ISSUE NO.3 – FEBRUARY 2016
￼WORKERS￼WILD￼WEST ￼￼￼￼ISSUE #3 –
FREE NEWSPAPER FOR GREENFORD, PARK ROYAL, SOUTHALL, HEATHROW WORKERS OF THE WORLD, STOP MOANING, START THE RUCKUS!
For .PDF click here: WWW ed3
1) EDITORIAL: PARIS, ALEPPO, BAGHDAD – THEIR WARS, OUR DEAD!
2) DAYS OF DAY LABOUR – WORK EXPERIENCES FROM AGENCIES ‘CLEANEVENT’ AND ‘OLYMPIA STAFF’
3) MESSING WITH THE DRIVERS! WINCANTON/SAINSBURY’S TRANSPORT OFFICE, GREENFORD
4) WHAT ARE WE SCARED OF? WAREHOUSE WORKERS STRUGGLES IN ITALY
5) WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE: WORKING AND STRUGGLING AT – POLAND & GERMANY
6) REBEL CITY! – NEWS AND VIEWS FROM LONDON TOWN
7) AT THE DEAD-END OF THE RUNWAY – REPORT ABOUT WORKING AT AIRLINE CATERER
8) WHAT IS THIS PAPER ABOUT?
Things were pretty grim in 2015. The attacks in Paris, thousands of people drowning in the Mediterranean trying to reach safety from war and poverty, tension between NATO-states and Russia, police state measures in France and Belgium, more austerity announcements by the UK government… what to make of it all?
It’s not just about religion, and not only about oil
Ever since Britain and France were colonial powers, all big states and corporations have wanted a piece of the oil cake in the Middle East. Their political and military leaders were happy to kill thousands of civilians to get it. This is still true and can explain the Gulf wars in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since 2008 the economic system has gone into a deep crash. Movements in all countries started which questioned those in power – the 1%, governments and big business – and their blatant corruption. During 2010-11 people took over squares and public space in the USA, Spain, Tunis, Aleppo, Cairo, Istanbul. They said, “Enough is enough, we want a fairer society” and, “No to corruption and austerity!” All of these governments came down hard on the protestors. Tear gas and water cannon became a familiar sight on the news. Western and non-Western governments helped each other out: the US sent ship-loads of teargas to the Egyptian military to repress protestors in Tahrir Square and the UK government trained the police in Greece in how to control the people on the streets. State repression in Syria has now led to civil war. The fact that the movements ‘for a fairer society’ were beaten down opened up more space for the religious fundamentalists: if there is no future on earth, there must be in heaven. ISIS and other religious wannabe leaders want to isolate ‘Muslims’, by putting suicide belts on poor guys from the suburbs to blow up other poor ‘infidels’. They hope that islamophobic attacks will polarize society and push people further into their hands.
Their system is in crisis: war and ‘terror’ helps them maintain their power through fear
Since the global financial crisis in 2008 those in power have wanted to save their profit system at all costs. While pumping money into companies and banks, they have nothing to offer poor workers and the employed except wage freezes and cuts to social benefits. And this during a time where new technology and knowledge could provide a good life for everyone on this planet. They are facing increasing discontent ‘on the home front’. The only way to keep us loyal to their state is through fear and war. Both sides of the current ‘war’ – the Islamist leaders and the state leaders in France, Turkey and Britain etc. – want us to live in fear. State leaders in Europe try to use both the attacks like the ones in Paris and the ‘refugee crisis’ against us.
Don’t trust the powers!
When it comes to war and terrorist threats we can’t trust any nation state, religious or business leader, because they have all helped to create this mess! Some examples: the US-state supported the Taliban during the 1980s, and in fact the Bush and Bin Laden families were brokering business deals with each other just before Bin Laden was named global enemy number 1. And while Turkey’s elite is formally supposed to be fighting against ISIS, at the same time they’re making good money buying cheap oil from them. The British state and weapon industry sells missiles to the Saudi army,
while billionaires in Saudi Arabia back Islamist militias like ISIS. And like the Gulf wars in 1991 and 2003, the current attacks by the Russian and NATO army lay the groundwork for future terrorist attacks: Russian bombs slaughtered over 2,000 civilians during the last three months of 2015. So we won’t gather behind French state leaders and their flag – a flag under which thousands of people have been killed in attempts to oppress French colonies in Algeria and elsewhere…
A permanent state of emergency: not becoming paranoid, while they are out to get us!
