GMB organising Amazon workers, photo Coventry Socialist Party
GMB organising Amazon workers, photo Coventry Socialist Party

Mila Hughes, Coventry Socialist Party

GMB union membership at Amazon BHX4 has more than doubled during the series of strikes at the Coventry distribution centre. Recent morning pickets have attracted hundreds, as workers fight to achieve union recognition and a £15-an-hour wage. It is clear that Amazon workers are more equipped than ever to handle Amazon’s tactics to defeat union organisation.

Building well-organised and lively pickets has inspired Amazon workers across the country to come forward and join themselves.

Coventry workers visited the Swansea warehouse to help build confidence, with union backing, and show that there is real possibility for change. The recognition of the need for ‘fulfilment centres’ in the UK to organise together is starting to build momentum, as Mansfield and Rugeley sites ballot for strike action.

Membership continues to grow, regardless of Amazon’s efforts to defeat unionisation. The first strike earlier this year was led by 300 Amazon workers walking out, and now it has more than 700, with more confidence and consciousness.

Amazon is reportedly planning to hire hundreds more workers to stop GMB meeting the 50% turnout threshold needed for statutory recognition. This would allow GMB to directly negotiate pay injustice and conditions.

This attempt to move the goal post yet again from upper management has only made workers more determined to win others over. Workers still stop most cars and lorries in their tracks mornings and evenings to have informed debates regarding joining the union and the importance it holds.

These issues were discussed at the 30 May meeting in Coventry called by GMB. A packed room of supporters heard from Amazon Labor Union (ALU) president Chris Smalls from the USA, alongside ALU campaigners Gerald and Jordan, and Darren and Garfield from the Coventry dispute. Both US and British speakers focused on how and why their fights with Amazon began. Garfield highlighted that the common theme in both disputes is Amazon’s horrendous mistreatment of workers.

During the discussion, Socialist Party members highlighted the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference, which some Amazon workers have already confirmed they will attend.

We also raised the need for a political voice for workers alongside the industrial struggle. The next Labour government has no intention of supporting the working class or robust trade unionism. We demand a new mass workers’ party that prioritises and facilitates workers’ control, decent hours, and earning enough to live a comfortable life!

Unionisation drive at Swansea Amazon

Swansea GMB unionisation drive at Amazon
Swansea GMB unionisation drive at Amazon

Ginny Bayliss, Swansea Socialist Students

On Tuesday 30 May, Swansea Socialist Students were invited to assist GMB union reps and members of the Staten Island (New York) Amazon Labour Union (ALU) with a unionisation drive outside Crymlyn Burrows warehouse. We took part alongside representatives of Swansea Trades Council and the Socialist Party.

Having reached the 50% of the workforce threshold at the Coventry warehouse, the GMB have filed for official recognition, and are aiming to do the same at Amazon sites in Bristol and Swansea.

The poor working conditions at Amazon are common knowledge, and they lead to an astronomical turnover of staff. To tackle this issue, Amazon hold regular recruitment initiatives aimed at students, whose financial precarity often forces them accept exploitation. Amazon continues to make profits for the bosses at the top on the back of their workers.

The drive was joined Chris Smalls, founder and president of the ALU. He discussed with us the challenges he and his team faced while building the union, as well as how they were able to overcome ruthless union-busting tactics by Amazon. We were told that the ALU’s recognition at the Staten Island warehouse, with 2,654 workers voting in favour of union recognition verses 2,131 against, was a victory for a union which showed that perseverance and creative organising strategies can defeat one of the world’s most powerful capitalist organisations. Amazon spent more than a million dollars per organiser attempting to stop the ALU’s efforts but after 11 months of daily flyering, meetings and demonstrations, Small’s and the ALU were ultimately able to win recognition for the more than 8,000 workers at the warehouse.

Why I’m going to NSSN conference: “Getting ideas and spreading the word”

Garfield Hylton, GMB Coventry Amazon rep

Asked about the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference at the Amazon support public meeting in Coventry, Garfield said:

“I met a gentleman from that organisation in Swansea today and I’ve been given an invite to attend the 24 June conference. And I’m quite glad to be going there, firstly to get advice from them about supporting members, and secondly to try and establish relationships and spread the word. I’m looking forward to it. A gathering of shop stewards would be an excellent venue to get ideas from.”

Come to NSSN conference

11am – 4.30pm, 24 June at Conway Hall, London. Registration fee £6

Confirmed speakers so far: NIPSA General Secretary Carmel Gates, BFAWU General Secretary Sarah Woolley, POA General Secretary Steve Gillan, NAPO National Official Annoesjka Valent, GMB Officer Gary Palmer from the victorious #GMBThree