Cross-border Amazon workers meeting

Rally in Poznan, September 12, 2015

In mid-September, Amazon worker activists from Poland and Germany met in Poznan to further coordinate their workplace struggles. Through earlier meetings links had been established across the border, enabling workers to communicate directly during strikes in German Amazon warehouses throughout the year and a slowdown strike in the Poznan warehouse at the end of June 2015.

Below you find the final statement of the recent Amazon Workers Meeting with participants from Poland and Germany. The next meeting will take place in February, and in between the participants will continue to communicate and coordinate their steps.

Here is a short introduction... a longer report on the organizing and struggle, especially, at the Amazon warehouse in Poznan, Poland, will be published here later:

The meetings were set up because the Polish Amazon warehouses in Poznan and Wroclaw, that started operations in September 2014, serve the German market, and Amazon uses them—as well as its network of warehouses elsewhere—to weaken the impact of the strikes of Amazon workers in Germany which have taken place since 2013.

In the Poznan warehouse, a few hundred workers have joined the base union Inicjatywa Pracownicza (IP, meaning workers' initiative), which is the only active union there so far. Founded upon the initiative of workers themselves in December 2014, the IP section has distributed a series of flyers and supported several worker petitions against rising norms, low wages, management pressure, and flexible work schedules. It faces a range of challenges, not just Amazon's strategy of ignorance and repression, but also attacks by the union Solidarnosc that represents the workers at the Amazon warehouses in Wroclaw.

Within the IP section (and the workforce in general), discussions and actions towards the common goal of forcing Amazon to improve the conditions involve a debate on different interests of permanent workers, teamleaders, and temp workers (which make up about 25 percent of the IP membership)—another challenge, but a necessary process on the way to an effective struggle.

In an attempt to create direct links with striking workers, the IP section from Poznan contacted worker activists at Amazon in Germany early this year. These are organized in the conventional German service union Verdi which—different to IP—is hierarchical and has paid union bureaucrats. However, it turned out that a core of worker activists from within Verdi wanted to meet workers from Poland to discuss and, possibly, coordinate the struggle directly. After the first meetings, it was decided to organize the Amazon Workers Meeting not as an initiative of unions but as a form of direct contact of and coordination by workers.

One early effect of these meetings was that workers both in the German and the Polish warehouses know that there is a direct link to get information and learn about the conditions and Amazon's strategies. Therefore, Amazon cannot use warehouses across the border as a threat anymore as easily. The most astonishing effect was a slowdown strike at the warehouse in Poznan in June this year during a obligatory overtime hour that Amazon had imposed when workers in German Amazon warehouses went on strike. Aware of this (through the information that was exchanged earlier), dozens of workers in the Poznan warehouse self-organized a slowdown to express their support of the strike in Germany and their refusal to act as scabs.

Workers in German Amazon warehouses were amazed and happy when they heard about the solidarity slowdown, Verdi bureaucrats were not. The latter continue to criticize Verdi worker activists for their collaboration with the IP section and hold up Solidarnosc as their ally organization. Meanwhile, Solidarnosc criticized the slowdown and IP's support of those workers who were punished by Amazon afterwards.

The recent Amazon Workers Meeting in Poznan showed, that the exchange and coordination on the grassroots level can circumvent Verdi's (and Solidarnosc's) attempts to control workers' activity and enable workers to organize actions across borders that are unpredictable for Amazon—a precondition for an effective struggle.

Final Statement, Amazon Workers Meeting, Poznan, September 11–13, 2015
We—Amazon workers from Poland and Germany plus supporters—met for three days in Poznan. This is the second such meeting after one we held in Bad Hersfeld in Spring this year. The meetings are organized by the participating Amazon workers themselves, independent from the respective union. We are a solidarity network that looks for answers to Amazon’s strategies and coordinates the struggle for common interests.

This time, we distributed leaflets in front of the Amazon warehouse in Poznan-Sady, held a public meeting with presentations on the situation at Amazon in Poznan, Bad Hersfeld and Brieselang, and organized a rally and interviews with the media. Then we held the workers’ meeting and discussed the situation in different Amazon warehouses and our common activities to improve the working conditions in the future.

Our exchange revealed that Amazon workers in different countries face the same problems – low wages, increasing norms, high work pressure leading to health problems, Amazon’s employment practice of hiring and firing, and more. When confronted with workers’ demands, Amazon uses similar strategies in all countries, for instance, threatening workers with layoffs, putting pressure on union activists, and negotiating without willing to make any concessions.

For everyone who participated in our meeting it is clear that we have to give collective answers—across different warehouses in different countries—in order to enforce improvements and more. In the future, Amazon will not be able to play us out against each other as long as we are joining forces and link up on the base, from worker to worker.

