translated from: Wildcat no. 108, summer 2021

Strikes against Amazon - is something finally happening?

Everyone’s talking about Amazon. The media and politicians get goose bumps at the wealth and power of Jeff Bezos. But the left also starts quivering at the idea of the 'total control' over the poorly paid and 'inhumanly exploited' workers in the Amazon warehouses. Once again, the myth of all-dominating capitalist technology clogs up brains and distorts political intervention! Portraying workers only as heavily surveilled, atomized and powerless individuals is the typical paternalistic approach of many on the left and most unions too ('the workers are weak without us'). In the following articles, we take a closer look at the labor process in an Amazon warehouse and in the warehouse of a drugstore. The workers there are by no means mindless appendages of the big machine.

Starting in the 1970s, the bosses fought against workers who had become too strong by downsizing large companies, by outsourcing parts of them and building up a supplier system. The 'just in time' transport required for this led to an extreme growth of the transport sector and of traffic in general. And many new jobs were created in goods logistics. Despite truck drivers’ strikes, wages in this sector have since fallen. Retail groups like Walmart and Amazon, whose core competence is the control of logistics, expanded and displaced old distribution structures. Over the last ten years, new concentrations of workers have emerged in this logistics bubble1. While employers in western Europe and the USA hardly ever build factories with more than 3,000 workers, Amazon USA, for example, set up a warehouse with twice as many employees within a few months (Bessemer/Alabama). In the USA, there are more than 100 large logistics centers with an average of 5,000 workers and in Europe there are more than 60 with an average of 2000 workers. In addition, there are company-own development centers, etc.2

The pandemic profiteer

Amazon was founded in 1994, initially as a book mail order company; it launched in Germany in 1998. Bezos survived the 'dot.com crash' of 2000/01 and the 2008 crisis relatively unscathed. In January 2001, he laid off 1,300 people, but there have been no job cuts since then. Today, Amazon is one of the largest corporations in the world by revenue and employees. Founder Jeff Bezos could become the first trillionaire. In the pandemic year of 2020, sales increased 38%, profits doubled, and 427,000 new people were hired. Amazon now employs 1.3 million people, plus 500,000 drivers who are employed by subcontractors that work more or less exclusively for Amazon. In 2010, Amazon employed only 33,700 people and reported an annual profit of $1.1 billion. By 2020, profit was $21.3 billion - 19 times more profit, but 39 times more employees!

Amazon has acquired immense power and took over companies in other industries, such as the Whole Foods organic supermarket chain in 2017, and the MGM movie studio more recently... and Bezos owns one of the most influential daily newspapers, the Washington Post. Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides IT for major companies and even governments, such as the US’s intelligence agency, the CIA. AWS is by far the largest cloud provider in the world and has contributed disproportionately to overall profits for years. Amazon sees the future here and also wants to continue getting government contracts from the Pentagon. Andy Jassy, the head of AWS, will replace Jeff Bezos at the top of the group in the third quarter of 2021.

The labor-intensive core of the company is the transport of goods to consumers; in Germany, this is Amazon Logistik GmbH, based in Bad Hersfeld. Over the last 20 years in this part of Germany, Amazon has expanded via credit expansion and tax evasion. Governments in Europe have changed their tax laws to allow Amazon to shift profits to Luxembourg and therefore save taxes. 75% of all Amazon business outside the United States is conducted through subsidiaries in Luxembourg. Some were set up simply to take a loss and transfer it there. Those losses can be converted into tax credits in the US. The bottom line is that Amazon has never paid taxes in the US and picked up credit worth $13.4 billion. Amazon also transferred most of its profits to Luxembourg - where it has $17.2 billion that never went on its’ balance sheet. Amazon used these tax-free profits to finance its expansion - leading to steep sales growth in the noughties, even during the 2008 crisis.3 In 2020, the group reported taxable income in online retailing for the first time - in the midst of the debate over the resolution of a global minimum tax.

Bezos also paid hardly any income tax himself because he used every trick in the book (as a multi-billionaire, he even got a $4,000 tax credit for reporting losses). For the past nine years, Amazon has refused to pay the higher wage of the retail collective contract in Germany – by saying instead that they’re a transport company. On June 12, 2021, the day the Green Party included a demand for twelve euros minimum wage in its election platform, Amazon announced that it would pay all employees at least twelve euros gross per hour from day one, starting in July. In addition, Amazon Germany joined the 'Hauptverband des deutschen Einzelhandels' [Employers’ association for retail]. The service union ver.di is demanding 12.50 euros minimum.

Amazon observes social trends very closely and tries to anticipate them. If Bezos sees a development that is disadvantageous for Amazon as no longer avoidable, he creates facts and tries to get across that there is no need for regulating institutions such as trade unions, tax offices, collective wage agreements, etc.

Why did workers have such a hard time enforcing their interests against Amazon during the expansion phase?

Amazon operates fulfillment centers (FCs which are warehouses) and delivery stations (DSs – basically distribution centers). Workers in FC warehouses, pick, pack and ship to DSs. From there, the parcels go to the customer's address.4 The steps are meticulously organized, decomposed, and standardized based on the division of labor. Compared to others in the industry, Amazon uses digital monitoring much more extensively. The work is easier to train, and workers are more quickly replaceable.

In recent years, Amazon drove an aggressive expansion strategy. Credit on growing sales have been invested in buying up companies, in new IT infrastructure, in its own product ranges and in new warehouse infrastructure. For example, Amazon has been delivering to German addresses from Poland since 2014. Amazon now employs almost 20,000 people there, just a few thousand fewer than in Germany. Since the end of May 2021, there has also been a Polish Amazon website. With the warehouses in Poland, Amazon was able to compensate for shortfalls caused by strike actions by ver.di in Germany, despite the fast that the 'grassroots union' ‘Workers’ Initiative’ (IP) have been organizing solidarity actions in Poland.5 This is because the workers in Poland do the same work as in Germany, they are not two interdependent processes.

It is easier to build and operate a second or parallel Amazon warehouse, than, for example, a second car factory. A warehouse costs much less and does not require long training periods for workers. In this expansion phase, it was first objectively more difficult for Amazon workers to do the necessary economic damage with local strikes. Amazon wants to make it clear to its workers that they can't achieve anything with strikes. Of course, Amazon does not 'communicate' it that way, but 'communicates to its workers' that they do not need to strike (see Bessemer).


A recent study points out that there are more workplace accidents at Amazon than at other warehouses, and especially where robots are used.6 Management wants autonomous driving robots: they move shelves, packages, and pallets - no faster than humans or conveyor belts, but they save space. For workers, the trend towards more robots has the disadvantage of more stationary, and thus more monotonous jobs that are further apart in location.

There are jobs that are much faster to perform with machines, such as sorting specific parts and palletizing. In these processes, machines can be used to cover the basic workload. You can see this quite well in the following workplace report: Amazon uses the sorting machines for the usual, average turnover of parcels. Everything beyond that volume is done by people, and at peak times hundreds of additional workers are brought in to do this. There is always a parallel structure in which people do the same activities purely manually. The main stress for the workers occurs where they are needed most: during capacity bottlenecks.

Human labor is not 'replaced,' but is visibly at the center in an Amazon warehouse; it is dynamic - while machinery functions only statically. The big 'automation' announcements by the employers have gone quiet. “Complete automation of warehouses would be very complicated and expensive. Highly complex and cost-intensive solutions such as picking robots are still rarely found,” says a study on warehouse logistics by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training [Bundesinstituts für Berufsbildung über Lagerlogistik].

(Workers’) Mobilizations

Trade union organizing efforts have so far taken the classic form: building as large a membership base as possible, partly by 'salting' (the union sends people into a workplace to organize from within) and 'organizing' (the union sends paid organizers to the gate) in order to be recognized as a bargaining representative. In Germany, ver.di has been mobilizing for almost ten years, but has not yet been able to push through its main demand for the integration of Amazon workers into the better paid retail collective agreement (instead of logistics).

Ver.di's attempts to force Amazon to be recognized as a 'collective bargaining partner' by using trade union means (membership recruitment and strikes announced long in advance, strictly in accordance with legal requirements) is naïve. For unions to emerge, non-union, 'illegal' means have to be used. However, we are not saying anything new there, trade unionists know this themselves. For ver.di, preventing the emergence of a somewhat more militant rank-and-file structure is more important than the 'quick success' of being recognised by Amazon.

Parallel to the ver.di campaign, media pressure on Amazon grew from 2012/13. Also in 2012, Amazon sent workers from Graben (Bavaria) to Leipzig for training. As a result, workers in Leipzig found out that the guys in Graben earned significantly more per hour - when they found out, workers stopped working for that day! Amazon management was so shocked that they decided not to issue anyone with warnings or suspension letters, but rather to initiate an immediate wage increase: in Leipzig and in Hersfeld, where there were also workers from Graben employed. During these years, a broader (union) movement began at several sites. The first result was a series of works council elections. As early as February 2013, the Amazon Germany boss himself called for works councils to be formed in response, but continued to reject negotiations with ver.di. Today, there are works councils at all sites.

