Amazon workers organize cross-border solidarity

From the July-August 2019 issue of News & Letters

Editor’s note: Below are excerpts of a talk by Polish Amazon worker/organizer Agnieszka Mróz, on a U.S. tour seeking cross-border solidarity among Amazon workers worldwide, at a meeting co-sponsored by San Francisco Bay Area News and Letters Committee.

Oakland, Calif. I have been working at an Amazon warehouse in Poznan, in western Poland, for the last five years. In my warehouse there are about 5,000 workers. We get commodities from and for Germany. We unpack them, store them, repack them and send them back to Germany. All included, German Amazon workers make four times more than we do.

The warehouses in Poland are exactly like the warehouses here. We have high security, we have slogans: “work hard, have fun, make history” posted all over, against which we have our own signs, “work slow, strike hard, have fun, make history.”

Cross-border organizing has been taking place in Europe for the last four years. We identified common issues across Europe, opposing temporary contracts, low wages and wage differences, and increasing quotas enforced by weekly “feedbacks.”

GRASSROOTS UNION

Amazon workers in Portland and in Minneapolis all said, yes, yes, those are our problems, too. “Time off task” is a common problem. If you don’t scan an item for five minutes, the manager will see it in the system. It sums up all of your “additional breaks,” and at the end of the day you have to explain why you had 50 minutes of those “additional breaks” during the 10-hour shift. If you have a problem with the computer, or if your scanner battery runs out, the system does not “see” your work.

Agnieszka Mróz. Photo: Urszula Wislanka for News & Letters.

I am a steward in my grassroots union, Workers’ Initiative, started three months after the warehouse opened. According to Polish labor laws, you just need 10 workers who vote to have a union. We did that in the parking lot before the morning shift started. Now we have 650 members and 15 representatives.

One of our campaigns, we call it “safe package,” is work-to-rule. When workers in Germany want to go on strike, we organize work slowdowns. Amazon says they are obsessed with safety. “Safety first” is their slogan. They tell you during training to check that every box is in good shape, look at every item from six sides, scan the bar code and compare the item with the picture on your computer, etc. If you did all that you could not fill 300 boxes per hour.

‘WORK FAST, DIE YOUNG’

We prepared a leaflet in five languages called “safe package” which quotes all the company rules for the various jobs. We hand out a lot of those on days German workers are on strike, with a slogan, “work fast, die young.”

Another example: put only one item in a box and send it to the packing department, because adding another item might make the box too heavy to lift safely. This type of action started in 2015 among pickers who, instead of putting say 15 books in a box, would put one or two. The increase in boxes paralyzed the packing and shipping departments.

We have a workers’ newspaper, which we put out three times a year. We also leaflet at least once a month as a way to communicate with our members and all workers. These are not political statements, but our everyday experiences.

Our two most recent campaigns are Stop Feedback, the company’s practice of monitoring your quota every day and coming to you with “feedback.” The other is Stop the Rat Race. Workers’ evaluations are a rat race. If you do better than your co-workers, you will stay, but if you take your sick days, etc., you will not get another contract.

We attend cross-border meetings with workers from France, Italy, Germany, Spain and England. We have our own issues, like compulsory overtime, but we also don’t want to be scabs when workers in Germany strike. The meeting five weeks ago had 50 representatives from eight warehouses in five different countries. If you know Amazon workers who might like to come to our next meetings, please let them know about it.

—Agnieszka Mróz

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