Caitlin Barr discusses the effects of the Amazon workers’ Black Friday strike, ‘Make Amazon Pay’.
On Black Friday, many Amazon workers across the globe took part in strikes as part of a coalition called ‘Make Amazon Pay’. The movement aimed to cease work at distribution centres, data centres, and factories across 20 countries including Italy, France, and India. Their demands were laid out in a document and split into five categories: workplace improvements, job security, respect for workers’ rights, sustainable operations and paying back society. In the same document, they made this statement: “The pandemic has exposed how Amazon places profits ahead of workers, society, and our planet. Amazon takes too much and gives back too little. It is time to Make Amazon Pay.”
On the same day, activists from Extinction Rebellion blockaded 13 UK distribution centres, including Amazon’s largest in Dunfermline in Scotland, as well as one in Germany and one in the Netherlands. They were campaigning for Amazon to take action on climate change.
In the UK, Amazon workers aren’t allowed to unionise, so strikes were undertaken in Coventry, Coleville, Peterborough and Amazon’s head offices in London by a group of unions including the GMB (Britain’s general union), the Trades Union Congress, the International Transport Workers Federation, War on Want and Labour Behind the Label.
Striking on Black Friday is clearly the best time to do it – but was the strike hampered in its success by a lack of participation?
Black Friday is traditionally one of Amazon’s most profitable times – in 2020, for example, the day netted them $9 billion. The GMB recently released statistics that showed that ambulance callouts to Amazon warehouses rose by 50% in the lead up to Black Friday last year, potentially due to overworking and other health and safety issues. Striking on Black Friday is clearly the best time to do it – but was the strike hampered in its success by a lack of participation?
In, the UK, only four Amazon facilities were targeted by the group, with 13 more targeted by Extinction Rebellion. Worldwide, more workers at more facilities took part, but since Black Friday, there has been no update on progress or just how many people participated. Make Amazon Pay’s website outlines their demands and the groups who have partnered with them but has no information about future plans or the success of previous campaigns. Was Make Amazon Pay’s Black Friday strike a flash in the pan? It was hardly covered in the news at all, and it is almost impossible to gauge its outcome – of course, change takes time, but there has been no update as of yet as to whether any meetings have been arranged.
Despite its potential weakness in results, the Make Amazon Pay strike will have undoubtedly unified workers and will perhaps lead to bigger and more effective actions in the future. COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the issues Amazon workers face across the globe – overworking, poor access to healthcare and time off for sickness, and unfair wages. This strike could have been a defining moment in the campaign for better workplace rights for Amazon employees, but it seems to have fizzled out – perhaps next year we’ll see higher participation and a more united event, but until then, it remains to be seen whether anything concrete occurred as a result of the day of action.