If you go anywhere near Tilbury, you can’t help but notice the massive Amazon warehouse that stretches along the north west edge of the town. From the outside, it looks to be a state of the art facility offering halfway decent employment opportunities. The reality is very different as Matthew Young writes in the Mirror: Amazon warehouse staff ‘treated like slaves with 10-hour shifts and short breaks’.
Young’s report deserves to be read closely as it shows that when it comes to workers rights, we’re heading backwards. To be honest, his report comes as no real surprise… This is the brutal reality of employment in 21st century Britain – short term contracts, little or no job security, the constant threat of the sack if you don’t meet increasingly demanding and harder to fulfil targets. With a proportion of ‘underperforming’ workers set to be sacked and replaced by those even more desperate for a job, the management at Amazon have succeeded in pitting workers against each other – it’s the ultimate in divide and rule.
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 health. 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.
Thurrock with it’s industrial heritage has historically had a reputation of being a place where a lot of people are not afraid of a hard day’s graft. As an aside, whether that reputation for putting in a hard day’s graft is something to be celebrated needs to be debated. 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 piss something rotten…
This means there’s an opening to take on the likes of Amazon and win. In continental Europe, workers haven’t been taking the shit from Amazon lying down – they’ve fought back: Amazon workers are fighting back. 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 crap employers and they’re getting angry about it. If we can recognise the difference between here and continental Europe, tailor our rhetoric and 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…
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.
It’s not just Amazon though. There’s Wilko forcing crap contracts onto their workers: Wilko contract changes ‘force staff to choose between childcare and livelihoods’. ASDA are at it as well: Up to 12,000 Asda workers could lose jobs amid contract row. This is before the inevitable post Brexit de-regulation that has been promised which will see what remains of workers rights shredded.
It’s not all doom and gloom – there are groups and independent, cutting edge worker unions fighting back against this crap: