As shoppers around the world went out in droves last weekend looking for the best Black Friday deals, Amazon workers took to the streets to demand a deal of their own. Across the US, UK and EU, employees from Jeff Bezos’ e-commerce titan carried out an unofficial workers strike on Friday, November 26th in protest of the harsh working conditions at Amazon’s distribution centres.
While Amazon employees are not unionized and therefore are not legally allowed to strike, the message of the unofficial strike was loud and clear. “Amazon takes too much and gives back too little” said the Make Amazon Pay Group – an organized group of workers and activists whose mission is to “make Amazon pay fair wages, taxes and for its impact on the planet."
The strikers called for better pay and treatment for warehouse workers, along with improved benefits, and that the company put an end to both the “casual” employment status as well as its invasive employee surveillance protocols.
Throughout the years, Amazon has come under fire for its harsh, often inhumane treatment of employees. Pay and benefits are so low at the company that a 2020 report by the US Government Accountability Office found that over 4 000 Amazon employees across nine different states were on food stamps, and that some were even homeless despite working full time. Furthermore, the company’s productivity targets are so aggressive and difficult to attain that delivery drivers are often forced to urinate in bottles in their trucks so as to not lose time. Amazon drivers have also complained that the company’s “invasive and dystopian” worker surveillance technology is abusive and leaves drivers with “zero privacy and no margin for error."
It wasn’t just Amazon workers, though, who protested Bezos’ e-commerce giant on Black Friday. Climate activists across the world protested outside of Amazon distribution centres – some even blocking entrances and exits to prevent the company from making deliveries.
"Amazon and companies like it have capitalized on our desire for convenience and stoked rampant consumerism at the expense of the natural world,” said environmental activist group ‘The Extinction Rebellion’. The group blocked 13 Amazon warehouses across the UK on Black Friday in protest of the day, stating that it “epitomizes an obsession with overconsumption that is not consistent with a liveable planet."
In total, protests aimed at Amazon took place in 20 different countries spanning 6 continents on Black Friday.
In support of the strikers, the Green Party of the US released a déclaration on Black Friday stating that the party “stands in solidarity with Amazon workers around the world as they strike for better pay and working conditions.” The party continued to speak out throughout the day against the environmental impacts of consumerism, releasing a second statement an hour later advocating for the Green New Deal and calling for a boycott of Black Friday.