At the beginning of April 2013, a strike ballot was held with 92% participation of the 520 ver.di members at the Leipzig warehouse (a total of 1,200 permanent employees and 800 temporary workers are employed there). 97% voted in favor of strike action, and the first actions were held in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld at the end of April. In 2015, the resistance began to become international. People from Poznan who had organized in the IP union made contact with workers in Germany. This resulted in regular meetings of workers from Poland, France, Italy, Spain and Germany. Almost all of those involved are active in union shop-floor groups, but the meetings are not organized by the unions. They call themselves Amazon Workers International. (In addition, since 2014 there has been an Amazon working group at UNI Global, a large union international umbrella organization but one that is made up of union officials - they are quite successful in capturing activists.)

In Winter 2017, a Europe-wide day of action on 'Black Friday' was held for the first time. In Italy, where previously only left-wing grassroots unions had been active in goods logistics,7 the major CGIL-CISL-UIL union federations had now called a strike in Castel San Giovanni near Piacenza, Italy. Half of Amazon's direct employees took part; temporary workers were excluded from the strike, as were those who had recently been hired on a temporary basis. Thus, the strike had little impact on the delivery of goods. In 2018, the unions reached an agreement on working conditions for the first time. Italian and German trade unions celebrated this as a unique success worldwide, but shortly thereafter more sober assessments followed - they had to admit: “Trend reversal failed to materialize”, “Amazon appears largely immune”8.

So far, there have been no strikes that have led to a complete halt in deliveries.

Meanwhile, protests from outside took place: Make Amazon Pay in 2017 against tax avoidance, against relocating headquarters to New York in 2019, against data collection, against the energy-intensive server farms, etc. In 2019, 3,000 developers ('tech workers') in the US organized a demo as part of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice campaign. They criticize the close ties with the military. They are beginning to question their work and are organizing. In the meantime, Google employees have also founded a union.

... and improvements

In 2018, after a long ‘Fight for 15’ campaign (which continues to this day), Amazon in the US raised the wage in the lowest wage bracket to at least $15, affecting more than 250,000 permanent employees and 100,000 seasonal workers. Amazon has always sought to pay 10-20% above the local prevailing wage for comparable work in a non-bargaining plant. Now, depending on the location, the wage is often twice the legal minimum wage, for example $15 instead of $7.25 in Bessemer.

Wages in Germany have also risen by more than 30% in recent years. Since each warehouse is a separate limited company, they still vary. They are currently 11.30 to 12.70 euros at entry level, rising in two stages to 13.20 to 15 euros after two years. From July 2021, the entry-level wage will be 12 euros (see above).

Initially, workers in Amazon warehouses with an active ver.di representative body won (low) Christmas and vacation bonuses, air conditioning and almost everywhere the abolition of temporary agency work - later this became the standard for all. Other concessions are only made at individual sites, usually by company agreement with the works council: reduction of the proportion of temporary contracts, minute-by-minute billing of overtime, more favorable shift models... The works council functions as a buffer: Amazon uses it to co-manage both improvements and deteriorations of working conditions. ‘The pretty high Corona bonus for all? - Thank the works council! The new six-day week? - Signed by the works council!’

Amazon reacts to conflicts with concessions almost immediately. This allows workers to win small victories quickly - and prevents conflicts from spreading to other sites.

Distribution logistics is not industrial logistics9

Amazon is expanding, hiring more and more people, building more and more warehouses, and bringing thousands of workers together under one roof. Why haven't these impressive new concentrations of workers managed a powerful strike yet?

Amazon is not a strategic or major supplier of raw materials or semi-finished goods, it delivers finished goods to individual end consumers. No worker depends on the part to be used in a capitalist production process. Instead, a private individual receives the delivery of the goods. Amazon thrives on its promise of fast delivery, but it does not matter to surplus value production whether the goods are delivered on Monday or Tuesday. No machine stands still if this doesn’t happen on time, no capitalist incurs costs.

The workers in the warehouses and the parcel drivers do a job just as necessary for the realization of surplus value as the factory and transport workers in the previous steps, but the complexity of the labor process continuously decreases the closer you get to the final consumer. A small example: a locomotive driver is part of a multi-shift organized transport system. She has to cooperate with several people (wagon master, dispatcher, signalman, shunting attendant, etc.) - the transport system itself requires this. A parcel delivery driver does not have to do this.10 The capitalist will think twice in the first moments of a strike about letting someone else drive the locomotive. Sending someone on the road in a van is much easier.

On April 7, 2021, dozens of workers went on wildcat strike at a new Amazon distribution center in Chicago (see below). One comrade reports that during the strike, people from management had to - and could - do the work. In the 2017 struggle at VW in Bratislava, the few cars that were finished without the striking workers could not be sold because of defects.

