In November we heard about wildcat actions of Amazon workers in Poland.  Comrades in Croydon and Bristol wrote leaflets to circulate the good news amongst local Amazon workers.  In the meantime we spoke to a friend who works at Amazon in Scotland – where workers still lack the confidence to take similar steps. You can find the interview below. The interview is part of a wider series and will form part of a pamphlet to be circulated in early 2021.  We want to intervene in the developing struggles against the current attack on wages and jobs , encouraging independent workers’ coordination. Keep your heads up! A good initiative to support:
I work in a sortation centre in Scotland. I started there in early September, employed by Adecco. Most of the guys in the warehouse are agency workers. Covid plays a big role where I work. So many are unemployed or furloughed in this region and Amazon can capitalise on this. People are flocking to our Amazon warehouse, from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Some come on the company shuttle bus. There are less migrant workers here compared to London, perhaps a quarter of the workforce, but they all speak English.
People say conflicting things like: “we can really be happy to have this job during the pandemic” and “I don’t want this job, I will leave after Christmas”. For example, one of my friend who works here is a welder, but he says it’s difficult to find welding jobs at the moment. Inside the warehouse they have a strict 2 metre social distancing policy. They hand out red cards and threaten you with the sack if you don’t comply. But it is impossible to subscribe to that formula. The work you are doing there necessitates that you are in close proximity to others. If the rule was actually applied, Amazon would not fulfil half of their orders. People are rushed, people throw parcels at each other, managers rush them to hurry up. At the same time they threaten to fire you. Initially, they told you no one has to lift more than 15kg, but now everyone lifts heavier items alone. Some have complained about this.
That’s the most frustrating thing at the moment; they’re weaponising health and safety against you. It feels like an important tool in their hand to discriminate against people in the warehouse. There are people whose job it is to walk around with a big stick saying ‘2 metres distancing” and to shout at you, we call them the “2 metre Nazis”. At the same time, you have grid controllers who send you to work in overcrowded aisles. They pressure you, they say “I’m sorry, but you have to do it”. If you have arguments with them, they report you. We had a meeting with a big site manager last week, normally we hardly see him. He said that he was appalled at the chaos and lack of social distancing in the warehouse. He told us that on his first day back from holiday he sacked 50 drivers because they weren’t abiding to the distancing rules. He was bullshitting, he didn’t sack 50 drivers, but he wanted to scare us.
The other problem is that they cancel shifts frequently. They hired too many people in October and November to be ready for the Christmas season, which meant that before December, lots of shifts were cancelled. On average one shift a week. Sometimes people are sent home at the door. Or they let you come in and say, “take a seat in the canteen and wait”. Then they say “sorry, someone messed up, you have to go home”. They offer to give you holiday for that day, if you had accrued enough holidays, or they take the piss and say “I can give you a day off”, unpaid of course! That’s just a polite way to say “fuck off”. They have the power over you. There is an agreement that Amazon pays higher hourly rates than the other warehouses in the industrial estate, but then that doesn’t mean much when they cancel your shifts. Apart from the shifts, getting your overtime pay on time is like constant guerrilla warfare with the company.
There is no union presence. People might have heard of the GMB, but mainly that they want to discuss Amazon in Parliament. Most of the socialist organisations I talked to about Amazon had standard answers, such as “join a union” or “things can only be changed through government intervention”.
There is not much collective resistance. There were two incidents where people said, “we should start a group”, when they had their shifts cancelled. People suggested a petition, but that would mean handing over names of people who might then get even less shifts. Once when I was stopped at the door, four, five of us waited and told the manager that he should sort out a job for us. There was a bit of militancy, but basically with the aim to get some work. There was a refusal though to just go home. People are not aware of the other Amazon struggles that are going on internationally. Many people who started recently also don’t know that Amazon paid a bonus during the first lockdown period.
Amazon have told us all we are working an extra two hours every day to cope with increased orders (with no prior notice, of course). Lots of us have refused, simply told them we can’t do it, and leave when we are scheduled to leave. There is certainly an increasing sense of disdain towards Adecco and Amazon.
These would be things for a leaflet.