Original image shot by Crusty Streets

Since the Amazon distribution facility opened in Tilbury at the start of October 2017, hundreds of workers have either quit because the working conditions are so bad or they’ve been sacked for failing to meet onerous productivity targets. That’s quite a staggering turnover of workers, so, what are the reasons for this?

The Thurrock Independent interviewed a former Amazon worker – this is what he had to say:

“You are constantly timed on how much you do, and if you don’t stow 3,000 items a day they basically kick you out the door. A lot of people walked out on the first day it was so bad.”
“The way management speak to you is so condescending, and as soon as you step away from your station they are asking where you’re going and timing how long you’re away.”
“They basically just want to have a team of robots working for them. You get two half hour breaks and if you’re back a minute late they scan your badge and deduct 15 minutes from your wages. It could have been a great place to work, but I don’t agree with how they’re trying to work this, I don’t agree with their philosophy and I don’t agree with their working standards.”
“You can’t talk to people, you can’t have a bit of fun, with this you’ve pretty much just got to work in silence. What they want are people who don’t have backbone and you’re not going to find a lot of people like that in Thurrock.”

Staff turnover is high as workers, even those desperate for employment, simply cannot cope with the brutal physical and mental demands of the work and have to leave for the sake of their heallth. Ambulances are called in on a regular basis to tend to workers who have collapsed from exhaustion. That matters little to Amazon as they know there’s a plentiful supply of people desperate for work who will take the place of those who depart. Ignore the bullshit Amazon spout about how they ‘value’ their staff – they just see the people working for them as interchangeable production units to be discarded at will if they can’t keep up with the relentless demands of the warehouse.

What has to be born in mind is that the Tilbury warehouse operates within all the legal requirements for health and safety, and employment law. Which shows that when it comes to looking after the well being of workers, employment law in this country isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. There’s no meaningful union representation at Tilbury – mind you, given how crap the mainstream unions are, it wouldn’t make a heck of a lot of difference if there was.

Welcome to the dark, Satanic warehouses of 21st century Britain. When it comes to treating workers like dirt, there’s little to mark out Amazon from a 19th century cotton mill up in Lancashire. Meanwhile, if you are thinking about doing your online shopping with Amazon – remember, clicks have consequences, one of which is perpetuating a brutal culture of exploitation…

It doesn’t have to be like this

Thurrock with its industrial heritage has historically had a reputation of being a place where people are not afraid of a hard day’s graft. The qualifier is that workers in places such as Thurrock still generally want to a) be treated with respect and b) get paid a decent rate. On that basis, even though many people in Thurrock see themselves as grafters, they can see that Amazon are taking the Mickey something rotten…

This means there’s an opening to take on the likes of Amazon and win. In continental Europe, workers are fighting back against Amazon with a series of strikes and actions. Granted, the situation in the UK is very different from continental Europe in that here, the process of smashing any form of collectivity and atomising people is more advanced than over on the other side of the Channel.

Despite this, people still have a sense of fairness and they can see that Amazon are lousy employers and they’re getting angry about it. If we can recognise the difference between here and continental Europe, and tailor our tactics accordingly, there’s everything to play for in taking Amazon on and sending out a signal that no employer can get away with treating their workers in this way…

Away from the ossified mainstream unions, there are groups and new wave unions successfully helping low paid, precarious workers to organise and fight back. Here’s a list of the ones we think are doing the business and mounting a real challenge to inhumane, exploitative working conditions:

Angry Workers
Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union
Industrial Workers of the World
United Voices of the World