October 28, 2014

Amazon’s German labor union still not backing down, calls for strike again


The Amazon logistics center at Leipzig, one of five included in the strike. Image via Wikipedia.

The Amazon logistics center at Leipzig, one of five included in the strike. Image via Wikipedia.

In a brutal case of deja vu, Amazon employees at German fulfillment centers are on strike yet again. We’ve followed the German labor struggle with Amazon since it began, most recently the strike of 2,000 workers just over a month ago. As the year and a half fight between Amazon and labor union Ver.di stretches on into the winter, neither side is blinking.

Bloomberg’s report goes into some detail on the planned action, though there are no reports thus far of how many employees plan to participate in the strike. Ver.di plans to stagger the strike during the first half of the week over five different fulfillment centers. Amazon, on the occasions they can be bothered to comment, has always downplayed both the numbers of striking workers and the strikes’ effect on customers, and they appear to be continuing this practice.

“The strike action hasn’t had an impact on Amazon keeping its delivery promise,” the company said in an e-mailed statement. “A large majority of employees are working normally.”

Ver.di is still fighting for a collective bargaining agreement, which Amazon doesn’t like at all. Part of the agreement is the union’s assertion that Amazon’s workers should be classified as retail labor, versus logistics labor, as this designation is what currently allows Amazon to legally keep wages low. It’s also what Amazon cites when they issue blithe statements saying workers should be glad for what they get paid and for the labor/management interface that already exists. An interface which, as Ver.di points out in the Bloomberg piece, amounts to little more than divide and conquer, with more part-time and contract hiring and a greater focus on individual and small-group negotiation.

As the year drags on, Ver.di and the employees carry the disappointment that previous strikes did not lead to progress, as well as the uncomfortable notion that Ver.di doesn’t retain the support of all the employees they advocate for. But the timing of this strike matters. As the year draws to a close, Deutsche Welle recently reported that the economic and business climate in Germany is lousy and set to get lousier. Amazon is shoring up their cloud computing concerns in Germany while they get set to hire the largest ever crop of holiday temps and expand into other, union-poor European countries—growth, of course, being Amazon’s go-to reaction whenever they sense a fight, or the possibility of yet another holiday strike.

But growth alone’s not enough to please investors anymore, if the financial world’s reaction to Amazon’s recent quarterly report is any indication. The stakes of this strike are extremely high for the workers who risk their livelihood, but they’re getting steadily higher for Amazon as well.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.