Covid-19, lockdown and physical distancing incentivized individuals around the globe to "click to purchase". The result is an unprecedented growth in profits and power of the e-commerce giant.
While the company is breaking financial records, its social record is not that shiny. Work in the distribution centres is hard, hours are long, and surveillance is everywhere. A recent contribution in 'notes from below' gives a telling picture of the daily life of a worker at Amazon.
October 13 and 14 are Amazon Prime Day, an annual deal event that delivers 'incredible savings' with discounts on orders. Since a couple of years, trade unions organize strikes to push for better working conditions under the slogan 'no discounts on our income'.
Yet, unions find it hard to put pressure on the company. The reasons are mainly two-fold. First, the company is notoriously anti-union. Three recent scandals are exemplary. In 2018, a union-busting video was leaked showing how Amazon tried to avoid workers from forming unions. About a month ago, Amazon had to pull two job-adds in which it tried to recruit data analysts that could track (and prevent) all types of collective action in the workplace. And just this month, an Amazon memo showed that they already were using anti-union software to track possible unionization activities. It definitely takes some guts to be a union activist at Amazon.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the way Amazon is organized makes pressuring the company incredibly hard. Solidarity is easiest created locally, at the plant level. Still, local actions in a single distribution centre hardly affect the company as they can quickly source the orders from different centres and serve the clients. A strike at a single centre, or even in a single country, is therefore doomed to fail. Staff at airline companies like Ryanair have noticed a similar problem where the company flew in staff and planes from non-striking bases. In international companies with highly flexible work organizations and/or mobile workers, local trade union strategies simply don't work anymore.
The only solution is to organize strikes in multiple distribution centres at the same time and best of all, in multiple countries at the same time. This requires international solidarity and coordination between workers that do not know each other, that speak different languages, and working under different conditions, something which is much easier to write than to realize in practice.