Oct 13, 2020
Amazon workers in Germany are marking Prime Day--the massive annual sale event being held on Tuesday and Wednesday--by striking for better pay, safer working conditions, and the right to organize free from the e-commerce company's pervasive surveillance and harassment.
"Amazon workers in Germany and everywhere are fighting for better pay and decent working conditions, but they also expect to keep their constitutional rights intact and have private conversations without Big Brother watching over as they organize online."
--Christy Hoffman, UNI Global Union
Warehouse workers in the cities of Leipzig, Bad Hersfeld, Rheinberg, Werne, Graben, and Koblenz are participating in the strike, which was organized by ver.di, a German labor union, CNBCreported Tuesday.
Ver.di union secretary Andre Scheer expects thousands of Amazon employees to take part in the strike, which overlaps with an especially busy time for the company's warehouses as a result of the Prime Day surge in bargain purchases.
The Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, used Prime Day as an opportunity to remind people that Jeff Bezos has become $73 billion richer during the pandemic alone.
Christy Hoffman, general secretary of the UNI Global Union, said in a statement that "Amazon has failed to ensure workers' safety, and we fear that an influx of orders and the grueling Prime Day pace will make a bad situation even worse."
According to an Amazon spokesperson, "Today our teams are doing what they do every day--delivering for their customers in an environment that's fun, engaging, and set up to help them succeed."
Questioning the motives of striking workers, the spokesperson added that "we already offer excellent pay, excellent benefits, and excellent opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment."
But critics of the e-commerce giant painted a different picture of the company's exploitative practices, particularly its surveillance and repression of the organizing efforts of its workers.
CNBCreported that union leaders from ver.di are "concerned about the 'spying' tactics that Amazon is allegedly using to clamp down on labor activists."
In September, Amazon posted and then deleted two job postings for "intelligence analysts," whose duties would include tracking "labor organizing threats" and monitoring "hostile political leaders."
"Amazon's own annual reports have identified the existence of labor unions as a risk factor in their international operations."
--Michael Kleinman, Amnesty International
After European Union lawmakers sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos last week asking if he was spying on workers, trade unionists, and left-wing political representatives, a spokesperson for the company claimed that "the job post was not an accurate description of the role--it was made in error and has since been corrected."
"Amazon workers in Germany and everywhere are fighting for better pay and decent working conditions," said Hoffman, "but they also expect to keep their constitutional rights intact and have private conversations without Big Brother watching over as they organize online."
Orhan Akman, ver.di national specialist for the retail and e-commerce sectors, toldCNBC that "it is unacceptable for a company to flout the law."
A statement released Tuesday by Amnesty International cited Recode reporting from last week based on a leaked internal memo the news outlet obtained, which detailed plans by Amazon to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to monitor union "threats," including use of a new technology system called "geoSPatial Operating Console."
"While Amazon did not comment on whether the memo was genuine," noted Amnesty, "its spokesperson told Recode that the company respects 'employees' right to join, form or not to join a labor union or other lawful organization of their own selection, without fear of retaliation, intimidation or harassment.'"
But additional internal Amazon documents obtained in September by Vice News demonstrate that "the company has been secretly monitoring and analyzing workers' private Facebook groups, including for the purpose of tracking plans for strike action or protests."
"While Amazon claims that they respect workers' right to join and form trade unions, it has not publicly disavowed the claims about surveillance and tracking of worker organizing and labour union activity," Amnesty said.
The human rights group "is alarmed by the growing evidence in recent months that Amazon is interfering with workers' rights to organize, and investing significant resources in monitoring workers and the perceived 'threat' of potential trade union activity," said Michael Kleinman, the Director of Amnesty International's Silicon Valley Initiative. "Amazon's own annual reports have identified the existence of labor unions as a risk factor in their international operations."
"International human rights law is clear that everyone has the right to form and join the trade union of their choice, and that trade unions play a fundamental role in ensuring respect for the right to work, including the right to just and favorable conditions of work," said the human rights group.
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