“I I don’t want Jeff Bezos’ boat, I certainly don’t want his rocket – but I just want to live,’ says George [not his real name] who works at Amazon’s huge Coventry ‘fulfillment centre’ and has been involved in organizing workers there.
“I shouldn’t be working 60 hours a week just to pay bills,” she says. “I have children. Children need shoes, school uniform. they have to eat. I had a debt collector send me a letter. I called them back and we went over my wages and my expenses and he said, “I don’t know how you stay alive.”
Describing the working environment inside the warehouse, he says: “To be fair, I’ve worked in worse places. The facilities are quite good.”
But he adds: “It’s more about how you’re treated. so you have to stand 10 hours a day. If you get caught sitting, you get what’s called an “adjustment,” which is like six weeks’ notice. This is on your record, and if you get caught doing it again, you’re out the door. He’s just playing mind games with you.”
The staff, working around the clock in shifts, sort thousands of products into “totes” to be sent to another Amazon fulfillment center, packed into individual orders and then shipped to customers – and they have strict targets to meet.
“It varies depending on the size of the object. So if you have small items like jewelry or something like that, you should be doing about 350 an hour. It’s like dealing cards. And then if you’re doing big items like a toaster, it’s probably 45-50 an hour.”
He remembers one day in the summer when he and his colleagues, who were working throughout the Covid pandemic, were told their annual pay rise would be 50p an hour. Outraged, they staged a spontaneous protest by gathering in the staff canteen.
“Management came down and said – through a bullhorn – you have to nominate five people to come up and negotiate your demands. And I raised my hand and said, “We can’t, because Amazon doesn’t allow unions. If we elect five people to represent us, that is by definition a union.’
“We started talking and came up with a plan. We just took a day off, didn’t come to work and decided to meet up in Coventry.
“And GMB approached it and said, ‘Can we talk to you and tell you what we offer?’ I joined that day and now I’m amazed at how many members there are.”
After their protest, he says, “we had a proper briefing at the start of the shift, to say, ‘Amazon doesn’t negotiate with unions, it won’t recognize unions and 50p is 50p.’ And then the industrial action vote started.”
“No other Amazon in the UK has gone this far with the union before, and we are on the brink of strike action. I know everyone is watching us,” he says. “They may not want to negotiate with us or even talk to us – but the rest of the world is watching.”