Logistics is not a 'factory without walls’…11

... and the cooperation and interdependence in a warehouse is not the same as in a factory, even if productive work is performed during some of the work-steps. The organic composition12 of a warehouse is lower. A single large central European car manufacturing site employs more people than Amazon employs in the whole of Germany - and yet a worker in a state-of-the-art parcel distribution center faces half as much constant capital (equipment) as in a car factory. Workers employed in a higher organic composition are often in a stronger position vis-à-vis the capitalist.

Work processes in a warehouse are organized differently from a manufacturing plant. Aggregating13 (assembling) many individual parts into more complex parts in parallel and interlocking processing steps requires a high level of productive cooperation14. This produces collective skills and knowledge - or presupposes this collective knowledge: how is the work done so that a use value is produced as a result? How do we have to operate machines, perform manual operations, solve problems, etc.?

When on strike, workers withhold knowledge and skills - the capitalists can't find anyone to replace them. In such aggregative processes, workers learned quite quickly how to hit the bosses (US auto industry in the 30s, then in Italy in the 60s). In the 'Hot Autumn' of 1969, workers shut down entire factories with 'checkerboard strikes' (a few, selected departments stop work for a while, which stops production in other departments; the wage sacrifice is much smaller that way); they had recognized the strategic points of the labor process. In contrast, Amazon can draw on a large reservoir of the same, largely independent warehouses and delivery workers - and in the event of a 'glitch' can even hire other logistics companies/competitors to deliver.

... how can workers develop their own power then?

In the midst of the 'labor supply shock' of globalization, when the vast majority of the left thought that the workers' struggle was now over, Beverly Silver in Forces of Labor (2003) tried to explain the weakness of workers in certain countries structurally and historically. Historically, she was able to show: where capital goes, workers' struggles also arise (at the turn of the century, for example, in China). To the question of which industries workers in the metropolises can still fight today, she answered largely with: where outsourcing is not possible, for example teachers and nurses.

Structurally, she tried to decipher what workers' power is based on, distinguishing between ‘structural power' (workers who cannot be replaced in the first place and can cause great economic damage by withholding their labor power) and ‘associational power' (for workers who have little structural power, it is all the more important to organize). But this ’associational power' does not come flying in from outside! It has to be produced.

The 'Hot Autumn' of 1969 did not spring like a chick from an egg; unified strikes had to be enforced over the years through all kinds of forms of struggle: Making foremen and small bosses compliant, protecting internal factory marches, direct coercion against individuals who did not want to participate, ridiculing scabs… 'Unity' is not the precondition, but the result of workers' struggle through processes of persuasion/threat/coercion. At its core, it is about workers coming to common beliefs and rules of conduct. 'Never cross a picket line' was one of them.

On Beverly Silver's basis, Labor Revitalization Studies emerged in subsequent years, further differentiating their concepts in the 'power resources approach.' 'Market power' arises from the skills and work experience of individual skilled workers, who are in short supply in the labor market and can therefore command high wages. This categorization is quite wonderful for academic research projects. But it is politically indifferent, because it can be read in all kind of ways, from the necessity for self-organisation to ‘Workers are treated lousy? So they need a union!’. Most importantly, this approach does not analyse the labor process and ultimately has a technical notion of workers' power ('production power' = 'skilled workers' on expensive machines).

Fortunately, not only 'Marxists' at their desks ask such questions, but workers in the real struggles over the last few years! And in view of their experiences during these struggles, they have also come to other answers. In the following, we will first look at two 'historical' attempts by traditional trade unions, which have been named as being of ‘historical’ importance, and then at an example of how workers' collectives can actually prevail against the bosses through informal organizing at the workplace.

Two union actions in Italy and the USA in the first quarter of 2021

In Bessemer, in the anti-union US state of Alabama, (a Republican dominated state, where right-to-work laws prevail15), workers recently enforced the first ballot on whether a union should represent people in the workplace. Voting ended on March 29. Out of 5,800 workers, only 55% participated in the postal vote (!), of which only 738 voted for the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), 1,798 against.

Afterwards, explanations for this defeat were immediately at hand: the struggle now continues in court, anti-union propaganda and mobilization on the part of Amazon were the reason for the defeat (according to the RWDSU); no, the wrong tactics of the RWDSU, which relied on its structures and functionaries, were to blame (Jane McAlevey). More detailed analyses criticize that the organizing efforts ignored the reality of workers: Amazon pays a relatively high entry-level hourly wage of $15 and provides health insurance; the work is okay compared to other jobs; and an 85% majority of black workers cannot be equated with positive attitudes toward the RWDSU.16 This ignorance might also have something to do with the fact that top RWDSU officials earn more than many business owners.

