Putting the Pressure on Amazon

Amazon Europe Make Amazon Pay Unions

            Manchester      In the fog of jet lag and false expectations, it took me until the afternoon to fully grasp what the Make Amazon Pay campaign and this summit were about.  It wasn’t about organizing really, although this was a union-based and funded effort.  But they were all about organizing, in the sense of fully supporting whatever might happen, rather than really being involved in the direct worker organizing.  Neither was this really a corporate pressure campaign per se, although they had a fully staffed secretariat willing to support any of its member unions who might implement such an effort.  This summit was also proving that they were willing and able to enlist a broad range of others who might be mobilized in such an effort as researchers, comms people, economists, and others.

            In organizing language, what this whole summit was really about was handles:  finding them, sharing them, and getting people excited about making them work.  In one metaphor in this David versus Goliath fight at this moment, someone initially said, and it was repeated by Christy Hoffman in her conclusion, that this was now a situation where “Amazon was being bled from a thousand cuts,” and she added that our job was to “make the cuts deeper” so the company could feel the pain.

            Many of the handles on display in the panel were political and come from the partnership of unions and nonprofits with local, state, and national politicians in the US, France, and Italy as well as with European Union parliamentarians from Belgium, Spain, and elsewhere.  The European Union’s Rider Law received a lot of attention.  The law is still being debated by the European Commission, but it would establish the basis for considering a digital platform worker as an employee This would be huge because in terms of both worker rights and benefits, including easing the ability to unionize, workers would no longer be at will subcontractors.  The implications in terms of coverage under minimum wage laws are significant as well.  The classification of these workers as employees by the Italian Labor department was a breakthrough in allowing Italian unions’ efforts to organize Amazon workers to succeed.  Legislators in Minnesota and New York have made inroads with similar legislation.  In Minnesota, a warehouse workers’ bill seemed to be a breakthrough, too.  Members of the European Parliament from Belgium and the Netherlands were also present and advocating aggressively for worker and climate protections by Amazon.

            Cities are weighing in against Amazon on these issues as well.  The deputy mayor of Paris for Public Space, Transport, and Mobility had a laundry list of proposals for curtailing Amazon and other delivery operations clogging up the last mile.  Mini-pickup depots that would limit the trucks on the street were a big part of his pitch.  Looking out the window on the train at some of the small whistle stops, this seems to already be happening in some of the English countryside, where we saw two such depots on a train platform, one of which was Amazon’s.  The New York City Comptroller Brad Lander made a big case for the power of the proxy votes he controlled for the city’s retirees and their ability to pressure Amazon and other companies on workers’ rights and wages.

            So, I get it now.  None of this makes organizing Amazon workers that much easier today on the road or in the warehouse, but the prospects of opening new fronts in the fight are encouraging and will support the direct organizing.  Just as we learned in our FDI Watch Campaign in India when we were targeting Walmart and other big global multi-brand retail operations successfully, workers and communities need many allies and in dealing with a huge outfits like Amazon, Walmart, and others.

            We truly to need to see a “thousand flowers bloom” to ever have a chance of winning.