On the Picket Line

UK Amazon workers fight for union recognition, wage raise

By Jonathan Silberman
November 27, 2023

COVENTRY, England — Beginning Nov. 7, 1,000 Amazon workers at the distribution center here carried out a three-day strike, fighting for union recognition and a wage raise. The members of the General Municipal and Boilermakers union announced they will walk out again Nov. 24, so-called Black Friday, when unionists at Amazon plants in Europe and the U.S. will also take action.  

Some 150 workers joined the noisy dawn picket. Fellow members of the GMB union came from around the country in support. “Workers coming together in today’s show of force is very important” said Kelvin Enabulele, GMB representative at Pioneer Foods in Cumbria, 200 miles away. “Your fight is our fight.” 

Other GMB representatives came from the Yodel warehouse and Pilgrim Foods — both in London. Ali Haydor, an Uber driver from Southampton, said, “We won GMB recognition. Amazon workers can do so too.”

“We’re working 10-hour shifts. Many are forced to work 60-hour weeks — with its heavy toll on family life. They pay workers at different fulfillment centers differently and justify the differential by referring to other warehouses in the area,” Garfield Hylton, one of the union leaders at Coventry, told the Militant. He and other pickets said that workers at other warehouses, including just across the road, get considerably more. Amazon has said that wages at Coventry will increase to 12.30 pounds ($15) an hour in April, but “that’s only because we’ve been taking action.”

“We’re not just pushing for recognition at Coventry” said Hylton, who’s worked at the Coventry center since it opened five years ago. They’ve travelled to other warehouses in the Midlands — Nuneaton and Mansfield — as well as to Cardiff in South Wales. “We’ve leafleted workers going into work and explained that we’re available to help their efforts.”

Workers at the newly opened center in Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, are balloting for strike action, reported GMB organizer Rachel Fagan. 

“When Sutton Coldfield opened, a number of union members from here, and from the Rugeley warehouse, which is being closed, got jobs there, and they’ve taken the fight with them,” Hylton said. “But there’s no quick fix. The company inevitably puts obstacles in our path — recruiting workers just to push down the unionized proportion; starting new hires on fixed-term contracts. And we have to overcome the challenges of uniting workers with many different languages.”

“We need 15 pounds an hour,” striker Destiny Obi said at the end of the action. Food price inflation hit nearly 20% last year and remains over 10%, the government says.