The $15 hourly wage is two dollars above what unskilled workers in Alabama warehouses earn on average - Amazon's usual strategy to be able to recruit just about enough workers. Night shift workers earn $17.50 an hour. Some Amazon workers in Bessemer previously worked in lower-wage jobs. Others came from factories that paid more, but had closed; some wanted a change despite previously making higher wages.17

In Italy, 'grassroots unions' like SI Cobas began organizing protests in the logistics sector ten years ago. For workers, this brought collective agreements, higher wages, etc. The grassroots unions were able to grow. The established 'confederate' unions are therefore under pressure to regain leadership in the industry. To that end, FILT-CGIL, FIT-CISL and UIL called all Amazon workers in Italy to strike on March 22, 2021. 9,500 people are employed directly by Amazon in Italy, but if we include workers on subcontracts and those who are hired through agencies this number increases to 40,000, at least according to union estimates.

The organizers spoke of 75-90% strike participation. In comparison: in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld in Germany, the participation was 30- 40% according to ver.di. Amazon Germany spoke of 10% participation in the warehouses, 20% among the delivery staff. The union figures from Italy are certainly greatly exaggerated - people who were there report significantly less participation, although more than Amazon states. There are no definitive numbers to date. The crucial point, however, is how much of the daily target was not delivered - there is no information on this. Even the much quoted sociologist Francesco Massimo speaks of a 'historic strike', but admits that it is 'difficult to say' whether it caused economic damage.18

Bessemer has shown once again how far workers' realities and trade unionism diverge. The criticism of business unionism or ‘deep organizing’ is correct - but it does not go deep enough.

'We fight where we are strong: on the job'

On April 7, 2021, dozens of workers went on strike at a new Amazon distribution center in Chicago. One of them sent us a short report about their actions and the backstory of their organizing.

In 2019, we started with a small nucleus at Chicago's DCH1 distribution center.19 We took on a demand - access to drinking water - that was very basic and widespread. How ridiculous and illegal it would have been for Amazon to kick us out for demanding water! We won on this issue and continued to organize, growing our organizing committee and resisting Amazon's attempts to appease and co-opt us. In every collective action, we made sure that many colleagues participated directly or had our backs.

2020 was a wild ride that shaped us, a formative year of great growth for our union, Amazonians United (AU). To kick off 2020 we joined the first national, cross-site campaign of Amazon workers in the US: Amazonians United for PTO (paid time off). Through this campaign, initiated by AU Sacramento, taken up by us in Chicago and later joined by the newly formed AU NYC, we won PTO for all part-time Amazon workers. Then in March, just as the pandemic was exploding, we attended the international convention of Amazon workers in Spain and joined our comrades in launching our international network: Amazon Workers International.

When we returned to the US, AU NYC was in the process of initiating what became an international Amazon worker petition campaign for Coronavirus Protections. We joined our fellow NYC co-workers in formulating the demands and spreading the petition, and were inspired by their courageous walkouts and shutdowns of their Delivery Station when covid started spreading at their worksite. When covid hit our facility in Chicago, we too took militant collective action against Amazon, organizing 4 shift-long majority-participation safety strikes demanding management accept and implement our coronavirus protections demands. Amazon had to delay the delivery of more than 50% of their packages during the days we went on strike. The volume was backed up and DCH1 was a mess the whole week.

Amazon did not shut DCH1 down as we demanded, but after our safety strikes, Amazon permanently reduced the volume at our facility by about 50% and finally started providing us with the appropriate PPE. Our safety strikes were powerful collective actions--we had our site lead nervously threatening us with termination and screaming at us to get off the property through the speakers of a cop car. Everyone saw him trembling and backing up into a corner with fear of workers in his eyes, and this made us feel strong. It was tough, but we stayed united despite Amazon’s retaliation and we made sure that no co-worker got fired for striking.

Conditions at DCH1 became strange after our safety strike. From May 2020 - April 2021 (the month DCH1 closed), the volume at our facility dropped down to 20% of our regular volume. Our facility became super overstaffed. 80 workers would be scheduled to work but management would only have work for 25, so they would offer VTO (voluntary time off) multiple times a night. Most co-workers would accept the VTO, but many of us wouldn’t so then managers would give us useless busywork for the whole shift, like putting tape on the floor or moving empty carts around. During this time period, Amazon wouldn’t have any work for us to do for half of our shift, so we would just sit around talking with each other. We suspected something was going on, but we didn’t know what. Management wouldn’t tell us anything, all we had was rumors.