After the Paris attacks the French and Belgian state has tried to enforce a state of emergency, which has meant banning people from gathering in public. Nevertheless, in Belgium planned strikes against austerity took place despite the state lockdown. And in France people continued to demonstrate for the rights of refugees and migrants and against the destruction of the environment. We can see how surveillance and other ‘anti-terror’ measures are slowly being extended to curb social discontent of the poor, be it in the form of widespread ‘blacklisting’ of ‘trouble-makers’ or small cases like the Lidl worker who got sacked after posting critical comments about Lidl on Facebook…
Using the ‘refugees’ to excuse the housing crisis, the NHS crisis, the low wages, the
floods in Cumbria…
‘Refugees’ are people who don’t want to fight and die – for Assad nor ISIS, or other power hungry warlords. Instead of becoming killers, getting killed or starving to death, they try to get away. In their shoes, we would try and do the same. This is why we should support them. The state tries to use them to create pressure on us: ”They’ll cost you money”, “They’ll work for peanuts”.
In Germany, in the shadow of the politicians’ ‘Welcome’ media show, the bosses association (led by the fraudster Vokswagen management) are demanding the lowering of the minimum wage to ‘finance’ the refugees. The ‘refugee crisis’ becomes a smoke screen behind which the state continues the attack on our work and living conditions: in the UK the plan is to extend housing and unemployment benefit restrictions from EU-migrants to UK-citizens under 25, while at the same time working tax credits are under attack…
Although it smells like old socks: Workers of the world unite!
We must refuse to help dig our own graves – they can get lost with their national and religious propaganda! We have to break down the barriers where we live and where we work. This starts on the job and wherever else poor people come together: a basic, daily solidarity between all those who have to sell their hands and minds for money and who struggle to survive. Let’s struggle for higher wages and freedom for all, instead of allowing bosses and the state to create an ‘illegal labour market’ for the new migrants (maintained through the occasional police raid)! We won’t accept their high-security minimum wage regime nor their zero-hours future! We can struggle for and create a better society without exploitation, stock market crashes and bomb scares! No to Sharia law! Racists get lost! No to a law-and- order police state!
2) DAYS OF DAY LABOUR – WORK EXPERIENCES FROM AGENCIES ‘CLEANEVENT’ AND ‘OLYMPIA STAFF’
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼During the course of a week I had three different day jobs: each one a different type of work, a different place, with different people. Many of us have to deal with this kind of job- hopping nowadays. We are thrown into new situations again and again and there is little time to get to know our co-workers. The agencies and companies can use this situation to squeeze us for low wages. While we might not give a damn about the job if it is for only one day, we still have to pretend to work hard to stay on the agency’s books for future work. Not knowing how much work we’ll get each week also means we often miss out on possible welfare benefits: who will sign on for 4 days if you have to fight for three weeks with the job centre to get it?!
In order to improve our conditions, we have to talk to each other. But this takes time and can be hard to do at work, especially when we are constantly changing jobs. So it’s important to link up after and between jobs: exchange phone numbers or email addresses, keep in touch, inform each other about conditions at other jobs and try to figure out how we can put pressure on the companies to get out of this rat-race!
If you want to link up and/ or tell other people about your experiences, drop us a mail: email@example.com
*** Harrow Green – removing the Home Office
The ‘Olympia Staff’ temp agency in Ealing offers casual employment in warehouses, cleaning, restaurants etc. To get work you have to call up at 16:00 the day before to see if there’s anything for the next day. The agency has ‘clients’ all over London. My job involved being shipped all the way from Ealing Broadway in the west to Stratford in the east. I’d be working for a massive removal company called ‘Harrow Green’ who were hired to move an office – computers, furniture etc. to another block.