The exchange through the Amazon Workers’ Meetings can motivate, mobilize and empower workers across borders, even those who might not participate directly (yet). An example is the self-organized slow down in the Amazon warehouse in Poznan against overtime that expressed the worker’s dissatisfaction with the working conditions and was also a clear signal of solidarity with the strike of Amazon workers in Germany that was happening on the same day at the end of June.

We are also determined to deal with repression by Amazon. Workers from Amazon in Italy had planned to take part in our meeting, but one of them was fired just before the meeting so they had to deal with this attack and could not attend. We express our solidarity with these workers and are happy to hear that they are determined to take part in our future exchange and common actions!

For the next meeting—that will be timely announced on https://amworkers.wordpress.com—we invite not just the workers from Italy, but also those from the new Amazon warehouse near Prague, Czech Republic, and those of other Amazon warehouses across Europe.

In Poznan, all participants have reaffirmed their intention to organize common cross-border struggles in the future. Only if our fight is organized by workers themselves, rooted in our warehouse and coordinated with others, with a clear strategy and unpredictable for Amazon, will we have a chance to win!

Posted By

ye
Sep 30 2015 14:39

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  • Only if our fight is organized by workers themselves, rooted in our warehouse and coordinated with others, with a clear strategy and unpredictable for Amazon, will we have a chance to win!

    Final Statement, Amazon Workers Meeting, Poznan, September 2015

Attached files

Comments

ye
Oct 12 2015 07:58

no

akai
Nov 14 2015 21:36

Dear all,

l don't remember any time in the past when all comments disappeared and then locked. Thanks to Libcom admins who put the comments section back up.

l actually don't think this was an accident, so please be careful.

Here l am restoring the comments. Not the only thing about my org to disappear recently.

akai
Sep 30 2015 19:45
Only union? Founded by workers (who are supervisors). A few hundred people?

This is really work of a few vanguardists and even the part about Solidarity's criticism is wrong because it was about something else.

Don't know who sucks more - Solidarity or IP with their pro-boss treachery, ignoring numerous workers' actions, supervisor union leaders and anti-immigrant assholes.

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zaczek
Sep 30 2015 20:13
It is also an insult to the people who also carry out union work at Amazon and managed to get back payment, sick pay, etc. for dozens of workers. People can read for themselves.

http://zsp.net.pl/international-actions-against-amazon-and-manpower
http://zsp.net.pl/amazon-poland-starts-anti-union-intimidation
http://zsp.net.pl/more-payments-made-amazon-workers
http://zsp.net.pl/protest-manpower-agency
http://zsp.net.pl/problems-amazon-health-and-safety-and-work-clothes
http://zsp.net.pl/more-problems-amazon-and-its-agencies
http://zsp.net.pl/amazon-workers-cheated-again
http://zsp.net.pl/zsp-takes-action-adecco-makes-more-payments
http://zsp.net.pl/problems-amazon-workers-employed-through-adecco
http://zsp.net.pl/amazon-screws-workers-zsp-starts-organizing-targets-amazon-and-manpower
http://zsp.net.pl/about-raises-amazon
http://zsp.net.pl/state-labour-inspectorate-controls-amazon-and-points-out-violations
http://zsp.net.pl/zsp-amazon-union-demands-realistic-norms-and-higher-wages
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuUwhZydHvA

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ye
Sep 30 2015 23:43
Sorry, everyone, before you react to ZSP, i.e. Akai and Zaczek, who seem to get angry easily, let me get a few things right:
1) I am not involved in syndicalist politics and have my own critique of unionism, but this is about supporting an ongoing workers struggle for better conditions and the attempts of workers of the same company to create cross border links beyond organizational limits.
2) My short introduction is based on many discussions and meetings with Amazon workers in Poznan and some with Amazon workers from Brieselang and Bad Hersfeld. So if anyone has different information, then, please, give me exact details so I can learn something. (As mentioned, there will be a longer and more detailed report later... when those involved in all this have time to discuss and write it).
3) The documented statement reflects the views of the participants at the Amazon Workers meeting in Poznan where neither Akai nor Zaczek were involved.
4) Akai and Zaczek might have done their own rallys and campaigns elsewhere, but it is unclear how they would know about the membership composition of the IP section at Amazon in Poznan or how that section was set up and by whom?
5) The IP section at Amazon in Poznan includes a few long time IP activists but is mostly composed of workers who did not like the "union men with the moustaches" and wanted to stand up against the management with the support of an organization they control themselves.
6) IPs organizing process involving a few hundred workers by now (sorry, guys, I have all the numbers), including teamleaders, permanent workers and temp workers, and the involvement of more workers during petitions and actions created amazing moments of collectivity, but also contradictions and difficulties. However, reactions like those of Akai and Zaczek rather prevent a discussion about these contradictions than help dealing with them.
7) For instance, it is important to discuss the role of teamleaders or other workers with management functions at work and during struggles, but, as a matter of fact, teamleaders and others with similar positions have played a role in many workers' struggles around the world—including wildcats, and sometimes even to the point where they used their position to organize a struggle or even order workers to take part in an action. We might not like this, and, it obviously creates a range of problems, but it is the workers involved who have to deal with and overcome the divisions (including those along gender lines, age, origin and status, etc.). So let's support them in the process and not throw shit around that is hitting just everyone involved, no matter what their position is.
8) Akai and Zaczek have attacked (and shit-stormed) IP on many occasions but seem to be motivated rather by ZSP's syndicalist (and, eventually, sectarian) sense of competition that is widespread among anarcho-syndicalist and other leftist organizations – and not by any sincere interest in discussing and overcoming divisions to, eventually, be able to, collectively, fight capital where it matters.
9) IP has its shortcomings, indeed, but the members I have met have, generally, been open to comments and criticism "from outside", during the Amazon campaign and before, and they are interested in a serious exchange on the potentials and limits of their activity. An example is an earlier debate on the struggle of electronic workers in a special economic zone near Wroclaw. For a report and critique see here.
10) I hope we can organize a debate on the contradictions and potentials of the workers' struggle at Amazon, including the role of the IP section in Poznan, the conflicts of Verdi-activists with Verdi-bureaucrats in various Amazon warehouses, the activity of the support groups in Leipzig, Kassel, Berlin and Poznan. However, we should avoid any syndicalist competition and concentrate on organizing the flow of information on working conditions, exchanging experiences of struggle, a critique of union professionals and bureaucracies, coordinating workers' actions in different warehouses, etc.

Well, I don't know if this gets through to everyone who reads this, and it might, again, make some people really angry (even though I am not IP?), but I want to say to whoever is concerned: I hope we can just skip the kind of exchange Akai and Zaczek started and get on with the real stuff.

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akai
Oct 1 2015 05:17
A ZSP union exists in Amazon and was the first union formed there. So of course our comrades there know who the chairman and vice chairman there are, who the 2 salters from IP are etc. This is no secret and at least one of these people, who is a supervisor, is discussed rather often in the networks of Amazon workers. (He is also a racist, anti-immigrant guy.) How we should know this is just hearing what workers say and checking what he does on the internet.

As for the rest, we talk to workers in Amazon on a regular basis and also hope that some actions occur and we are certainly not against this. Most of the workforce is not unioniized and most of the workers' actions of a small strike and a slowdown took place outside all unions. Right here the author again misleads readers. First that IP is the only union in Sady. Not true. Then, to top it off, I am the other comrade are accused of "union competition" when in fact, it is people from another union who routinely lie about this and tell workers we are an illegal union to scare them. Second is that the author refers to the union's actions as "Laure and Zaczek" might have done campaigns. The people who decided to take action because they were cheated were Amazon workers, mostly from the agencies, who organized themselves without any "men with moustaches" and in fact, basically without men because there was only 1-2 men involved and they formed a union themselves, which functions both without bosses and leaders. But we can see that this is just not the right type of union for those who have lots of contradictions when critiquing unions. For them, it doesn't even exist.

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ye
Oct 1 2015 17:20
It is the first time I am faced with this kind of attack by ZSP/Akai. My article is not about them, they were not even mentioned, it is just a report with some introductory information about a cross-border attempt to coordinate a workers’ struggle, written for libcom readers who might be interested to learn more about it.
Astonishingly enough, ZSP/Akai turn the comments into some argument about what great stuff they do and how shitty other people are—including me, I finally learned.

Well, to me this is quite amusing—and distracting because there are more important things to do than reacting to weird comments. Still, I have seen some of their posts and comments on other peoples activities earlier that were actually creating harm, so let’s not laugh about it.

Some comments about the content and the form they chose:

1) I wrote that IP was the only union in the Amazon warehouse in Poznan-Sady because that is what I heard throughout the past year from workers and activists there. Apparently, there was one guy who shortly represented Solidarnosc but he left the company. I heard about small rallies organized by ZSP on Amazon in a few Polish cities but I never saw any flyer or announcement or call for a meeting by ZSP in Poznan, neither have the people I talked to. So if there is a ZSP section there, then this is new to me, and it would be perfectly fine to add that information in the comments and write that I am wrong and that there is a ZSP section and it does this or that. Instead, Akai accuses me of “lying”. Why would I do that? And how would Akai know whether I was lying or not? Why using an assumption to discredit someone else without knowing?

2) Akai talks about some kind of “manipulation” from my side here. Not clear who I should have manipulated in what way. Just to clarify, I include other unions like IP in my critique on a competitive attitude towards other organizations, not just ZSP. It is part of the union logic and demands discussion. ZSP has attacked sister unions from their international federation AIT like FAU because their members have collaborated with non-AIT organizations like IP or SAC on specific issues. [Actually, I have talked to members of AIT organizations who just ignore that rule.] IP, meanwhile, is not immune to the competitive attitude, but as much as I know it has been quite open to collaboration with activists from other currents despite obvious political differences— when the situation or a particular struggle demanded such a cooperation.

3) Again, ZSP/Akai are not part of the organizing effort in Poznan-Sady and the cross-border Amazon Workers Meeting I have looked at, so it is weird to read their twisted information about the composition of the IP membership, “chairmen”, the people who set up the union in the first place, etc. Some of this concerns sensitive issues, and the libcom comment-section is not the right place to go more into details (because this is public). All I can say is, please, take what Akai writes with a grain of salt. I asked around if anyone has heard about a racist incident in the IP section [Akai mentions a “racist guy”], but no one has. Still, this is a serious accusation and I will look deeper into this, and so will those I talked to. I know that those involved have no tolerance for racist behavior and if something happened they will deal with it appropriately.

4) Finally, apart from the content, which is always debatable and can be complemented, it is strange to have to deal with this kind of attacks and accusations (attempts to ridicule, slurs, etc.). I am not sure what libcom’s policy on this is, but in my view this should not happen here.

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MT
Oct 1 2015 18:17
Well, what about asking yourself "haven't I been lied to by those IP and "activists"?" might be a good way to turn this into something constructive, because obviously, you don't know A LOT of things from the ground and when told, you refuse to accept. I understand it could be because of friendships, but... you know... Shit happens...

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akai
Oct 2 2015 05:56
Yeah, above comment of Ye is incorrect for the following reasons:

1. Manipulation by labelling things "Akai/ZSP" which show ignorance of how anarchosyndicalist organizations work, as if what one person writes on a forum is the statement of the organization.

2. Assumption that he knows everything from talking to a few people, probably very exaggerated "expertise". Of course members of IP know about ZSP union since they talk about it even on worker's forums.

3. Some people pretend we don't exist, but these people are not seem as playing some sectarian game, because that doesn't fit the author's definition.

4. Statement about ZSP not being part of "the" organization effort in Sady. This means the author believes that only what he is involved with is "the" effort. Not the successful effort of marginalized workers to get their money, get employed directly, stop the mobbing of teamleaders, etc. This also shows the vanguard nature of the project, that a few politicized workers in Germany and Poland, even people who don't work there, set the goals of how people should be organized instead of looking at what the marginalized workers have done themselves and even not recognizing it.

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akai
Oct 2 2015 08:36
I'll add two more comments. About the claim, that certain people have "no tolerance" for racism and will "deal with it", there is more than enough experience to say this is false. The basis for this judgement is a history of some members running in elections with fascists, nationalists or certain parties and how this was "dealt with". This issue has a very long history but I will speak about one incident from my city which I know very well. This is about one of the more well-known guys from that union, who was also the vice-president of another organization, which decided to run in elections, had at least 2 known fascists and another right-wing guy on the lists.

To start with, first anti-fascists exposed that this organization made 3 public meetings with a fascist organization. Here, at least they later decided to break this cooperation, claiming they didn't know the orientation of the group. (Although the word 'narodowy", or "natiional" was in their name.) We found it a little suspicious and the explanation from the member was that he didn't see anything suspicious and these people like Abramovsky. (Polish cooperatist) Of course we commented on all this, since this means shit: all sorts of fash are going around with Bakunin or Makhno. If this were a new, not too educated person, we might just think, OK - but it is a politologist who had a record in the past defending ATTAC's fling with the right and denouncing the anti-fascists who exposed it.

After this incident, where MAYBE one could argue that these fascists were more obscure, they set the electoral lists and on it was THE FUHRER, in other words, the least obscure of fascists in this city, (Who helped organized marches on Nov. 11 and last year organized the big 2 day concert of fascist bands from all over Europe.) Prior to the elections, his organization, Niklot, was making a racist demo at the S. African embassy demanding the release of Janusz Walus. (look it up)

Of course comrades from my organization heavily criticiized such things, which led to long internet discussions. In it, he called for a boycott of our "sectarian" organization, tried to make all sorts of excuses for that person, said we were "brainwashed" by the main newspaper and in all sorts of ways tried to both claim this guy was not a fascist and there was nothing wrong. We were not the only to criticize this: it was in the mainstream paper and many people said something. One was an activist of Workers' Democracy. The response to that criticism was that it had to do with elections because he was running from another list, so he was just trying to "discredit" the IP guy to get votes.

