Amazon strike: the first official walkout on British soil begins today

Darren Westwood knows how to defend himself.

As a child, he was bullied in the playground and beaten in his downtown neighborhood. Now it doesn’t take sticks from anyone, no matter how big or how strong, even though it happens to be one of the biggest companies in the world.

Mr. Westwood thinks his employer, Amazon, is a bully.

Having grown slowly fed up with the wages and working conditions in the company’s warehouse in Coventry – where workers are on their feet all day sorting goods to be sent to other warehouses – he rallied colleagues to support a strike.

After some initial reluctance it has gradually won them over and almost 300 workers are set to leave today – marking the first official strike on UK soil for the online giant.

“I’m not fazed by things. I’ve spent my life growing up and I’m at that stage where I’m not intimidated or worried,” the 57-year-old said.

“During the pandemic, people were thanking us and we appreciated it but Amazon was still making money, when we feel like we’ve been left behind.”

“The money is there. I know people say it’s the politics of envy but we don’t ask her [Jeff Bezos’] yacht or its rocket. We just won’t be able to pay our way. And that’s all we ask.”

Unions have traditionally struggled to penetrate Amazon, but the mood of the company’s workforce changed in August after it offered its workers what many saw as a paltry pay rise. The online giant has raised hourly pay by 50p to £10.50 an hour.

Upon hearing the news, the workers staged an informal strike. They expected more, especially since the company has made excellent profits in recent years and inflation is rising at its fastest rate in 40 years.

The GMB union seized the opportunity and helped organize a strike, with workers voting in favor of formal action just before Christmas.

It’s not just about the money, though. Amazon has long been criticized for employing strict productivity targets that require workers to sort through a set number of items per hour.

Failure to do so may result in “adaptation,” a type of warning. Staff have up to 30 minutes break per day, only one of which is paid.

“When you think you have to line up to check in, then line up to go through metal detectors and security, and line up to get your food, that time evaporates very, very quickly,” said Mr Westwood. “I have already been a minute late after a break and received an adaptation.”

The loss of up to 300 of its 1,400 employees in Coventry is unlikely to cause major operational issues at Amazon, but management will be watching developments closely. Around the world, its workforce began to agitate. In the United States, workers at a New York warehouse recently voted to form the company’s first-ever union.

The GMB union is demanding Amazon pay its UK workers £15 an hour to bring their wages in line with their US counterparts, who earn $18 an hour. However, Mr Westwood admitted it would likely take much less than that to settle the dispute.

Picture:
Amazon warehouse in Coventry where workers go on strike

‘£2 extra hour would be acceptable’

“I would be happy if they just increased it by £2. I think £2 more per hour or £2.50 more per hour would be acceptable. I think everyone would stop then and people would be happy,” he said.

The company told Sky News it pays a competitive local wage which has increased by 29% since 2018.

A spokesperson added: “We appreciate the great work our teams do throughout the year and are proud to offer a competitive salary which starts at a minimum of £10.50 to £11.45 per hour, depending on location.

“Employees also receive comprehensive benefits that are worth thousands more – including private medical insurance, life insurance, subsidized meals and an employee discount, to name a few.”

However, workers accuse him of cutting other benefits in the process. Basically, the 5% pay rise it has given its staff amounts to a pay cut in real terms as inflation, which peaked at over 11% last year, has risen to more than double the pace.

Mr Westwood pointed out that the company had raised the cost of its services to reflect higher rates of inflation, while failing to share the spoils fairly with its workforce.

A similar story is playing out across the economy, particularly in the public sector, where industrial relations are fracturing under the pressure of runaway inflation. Nurses, paramedics, railway workers, teachers and postal workers all voted to lower their tools and demonstrate.

“Some nights I can’t sleep”

Like some Amazon employees, many of them have been repeatedly reminded of their value during the pandemic, when they went to work while others stayed home.

“They are good people,” Mr. Westwood said. “I know some people think we’re unskilled and that’s minimum wage for ‘minimum work’. But you need us during the pandemic. You cheered us on and painted rainbows in the street. We are the same people. “

“It’s 10 hours a day, standing on your feet. I walk 18,000 steps and it takes a toll on people. I have a shoulder injury. Some days it’s so painful. Some nights I can’t sleep, it just keeps me awake. And it’s because of the repetitive strain of doing the same job over and over and over and over again.

While Mr Westwood is hopeful the two sides can reach a deal, he believes the main gain will be in increasing unionization within Amazon’s workforce to ensure workers continue to fight back.

He accepts there are benefits to working for Amazon and that many people enjoy their time there, but thinks the company still has a long way to go.

“Colleagues are struggling to pay their bills,” he said. “But we work for one of the richest men in the world, in one of the richest companies in the world, in one of the richest countries in the world… that’s not fair.”

. amazon strike first walkout official on ground uk starts today economic news

. Amazon strike official walkout British soil begins today

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