Hundreds of Amazon workers in the United Kingdom walked out of their jobs on Wednesday, Jan. 25, in the first-ever formal industrial action in the country against the tech giant.
The workers, affiliated with the GMB trade union, walked out of an Amazon warehouse in the city of Coventry in central England, known as BHX4 near the major Birmingham Airport. Workers said they walked off over a “derisory” offer from Amazon executives of a 50 pence ($0.62) an hour pay raise offer. (Related: Amazon becomes first company ever to lose $1 trillion in market value.)
The workers began their 24-hour strike just after midnight by walking out of the warehouse, leaving work unfinished. A CNBC reporter who visited the strike noted that workers were in high spirits, gathering around bonfires established near the warehouse, waving GMB union flags and posters reading “Fight for £15” and calling for Amazon workers not affiliated with the union to sign up. Another sign near the gathering read, “The wrong Amazon is burning.”
GMB believes around 300 of the warehouse’s 1,000 employees joined the walkout, and the union is organizing larger-scale demonstrations in the coming days unless the workers’ demands are met.
Workers want higher wage and better working conditions
Darren Westwood, one of the workers taking part in the Coventry strike, noted that the walkout was “historic,” and said it “has been a long road” of organizing workers to get to that point.
“We all saw the profits they’re making during the pandemic – that’s what angered people more,” said Westwood. “We were expecting a better increase than what they were imposing.”
Inflation in the U.K. has soared due to increased energy costs and supply chain disruptions. Consumer prices rose by nearly 11 percent year-over-year in December, worsening the nation’s cost of living crisis.
Westwood pointed out how many Amazon employees work 60 hours a week just to pay the bills.
“Someone the other day said we’re treated like robots – no, robots are treated better,” he said.
The offer to raise pay by 50 pence an hour is equivalent to a five percent raise and is well below inflation. Amazon introduced the pay increase during the summer of 2022, but warehouse workers said this raise fails to match the rising cost of living.
Workers are demanding a minimum pay of 15 pounds ($18.55) an hour. This would put British Amazon workers in line with their American counterparts, who make $18 an hour. They also want better working conditions. Workers have been raising concerns non-stop over the past year about long working hours and high rates of injury.
Workers have also pointed out how unrelenting their workload is, as well as how aggressive the tech-enhanced monitoring of employees has become.
A spokesperson for the tech giant said in a statement that the Amazon workers involved in the walkout represent “only a fraction of one percent of our U.K. employees.” The spokesperson claimed that pay for Amazon’s U.K. warehouse workers has increased by 29 percent since 2018, and that all workers, including the one who are on strike, received a one-time payment of 500 pounds ($618) to help with the cost-of-living crisis.
Westwood has called Amazon a “bully” and has claimed that the company is trying to intimidate workers into giving up their collective action efforts.
“During the pandemic, people were thanking us and we appreciated that, but Amazon were still making money, while we feel like we’ve been left behind,” he said. “The money is there. I know people say that it’s the politics of envy, but we’re not asking for [Jeff Bezos’s] yacht or his rocket. We just won’t be able to pay our way – and that’s all we’re asking.”
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Watch this episode of “Rudyk Report” discussing how Amazon is doubling its employee terminations.
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