"We need to do a better job for Amazon employees,” Jeff Bezos acknowledged in his final letter to shareholders, just days after the entire world witnessed a shameful union-busting campaign to prevent workers from forming a labour union in Bessemer, Alabama.
Of course, Amazon used its bottomless resources to beat the workers. But this wasn't a clean fight. Bezos sent an army of anti-union consultants to Bessemer simply to avoid having to sit across the bargaining table with workers who want to negotiate over pay, health and safety, production targets, and a better future for their families. The tech giant paid some of the most infamous, ruthless union-busters to force workers into intimidating and mandatory meetings, spread anti-union propaganda, and even change the schedule of traffic lights.
We know this because the workers who kept Amazon’s operations moving full speed during the pandemic are now demanding payback and respect everywhere. We have seen a union election in Bessemer but also strikes in Germany, Italy, and France, and a new campaign launched in the UK. These are all signs that Amazon workers won’t stop demanding justice.
Global anti-union tactics
It is not a secret that Amazon’s ruthless management regime has disastrous impacts on workers’ bodies and lives: with industry-leading injury rates, degradation of working conditions and pay in the logistics sector and reports from workers around the world of emotional pressure and anxiety to “make rate.” And yes Mr. Bezos, many are forced to pee in bottles.
But there’s more. Over the past year, a series of leaks about Amazon's security operations have shown that Amazon is engaging in a global surveillance campaign against workers, their unions, and other civil society organizations. Spying on workers and firing activists for speaking up for safety in the warehouses during the pandemic are all practices that have no place in a democracy. Amazon needs to explain what it’s been doing, and it needs to cease these practices immediately.
Now the European Parliament is asking Jeff Bezos to testify, because he has a lot of explaining to do. The hearing, which will take place on 27th May, will focus on violations of workers’ rights and union activity at Amazon.
What’s clear is that with or without anti-union consultants, for the past 25 years, Amazon has been virulently anti-union everywhere it operates. Threats, lies, coercion, and divisive tactics based on individual profiling are routine as we have seen in Bessemer and across other areas of the USA at the height of the pandemic.