Amazon Anonymous supporters hand in the petition at Amazon.co.uk headquarters on High Holborn, London.
An unwelcome delivery for Amazon.co.uk
On Friday, Amazon.co.uk received an unwelcome delivery of a 56,000-strong petition calling on it to pay its workers living wages. I set up the petition after seeing media exposes of the appalling policies and practices in Amazon warehouses across the UK: I received such an overwhelming response that I’ve spent the past 2 months gathering testimonies from real Amazon warehouse workers. Their powerful statements bring to life the reality of being an ‘Amazon elf’:
“As someone who has worked in many fields over the past 30 years, I found the Amazon experience the most oppressive and unhappy I have ever known.”
“I believe my health has been permanently harmed as a consequence of the conditions there.”
“As an ‘Amazon associate’ you are left feeling that you have no personal value whatsoever.”
Amazon’s 3-points-and-you’re-out disciplinary system comes under fire in many of these testimonies, with points doled out for work-related injuries and traffic accidents. “Took two days off due to partner having a miscarriage, was given points for this absence despite phoning in,” reads one particularly memorable statement.
This delivery of human misery is calculated with drone-like precision: Amazon Economics 101 recommends siting warehouses in areas of high unemployment to ensure a steady stream of workers desperate to earn and ready to put up with regular body frisks, constant cajoling to work faster, and monitored toilet breaks. This is the epitome of Taylorism: turning human beings into worker robots and the warehouse floor into an ethical vacuum. Workers also report being banned from communicating with one another during shifts. This is likely to prevent them unionising, an activity which the workforce is explicitly warned off:
“At the start of one shift we were warned that union organisers had been active outside the plant and …[that] unions were ‘not part of Amazon’s business model’.”
Others recall being told that unions would “slow down processes” and that “union members would be dismissed.”
Sticking to the Bezos rulebook means spitting out this insecure, demeaned workforce after 12 weeks; keep them on longer and they accrue more rights. I’ve heard this story repeatedly; the promise of permanent roles for working hard and fast enough, only to be let go as soon as the calendar hit three months. And of course, they aren’t afforded the dignity of being given notice:
“I was told to turn up on the Friday after Christmas for my shift and I was really happy because I’d made it past Christmas when nearly everybody hadn’t. But when I turned up my pass wouldn’t work. I wasn’t needed any more. I had to walk home six miles.”
Most of those who wrote to me had been offered more work by Amazon mere weeks later, only for the same pattern to repeat again.
The case against this company has been well-made by civil society but the truth is, Amazon is still going strong. Sales have slowed but not enough to hit home; it plans to double its number of UK warehouses in the next 3 years.
So it’s time for coordinated civil society action. Only by working together, between community groups, grassroots activists, consumer campaigns and trade unions can we force this predatory behemoth to change course.
That’s why some campaigner friends and I have set up a new website, amazonanonymous.org to continue the campaign. It acts as a hub for everything related to what’s wrong with Amazon and will help us organise major actions in coalition. By acting together, we can stand up for every worker whose story echoes those above and rip up the Amazon rulebook for good.