For the first time in Britain, Amazon workers are exerting their trade union organisation in pursuit of higher pay. GMB members at the company’s Coventry site have voted to back strike action for an increase to £15 an hour.
GMB has been campaigning and organising on working conditions at Amazon since 2013. The union has also been prominent in exposing the tax affairs of the company – which is alleged to exploit bogus self-employment and not to pay its share of UK taxes and . Now it is taking on the world’s largest giant online retailer over pay.
In a second ballot 98 per cent voted for action on a turnout of over 60 per cent. An earlier ballot did not reach the turnout threshold. The Coventry workers held a short unofficial stoppage earlier in the year, resulting in a small increase in the hourly rate.
Amazon, which directly employs over 33,000 people in Britain and over 1.5 million worldwide, is notoriously anti-union. It has fought attempts to organise in the USA, where most of its employees work. Learning from earlier setbacks, the newly established Amazon Labor Union has made a big step forward by gaining union recognition at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York.
In both Britain and the US the level of union organisation is low so far, but growing. In the end Amazon workers will have little choice in the face of an aggressive employer which hides behind the law when it suits (to deny union recognition) but which is apparently not so keen when it comes to health and safety or taxation.