Amazon faces Black Friday protests, strikes in 40 countries

Thousands of Amazon warehouse workers in about 40 countries plan to take part in protests and walkouts to coincide with Black Friday sales, one of the busiest days of the year for online shopping.

Workers in the US, UK, India, Japan, Australia, South Africa and across Europe are demanding better pay and working conditions as the cost of living crisis deepens, in a campaign called “Make Amazon Pay.” The campaign is coordinated by an international coalition of trade unions with support from environmental and civil society groups.

“It’s time for the tech giant to stop their horrible, unsafe practices immediately, respect the law and negotiate with the workers who want to do their jobs better,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of the UNI Global Union, one of the campaign’s organizers.

Tensions with workers have been a long-standing issue at the e-commerce giant, which has faced complaints about unfair labor practices as well as employee activism and union activity at some facilities. In what was seen as a watershed moment, workers at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, voted earlier this year to join an upstart union.

“While we are not perfect in any area, if you look objectively at what Amazon is doing on these important issues, you will see that we take our role and our influence very seriously,” said Amazon spokesman David Nieberg.

He cited the company’s goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and that it “continues to offer competitive wages and great benefits and invents new ways to keep our employees safe and healthy.”

Unions in France and Germany – CGT and Ver.di – are leading the latest collective action with coordinated strikes at 18 major warehouses aimed at disrupting shipments across key European markets.

Monika di Silvestre, head of Ver.di’s Amazon branch in Germany, said workers were particularly concerned about the way their productivity was closely monitored by computers, with algorithms determining targets, for example for the number of packages they must handle in class.

“Employees are under a lot of pressure with these algorithms,” she said. “It doesn’t distinguish between workers if they are old or have limited mobility. Workers stay awake at night thinking only about their productivity statistics.”

She urged European politicians to strengthen labor rights across the bloc. “We don’t have the right to strike around Europe – on a European level,” she said.

In Britain, workers affiliated with the GMB union have planned protests outside several warehouses, including Coventry.

“Amazon workers in Coventry are overworked, underpaid and they’ve had enough,” said Amanda Gearing, a senior GMB organiser, adding that “hundreds” will rally to demand a pay rise from £10.50 an hour to £15.

Any worker who walks out during a shift could lose the other half of a £500 bonus Amazon announced for UK warehouse workers last month. Final payment is subject to staff taking “no unauthorized absences” between 22 November and 24 December. The GMB has said that linking payments to participation could be interpreted as an illegal inducement not to strike.

In the US, protests and demonstrations will take place in more than 10 cities and outside an apartment block on 5th Avenue, New York, where Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has an apartment. More rallies are also planned in India, while members of a newly formed union in Japan will protest in front of the company’s national headquarters in Tokyo. In Bangladesh, garment workers in Amazon’s supply chain will march in Dhaka and Chittagong.

Some demonstrations will focus on Amazon’s environmental and social footprint, for example in Ireland, where people will gather outside the company’s offices in Dublin to push back against two new planned data centers in the city. In South Africa, protesters will gather near Amazon’s new offices in Cape Town, which are being developed on land considered sacred by indigenous people.

Some unions expressed concern about the current economic climate amid a warning from Amazon that its peak Christmas season may not be as busy as usual. The company’s decision to lay off 10,000 employees will also make wage negotiations more challenging.

Laurent Cretin, a delegate for the CFE-CGC union in France, said the company will have 880 workers at a warehouse in Chalon-sur-Saône this Christmas season, down from 1,000 before covid, which he linked to tightening consumer spending and transfer activity for robotic warehouses.

“Expectations are not high, we are not sure we will do as well as last year when there was a post-covid surge,” he said.

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