I left the agency at 05:00, just myself, the driver and another porter, and arrived at the company yard at around 06:15. We waited in the locker room for about an hour-and-a-half while more people filtered in, with most of the temps looking like zombies. In the waiting room people sat in their language groups, with the guys from Romania all huddled together (they tended to be a mix of young and old) and the native speakers sitting together (who were mostly younger). Then the foreman came in and started calling the first names. We then got mini-bussed to Fleet Street to move what ended up being a Home Office department to another building.
The job was done in teams of 20 shifting all this office stuff into the van. It took about 1.5 hrs to move all of it. Then we hopped in the minibus and drove to this other office we were moving the stuff to. We worked for about 4hrs straight transporting all these filing cabinets to the 5th floor and when we eventually finished at around 13:30 we had to hang around until 16:00 before the foreman signed off with the client and we could bugger off back home.
There were many instances of racism, both open and subtle, that I saw during the day. The dirty looks that the workmates from Romania got when speaking Romanian. The fact that it was assumed that the black guy smoked weed. The comment by the receptionist when she misunderstood the worker from Poland (‘speak proper English or get out the country’). Conversation between the workers would inevitably centre around how crap the job was, but their anger was often channelled away from
the bosses towards complaining about ‘lazy’ workmates who didn’t work as hard as them but still got paid the same. Who works hard and who doesn’t was often expressed in nationalist or racist stereotypes: ‘this group of people works hard, these guys don’t’ blah blah…Perhaps people felt more pressured because we were told that once we’d finished delivering the stuff for the client we could go home – which was obviously just a ploy to make us work faster. And a porter had apparently been told he would be made a permanent worker with a higher wage and overtime bonus – another fantasy carrot!
*** Wembley warehouse – picking toy dolls
Another job I had for the same agency, ‘Olympia Staff’ was in a toy warehouse in Wembley. It involved moving heaving stock around to try and make room for a delivery that was scheduled to arrive later that day. The workforce was majority Polish (all male) and the bosses were Indian. This caused some tensions as the day wore on and people became tired. The English guy I was working with muttered about how the Indians were always trying to squeeze every last drop out of you, which was true but applied equally to the cockney foreman supervising at Harrow Green.
*** Fulham football Stadium – cleaning up the mess
The third job that week was cleaning a football stadium after a match – picking up the rubbish, mopping the floor and cleaning the toilets. The work was through a massive outsourcing company ‘Cleanevent’, which provides cleaning for large events (football stadiums, concerts, etc). There were 20 cleaners thoroughly cleaning the stadium and all of them were 1st or 2nd generation migrants.
The job was organised in a very mechanical way. Each worker was given a specific task such as mopping the bathroom floor which they had to repeat over and over (there are 26 toilets). This made the work more efficient, but it also meant aching limbs and a danger of repetitive strain syndrome. A supervisor would frequently be watching over you to make sure the task was being done quickly enough. In spite of this, the workers were in good spirits, which made the job bearable. In particular, four older female workers took their time chatting to each other and joking – thankfully, they weren’t too intimidated by the supervisors.
￼￼For a while, I worked in the transport office at the Sainsbury’s/ Wincanton warehouse in Greenford. My job was to track the deliveries (and the drivers) to make sure they got to the supermarkets on time. When I moved from being a picker in the warehouse to the office, everyone said, “Great! You’re moving to the office! That’s a big step up!” But it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. For starters, the pay was the same miserable £6.70 temp agency wage that I was getting before. Then, I was surrounding by managers, including all those who had bossed us around and treated us like feral kids when I was picking in the warehouse. Then, there was the 6am starts and 12-hour shifts. And last, and worst, was the fact that essentially, they wanted me to spy on the drivers. How? Well, their lorry was fitted with a GPS tracking system that was attached to my computer, so I could see exactly where they were and how long they’d been there. If I noticed they weren’t moving along fast enough, I had to give them a call and find out why.