Of course we also heard lots of complaints from IP members who said that this was this guy's personal choice and cannot reflect on the organization in any way. Of course, after seeing lots of other complaints about this, the organization "dealth with this" by issuing a statement - that the guy "didn't know" about this guy's politics. And after this, he went back on the street with him on a demo.

This is the clearest example of how the organization dealt with a very high profile inciident of collaboration with racists. Admittedly, I have no knowledge of how they actually deal with members who are actually racists themselves.

But remember readers, I am a famous "sectarian", so please take my critical view of that incident with a grain of salt. I am just very easily upset by small issues like these people trying to use direct actions we organized to send people to collect signatures for their electoral lists that have fascists on it. I am obviously just not open enough. smile

The second point, of course is that I wanted to stress that I am not trying to make things over there in Amazon sound bigger than they are, because all the unionized people are no more than 5-10 percent of the workforce and in the mainstream unions, most of the people are on paper and not active, which is the typical pattern. A comrade already listed information about what was done and people can see it and judge for themselves that these were the actions of a few dozen people whose main concerns are as I mentioned above. On the other hand, we have a rather grandiose sounding "organizing effort" we are told involves hundreds of workers, but it is clear to us that very few workers in Sady were invited or took part. We don't claim that we have more (we don't), but I find the whole thing to be greatly exaggerated.

For example, this protest included the international brigade of the meeting you talk about. http://poznan.wyborcza.pl/poznan/51,36037,18800195.html?i=2 I certainly am the last one to criticize any action like this, it is perfectly fine, but I see who are on the photo and at least here we see there was very little involvement of rank and file workers in this protest.

BTW, to ye, have you checked out the Chairman's FB page yet? What do you see on his likes cause I see a lot of right-wing bullshit, antI- immigrant stuff, fash Polish Defense League... although of course maybe this is "nothing" and I am just not people open enough to organizations openly threatening to attack immigrants.

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red and black riot
Oct 4 2015 06:33
I saw this online recently, might be of interest to book readers out there http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/avoiding-amazon-the-5-best-alternatives-to-the-online-bookseller-giants-1

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red and black riot
Oct 4 2015 06:36
Ah the link does'nt seem to work. Well, I have discovered that wordery.com is good, they have lots of books including anarchist stuff and Marx. There is also Hive.co.uk, bookbutler.co.uk and Blackwells.

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plasmatelly
plasmatelly
Oct 4 2015 10:20
red and black riot wrote:
Ah the link does'nt seem to work. Well, I have discovered that wordery.com is good, they have lots of books including anarchist stuff and Marx. There is also Hive.co.uk, bookbutler.co.uk and Blackwells.
Eh? This is an advert is it not? Unless I'm mistaken red and black riot, people are arguing over the extremely flakey claims regarding IP made by ye, along with a wider discussion around unionising within Amazon - I don't think it's about finding an alternative online bookseller (though possibly handy should organised workers at Amazon ask for a boycott)

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akai
Oct 4 2015 11:31
I don't think it's a problem to talk about alternatives to Amazon but, in general, if we talk about that, it should be because we are convinced that the working conditions are much better elsewhere.

I think now the unions are ambivalent to the biggest complaint of workers. Part of the recruitment promise is that they will get bonuses, but it is mostly BS. Amazon gave the workers a tiny raise in the summer, but then the bonuses completely stopped, so it is like the raise doesn't exist. The two mainstream unions were mostly trying to take the credit for this raise and are not interested in this bonus issue, which has been problematic for months. Lots of problems there - a number of people didn't get paid for sick leave, time they were supposed to work but didn't get work, etc. etc..... To me it looks like the unions spend more time posturing than fighting this stuff.

Another big complaint is mobbing.

Steven.
Nov 14 2015 22:56

Some admin/moderation comments on the discussion here and what happened here: http://libcom.org/forums/feedback-content/discussion-deleted-cross-border-amazon-workers-meeting-14112015#comment-568668

Ed
Feb 23 2016 20:40

Ok, so the comments have been put back, with some admin edits for abusive language, insults etc.

It took quite a while to go through and edit so as to remove offending aspects while not taking away from the general argument being made. Please refrain from breaking the posting guidelines. Any new posts which do so will be unpublished and the thread locked.