In September 2020 Amazon began the process of closing DCH1 by forcing our “seasonal” co-workers to transfer to the newly built Chicago Delivery Stations. Amazon had been very busy before and throughout the pandemic building and opening many new Delivery Stations throughout our city and the US. Just within the past two years, Amazon opened at least 8 new facilities in the Chicagoland area, and they continue building more! We started organizing a struggle against these forced transfers, but we did not have enough collective power at our single site to stop these injustices that were part of Amazon’s nationwide expansion. Amazon is building out it’s logistics network at such a fast pace to both increase the speed of package delivery and to rapidly increase the percentage of packages that Amazon delivers through its own delivery stations, as opposed to using UPS or USPS.

In April 2021 Amazon closed DCH1, the Delivery Station where we founded Amazonians United. We were all forced to transfer to one of the new Delivery Stations they had just built. Many things changed together with this closure and our transfer. The most significant change is our schedule. The “Megacycle,” a 10 hour shift from 1:20am - 11:50am, is now the standard and only shift at Delivery Stations. This is very different from before when Delivery Stations were a 24/7 operation with hundreds of part-time workers and, excluding management, zero full time workers. Now Delivery Stations only offer full-time positions for this shitty megacycle shift. Many co-workers, especially mothers, were fired because these hours are impossible for them.

Now, Amazon Delivery Station jobs in the megacycle are considered by workers as “main jobs,” whereas before Delivery Station jobs were a “side” job for many workers. At the same time, Amazon has finally given us pay raises, implemented tenure-based automatic pay increases, and increased our shift differential for working the night shift from a miserable $0.50/hr to a slightly less miserable $1.50. Like always, this betterment of pay didn’t come from Amazon’s generosity. Rather, it came from Amazon’s difficulty in retaining workers and it came as a result of our collective action. The increase in shift differential was one of our 4 demands in our “megacycle accommodations” petition. On April 7th, Amazonians United at DIL3, one of the new facilities which had just opened up, walked out 4 hours before their shift ended to show management who needs who and that we’re serious about our demands. Less than a month later we got the “great news” that we were getting a raise.

With these tenure-based pay raises, it’s no longer how it was at DCH1 where everybody had the same wage. The pay is still poor, but it is significantly higher than before, especially for folks who’ve worked at Amazon over 2 years. For example, up until March 2021 (while I was still at DCH1) I was making $15.50 per hour. But now, with Amazon’s new pay system and since I’ve worked at Amazon for 4 years (which is longer than most) my pay is $19.80 per hour. Additionally, since we’re now all full-time workers, we also get health insurance through Amazon. Most co-workers' pay is lower than mine, but regardless, these automatic pay increases combined with the higher number of work hours per week and access to health insurance plans will likely reduce the turnover and create a more stable workforce.

Hopefully, it is now easier to organize colleagues, build deeper relationships and solidarity, strengthen unification in the workplace and the sense of community between us. We also need to expand our organizing to the other sites, with coordinated cross-site actions to overcome the redundancy Amazon builds into its logistics chains and increasingly gain worker control over Amazon's precious “last mile of delivery”.

The work process is largely the same as before, we just have shinier floors, newer conveyor belts, newer racks, slightly newer equipment and a more smiley, passive-aggressive management. At DCH1, the work we are now doing was performed between 2 shifts: the 8 hour overnight shift which received the packages and sorted them into the appropriate bags, and the 4 hour morning shift which gathered the specific bags full of packages which go into each delivery van. Now at our new Delivery Stations we do what used to be 12 hours of work separated between 2 shifts in just one 10 hour “megacycle” shift. This is a speedup, and on top of that management continues implementing different tactics to get us to work faster, so inevitably our frustration and anger as workers will continue to rise ...

We activists are careful not to give Amazon any reason to kick us out. We do the work we need to do; we don't violate attendance requirements. I observe the general worker culture of resistance to management in every workplace, and I adapt to it. Sure I don't always do average, sometimes we have to go a little further ... Sometimes managers try to get us to do things that violate Amazon policies (like cutting our paid breaks by five minutes). In these cases, you can vigorously disagree with them because you can refer to Amazon's own rules.

When we talk to managers, we all write it down directly in little notebooks that we always have with us. We could easily prove that Amazon knows we're members of Amazonians United, which is a legally protected "concerted action"20. This is our right under U.S. labor law. So if Amazon were to fire one of us, we could pretty much guarantee to get our jobs back with a complaint to the Relations Board, plus back pay. If Amazon fires us, it would backfire, because during the legal process we would have time to tour the country and help our colleagues build Amazonians United from coast to coast!

We are not legally recognized by either the U.S. government nor by Amazon as an official union. We do not have a collective bargaining agreement. Amazonians United is a kind of "solidarity union" or "class struggle union." We don't want a company union determined by officials; we organize ourselves and take direct, collective action when necessary. We have not fallen into the trap of seeking an "official" secret union election and trying to solve our problems through collective bargaining, as the RWDSU tried to do in Alabama. We all saw how that turned out. To engage in a union election and collective bargaining is to enter the terrain of Amazon and its anti-union consultants. Why should we fight on "official" terrain where Amazon and its lawyers and consultants are strong? We fight where we are strong: in the workplace, together with our colleagues, directly against our bosses. From there, our union grows.

Conditions are changing - for the better for workers

The development of logistics created the 'space' for capital to escape from workers' struggles - now the space available for this (also in Germany) is becoming scarce, and the worldwide transport chains insecure (see 'Suez Canal Problem'). In the logistics focus of Wildcat 94, we dealt with this in detail, also historically. Space is becoming scarce, labor is becoming scarce - now actions are much more likely to be crowned with success.

Amazon's initial expansion was mainly along highways or at interchanges and highway junctions. Huge warehouses were built on the periphery or on the outskirts of major cities (the warehouse in Dortmund was an exception, built at disused industrial sites). For almost two years, Amazon has been building more and more smaller distribution centers in cities. The aim here is to capture the profit 'on the last mile' and to eliminate the postal companies.

Unlike DHL, the subcontractors 'on the last mile' are not 'competitors'; they work exclusively for Amazon ('bogus self-employed'). Most importantly, it is a prerequisite to be able to deliver to end customers on the same day or the following day.

The urban environment facilitates actions such as those recently run by Deliveroo and currently by Gorillas. Small minorities become capable of action through relatively easy-to-organize outside support. Unlike Deliveroo and Gorillas, however, Amazon's delivery drivers are not part-time student workers and temps, but mostly migrants in full-time jobs.

The labor market policies of the state tries to provide capital with the labor it is looking for and to prevent excessive 'market power' of individual groups through training programs. The Hartz IV (German benefit) reforms ensured that enough workers were available to accept low wages. For some years now, (unemployed) young people have been pushed into training to become 'warehouse logistics specialists'; there are now 200 logistics professions and more than a hundred logistics degree programs at universities of applied sciences! And the last wave of migration in 2015 brought so many young people into the warehouses that Amazon could continue to pay low wages. Logistics industry sales nearly doubled in the 20 years before Corona. It is the third largest industry in Germany, employing more than 600,000 people (not counting the many foreign truck drivers). It complains about a huge 'shortage of skilled workers' and has been forced to raise wages significantly for a few years.

The strategic 'labor shock' of globalization has turned into a labor shortage. Thus Beverly Silver's hypotheses can be restated today:

* Capital needs the workers - while workers can easily find another job

* Theoretically workers have a very large production power in the global ‘just in time’ chains (see micro-chip crisis.... but it is difficult to put this into practice)

* Capital is now interested in regulation - while workers have discovered fluctuation for themselves (changing jobs to increase wages; but also to fight! During the strike at Gorillas in Berlin, those who are leaving soon anyway acted as spokespersons - see report below

* It can only be done together! Each individual is replaceable (at Gorillas the dismissal of one individual was the famous straw, and united workers instead of dividing them: 'They can kick out one, two, three of us - but they can't kick out 100 drivers, they would destroy their business!'

* The big question right now is how this commonality (the 'organizing power') is established and asserted against the bosses. We should direct our attention to distribution centers or their spatial concentration! And on the self-organization processes of work.

Strike at Gorillas in Berlin:

‘No more Probezeit! [trial period]

'Wildcat strikes in Berlin: drivers jeopardize the image of the supermarket app Gorillas' was the headline of the Handelsblatt on June 10.

Gorillas was launched in Berlin a year ago and promises to deliver in ten minutes. It is one of Germany's most celebrated startups: in four months, investors poured more than 280 million euros into the grocery delivery service, allowing it to reach a $1 billion valuation faster than any other start up before it in Europe. According to its own data, Gorillas employed 6,000 permanent drivers in 17 cities at the time of the strike.

About 50 Gorillas’ delivery employees protested against the dismissal of a colleague with a strike and a blockade. He was dismissed with immediate effect because he was 40 minutes late for his shift.

First, they blocked the doors of the location where the dismissed colleague had worked, at Checkpoint Charlie, bringing operations to a standstill. Then they moved to the warehouse in Berlin-Mitte, blocking the entrance there with their electric bicycles. Workers who did not take part in the strike were unable to work. Around 9:50 p.m. management gave up and closed the warehouse.

'No more trial period' was written on a banner. People are hired on six-month trial periods and one-year contracts; 90% of workers are on trial periods. Their demands include shortening the trial period, equal pay for all, and that the maximum weight of deliveries not exceed ten kilograms.

They are demanding better working conditions and higher wages.

