their productivity was being closely monitored by computers, with algorithms setting goals, for example for the number of packages that they have to manage per hour.

“Workers are under a lot of pressure with these algorithms,” he said. “It makes no difference between workers, whether they are elderly or with limited mobility. Workers stay up at night thinking only about their productivity stats.

He called on European politicians to strengthen workers’ rights across the bloc. “We don’t have the right to strike across Europe – at the European level,” she said.

In the UK, workers associated with the GMB union have planned protests outside several warehouses, including Coventry.

“Amazon workers in Coventry are overworked, underpaid and they’ve had enough,” said Amanda Gearing, a senior organizer at GMB, adding that “hundreds” will gather to demand a £10.50 pay rise. It’s now at £15.

Any workers who quit during a shift could lose the second half of a £500 bonus Amazon announced for UK warehouse workers last month. The final payment is conditional on staff taking “no unauthorized absences” between 22 November and 24 December. The GMB said linking payments to attendance could be interpreted as an illegitimate incentive not to strike.

In the United States, protests and rallies will take place in more than 10 cities and outside an apartment building on 5th Avenue, New York, where Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has an apartment building. Several rallies are also planned in India, while in Japan, members of a newly created union will protest in front of the company’s national headquarters in Tokyo. In Bangladesh, textile workers from Amazon’s supply chain will march in Dhaka and Chittagong.

Some rallies will focus on Amazon’s environmental and social footprint, for example in Ireland, where people will gather outside the company’s offices in Dublin to push back two new data centers planned in the city. In South Africa, protesters will gather near Amazon’s new offices in Cape Town, which is being developed on land indigenous people consider sacred.

Some unions have expressed concern about the current economic climate amid Amazon’s warning that its peak holiday season may not be as busy as usual. The company’s decision to lay off 10,000 employees will also make salary negotiations more challenging.

Laurent Cretin, delegate of the CFE-CGC union in France, said the firm will have 880 workers at a warehouse in Chalon-sur-Saône this holiday season, down from 1,000 before covid, which he linked to tightening consumption and the transfer of activities to automated warehouses.

“Projections aren’t great, we’re not sure we’ll do as well as last year which saw a post-covid surge,” he said.

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