Amazon European warehouse workers walk out on Black Friday

Union walkouts at Amazon warehouse across Europe were planned for Black Friday as workers protested "inhuman" working conditions and being "treated like robots."


This isn't the first time Amazon has dealt with this sort of issue. In July, thousands of the company's Europe-based workers went on strike during Prime Day; a move they hoped would earn them better working conditions and improved pay.

This time around, protesters have similar goals. "It is one of the days that Amazon has most sales, and these are days when we can hurt more and make ourselves be heard," said Amazon employee Eduardo Hernandez in a statement to the Associated Press (AP). "Because the company has not listened to us and does not want to reach any agreement."

According to AP, union groups representing Amazon Spain's warehouse workers say "around 90 percent" of employees working at a "logistics depot" near Madrid did not turn up to work on Friday.

Amazon has reportedly disputed that number, stating that most employees did indeed show up as scheduled. Employees in Germany and Britain are also walking out or planning to walk out, over the course of Black Friday.

Whether or not these bold moves will pay off remains to be seen. Amazon has been battling with labor groups and disgruntled workers for years now, and not much in the way of progress seems to have been made.

The Guardian reports that workers may have a point about "unsafe working conditions."

A Freedom of Information request to ambulance services from the GMB union revealed 115 call-outs to Amazon’s site in Rugeley, near Birmingham, including three relating to pregnancy or maternity problems and three for major trauma.

There were also two call-outs to the site for electric shocks and eight for people who had fallen unconscious. At least 1,800 people work year-round at the Rugeley warehouse and more than 2,000 more can work over the peak Christmas period.

That compares to only eight calls in total to a nearby Tesco warehouse of a similar physical size and where about 1,300 people work, over the same period, according to another FOI request by the union.

Amazon said it was “simply not correct to suggest that we have unsafe working conditions based on this data or on unsubstantiated anecdotes. Requests for ambulance services at our fulfilment centres are predominantly associated with personal health events and are not work related. Nevertheless, ambulance visits at our UK fulfilment centres last year was 0.00001 per worked hour, which is dramatically low.”

Warehouse work is notoriously low paying, but is it really as dangerous as the figures suggest? The Guardian reports that there were 600 calls for ambulance service over the last 3 years. That's a lot, no matter if they were "work-related" or not.

But in the end, the warehouse workers are in exactly the same boat as fast food workers here in America. In ten years, Amazon warehouse workers will be robots - the real thing, not a union rhetorical contrivance. The machines will work faster, more intelligently, and, most importantly, won't talk back to the boss or demand better pay and working conditions.

It is worrisome that very little thought is being given to what our economy will look like in the near future, with driverless cars and trucks as well as machines doing work currently being performed by minimum wage workers. Some politicians will look to slow the transition to an automated work force, but eventually, they will have to accept the inevitable. 

This revolution is already underway and it's time that government, industry, and all interested parties start thinking very seriously about what the US will look like with 20-40% permanent unemployment rate.

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