Until now, people were hired with a basic salary of 10.50 euros and after one year they got to 12.50 euros. Now, management have decided that the starting wage should not increase. (According to other sources: all wages were cut to 10.50 euros) Here, the start-up has obviously completely miscalculated. The 'Gorillas Workers Collective' accuses Gorillas of exploiting the drivers and hindering the establishment of a works council. They work together with the trade union Nahrung-Genuss-Gaststätten (NGG) [hospitality and food union] as well as the FAU union. At the beginning of June, they had organized a general assembly, which was attended by almost 200 colleagues.



[1] On average, more and more kilometers are driven for each good transported even though lean production training courses preach the "avoidance of unnecessary unnecessary journeys" - and the volume of goods transported continues to increase.

[2] If you want to count Amazon's worldwide locations on wikipedia

[3] Peter Kapern: Amazon saves taxes with this method, www.dlf.de, May 14, 2021

[4] More specifically, there are six different types of Amazon warehouses: Sortable FC, Non-Sortable FC, Sortation Centers, Receive Centers, Speciality, and Delivery Stations. The first five can be roughly grouped under Fulfilment Centers.

[5] Wildcat 99: Working at Amazon in Poland - Interview, Winter 2016.

[6] Strategic Organizing Center: Primed for Pain - Amazon's Epidemic of Workplace Injuries, www.thesoc.org, May 2021

[7] Wildcat 101: Struggles in Italian Logistics, Winter 2017/18.

[8] Jörn Boewe, Johannes Schulten: The Long Struggle of Amazon workers, www.rosalux.de, September 2019.

[9] Sergio Bologna: Inside Logistics: Organization, Work, Distinctions, www.viewpointmag.com, 29.

[10] A parcel driver sometimes consults with two or three colleagues, if he can't find an address, can't do his daily workload, gets sick, has an accident... The ideal route in your delivery area you develop over time: where is the best place to park? Where are the hidden mailboxes? Who is never at home, where can I park?Where do I have to watch the dog? Early in the morning you do the loading of your van alone and the packages that are left over at the end of your shift, you usually unload them alone or leave them inside the van for the next day. If sufficiently stressed a parcel driver might sometimes leave his van parked up somewhere and bugger off. If, in comparison, you leave a locomotive behind, nothing works on the track anymore.

[11] Brian Ashton: The Factory without Walls, www.metamute.org, 14. September 2006

[12] "The composition of capital is to be conceived in two senses. On the side of value, it is determined by the ratio in which it is divided into constant capital or value of the means of production and variable capital, or the value of labor power, the total sum of wages. According to the side of the material, as it functions in the production process, each capital is divided into means of production and living labor power. This composition is determined by the ratio between the mass of the means of production used, on the one hand, and the quantity of labor required for their application, on the other. I call the former the value composition, the latter the technical composition of capital. Between the two there is a close interrelation. To express this, I call the value composition of capital, in so far as it is determined by its technical composition and reflects its changes: the organic composition of capital." (Marx)

[13] Romano Alquati: Capital and the Working Class at FIAT: A Center Point in the international cycle[PDF/German], April/May 1967, www.wildcat-www.de, esp. Pg. 3 in the PDF: "Characteristics of the 'Aggregation Industry'"

[14] See Marx, Capital Volume 1, eleventh chapter: cooperation; and Romano Alquati: Organic Composition of Capital and Labor Power in OLIVETTI, 1962/1963, German Translation at www.wildcat-www.de

[15] Right-to-work laws prohibit unions from charging membership fees to workers who are not members. In addition union membership may not be a condition of a labor contract. (Closed Shop or Union Shop)

[16] Felice Mometti & Connessioni Precarie: Why workers at Amazon's Bessemer (Alabama) warehouse don’t want a union[German], www.wildcat-www.de, April 11, 2021

[17] Lauren Kaori Gurley: ‘The unionizing workers who became Amazon’s biggest threat’, www.vice.com, March 18, 2021
Noam Schreiber: ‘Amazon says it pays Alabama workers well; other local employers pay more’, www.nytimes.com, March 18, 2021.

[18] Joern Boewe, Johannes Schulten: ‘Warehouses and courier services on joint strike - Francesco Massimo: ‘Reports on the struggle at Amazon Italy’[German], www.express-afp.info, March/April 2021

[19] Wildcat 103: Interview Amazon Illinois: "My Organizing efforts are still in the early stages," Winter 2019.

[20] It is enshrined in law that people can work together with colleagues to raise problems at work and against the employer. This goes from the right to go to the media to the right to refuse dangerous work or to go on strike. The employer is not officially allowed to kick someone out for a ‘collective action’ that addresses grievances.

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