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!