For the second year in a row, Amazon workers staged protests in Europe and North America on the occasion of the company’s annual Prime Day digital shopping festival that began on June 15. The workers were agitating against Amazon’s unfair wage practices and grueling working conditions. The striking workers have called on customers to boycott Amazon services during the 48-hour long Prime Day, when the company showers customers with retail offers for which it notoriously overworks its employees. Workers organized pickets in front of several major warehouses, with placards and slogans that said “We’re Humans Not Robots”.
According to various reports, Amazon has a very stringent and punishing “efficiency” policy that involves strictly timing and policing bathroom breaks, as well as punishing workers for how late the items are delivered.
Workers are also reportedly fired if they do not “make rate”, which is to fulfill an arbitrarily imposed delivery benchmark. According to a recent report released by BBC on the condition of delivery workers in the United Kingdom, they often end up working overtime – as long as 10 hours – in order to make the rates but without any extra pay.
In the US, Amazon is the second-largest employer after Walmart and has consistently opposed unionization attempts by its workers. In September 2018, a 45-minute anti-unionist training video was leaked by one of the employees. The video demonstrated Amazon’s aversion to union rights. In Germany, Amazon is often accused of not treating its delivery employees as postal workers, which enables them to prevent giving collectively agreed upon wage awards for delivery and postal workers.
Even though several thousand workers participated in the two-day strike held on July 15 and 16, Amazon remained in denial. In a statement released yesterday, an Amazon spokesperson in Minnesota, US, claimed that no more than 15 people took part in the protests outside one of its largest warehouses in the city of Shakopee. This was disputed by local news reports, with CNBC reporting that at least 75 workers participated in the strike.
The 2018 Prime Day strikes were more or less concentrated in Europe, while the strike by US Amazon workers remained mostly low-key. But this year, US workers organized a large countrywide mobilization along with local and state-level unions. Although the US protests had a comparatively smaller turnout than the European ones, they were quite significant given the fact that they were organized on the day of a major shopping festival. Hundreds of workers at warehouses in northeastern US and California also took part in the two-day strike.
The striking workers also received political support from several Democratic leaders, including Bernie Sanders, Ilhan Omar, Ro Khanna, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Al Green who have also called for an investigation into Amazon’s work practices.
The strike had its biggest response in Europe. In the UK, France and Germany, thousands refused to go to work, affecting delivery operations. The unions organizing these protests also mentioned that they received many positive responses from customers who participated in the call to boycott Amazon services during Prime Day. In Germany, between 2,000 to 3,000 workers picketed most major warehouses, with placards reading “No More Discounts on Wages.” Meanwhile in Madrid, Spain, reports said that over 96% of Amazon workers, most of whom were temporary hires, went on strike on July 16 after grueling work in the days leading to Prime Day.