But the union’s success in defeating the authority in Coventry has sparked the interest of Amazon workers around the world, who are trying to organize a global movement against the company. As Amazon’s third largest market (after the US and Germany), organizations see the UK as a critical factor in improving the company’s operations. “I know they are watching,” says Westwood, adding that he has received messages of support from France and Germany.
Workers in those countries know they can force Amazon to come to the bargaining table if unions in multiple countries can strike at the same time. “Amazon is a global company and it participates in protests in one country by relying on a processing center in another country,” said André Scheer, secretary of the German trade union Verdi. When Amazon workers hit Germany, the customer’s package enters the country from Poland or the Czech Republic instead.
The Coventry strike comes in the same week as Amazon workers from Germany, Poland, Canada, the US, France and Spain ordering in Geneva to organize other exhibitions. Organizations are now looking to build on the success of the Black Friday protests against Amazon in November, which took place in more than 30 countries from Costa Rica to Luxembourg, according to UNI Global, an international union that participated in the #MakeAmazonPay campaign.
The Coventry strike is not the first time Amazon UK workers have publicly complained about pay and working conditions. In August, workers at warehouses across the country staged illegal strikes at warehouses. But compared to other countries, planning efforts in the UK have started slowly. Amazon workers in central Germany have been on strike for a decade, with a warehouse in Staten Island becoming the first US location to strike in April 2022.
Warehouse workers in Coventry currently earn around £10.50 ($13) an hour. But the union that represents them, the GMB, wants this figure to rise to £15 an hour, which would bring UK workers’ wages to the same level as the £18 an hour their US counterparts receive. Amazon’s regional director, Neil Travis, explains that the company’s wages are competitive—either in line with or higher than similar jobs in your area. Yet many workers here have worked through the pandemic – a time when Amazon made three quarterly profits – and are said to have earned the money.
Even on the other side of the epidemic, many days are still ravaging Westwood. He says his shoulder hurts at night, after more than three years of moving paper inside a Coventry warehouse. But the 57-year-old is also concerned about the management culture within Amazon. “The way the administration treats people is amazing.” He says he was recently told that he leaned against the wall and took a breath. When he protested—”This is not the army!”—he says he was told by his manager that the discussion was “locked in”; immortal to his reputation.
For some, this management system is similar to the employee monitoring system that Amazon uses to track their performance. Garfield Hylton, who is also a member of the GMB board, describes his day working at Amazon as being plagued by numbers; what he calls his “level”. Every morning, and also in the afternoon, the manager goes to him to tell him how he has done according to the company’s algorithms.