I was no stranger to being spied on. Being a warehouse picker meant wearing a ‘watch’ which told you what to pick and where to put it, and told the managers how fast you were picking. This got turned into a number that measured your productivity. A low number meant that your shift might be cancelled the next day…so no long toilet breaks for us! Knowing what it’s like for your every step to be monitored, I wasn’t keen to start spying on and hassling drivers, most of whom were experienced in their jobs and didn’t need me looking over their shoulder. When I said I was uncomfortable with that, I was told, “You better get comfortable with that!”
Spy in the Cab…
It doesn’t stop at GPS tracking. There was a dispute at a elevator company called Kone in May 2015 where 300 engineering service workers went on strike against software in drivers’ cabs. It was being used to verify time-sheets and site arrival and leaving times – even though
the information it was collecting was unreliable. A union spokesperson said:
“Evidence has shown the mileage recorded by VAMS [vehicle access management system]
for business or private use is not accurate and exaggerates the amount of mileage being completed. It is ‘a spy in the cab’ that does not function properly, so it is understandable that our members are angry. This will lead to employees being wrongly assessed for private mileage, and could lead to wrong deductions from wages and ultimately disciplinary situations.”
The 2-week strike was called off a few days in when a deal was reached – basically measures were drawn up to make sure inaccurate information wouldn’t be used. It is interesting to note that the software is still being used and the union said it wasn’t against the principle of VAMS when used for health and safety purposes. But the fact is, most of this driver software and cab technology is being used and legitimised under the guise of health and safety – when the convenient side-effect of monitoring and surveillance is probably more of an incentive. After all, driver shifts that are normally between 12 and 14 hours probably have more of an effect on ‘driver safety’ in terms of fatigue but this is rarely a cause for management’s concern and intervention!
The latest generation of surveillance technology is more far-reaching in scope than GPS and speed controls. It is being developed mainly to increase productivity. The most controversial are things like cameras inside the cab facing the driver to see if a driver is slacking off or making unauthorized stops. To minimise the chances of drivers and unions contesting them, they are brought in stealthily and under the pretext of ‘health and safety’. It is harder to argue for ‘privacy’ on the job when management defends the use of cameras for evidence in fatal accidents (HGVs are involved in 52% of fatal accidents despite only making up 10% of motorway traffic).
The fact is, drivers across the board are worse off today than they were ten years ago. Even though there is a shortage of drivers in the UK, it hasn’t translated into better pay and conditions. Why? Because of subcontracting arrangements that has meant more competition amongst logistics and haulage companies and drivers being squeezed. Having some permanent drivers, some agency drivers and some self-employed drivers all working for one company hasn’t made it easier to come together and organise ourselves against the bosses. But it can be done. Back in 1996 and 1997 in France and Spain, tens of thousands of truck drivers who were pissed off about wages and conditions blockaded ports, fuel depots and roads to big factories. In Spain, 75% of the drivers were self-employed and in France, only 10% of them were in a union. But still, they managed to coordinate informally amongst themselves to cause mass disruption – their actions meant that German car factories had to stop production because they didnt have the parts they needed. And they won concessions from the government. In Russia more recently (November 2015), the government had to backtrack on a HGV tax because truckers staged mass protests on the roads.
“There’s 50 people outside going mental!”
The strikes in France and Spain show us that atomisation and control can be overcome. And the situation in general since then has gotten worse, not just for truckers, but all workers. At the Sainsbury’s warehouse, pickers employed through the temp agency, Templine, worked slow for one day to try and put pressure on the managers to give more money and guaranteed shifts. But it was always going to be difficult to do this alone. In December 2014 some of us temp workers invited our friends to come to Greenford and give out a leaflet addressing the drivers at Sainsbury’s. We wanted to tell them that we were fed up, that we had made some demands to management and might need their support in future. Drivers and pickers rarely mixed, and unless they were in the canteen at the same time, occupied two separate parts of the warehouse. So passing information onto the drivers was difficult, which is why we thought a leaflet would get the point across. We had a few drivers email us in solidarity but it didn’t lead to anything more…
So how can drivers, in particular within the supermarket chains, develop more collective power? Drivers potentially have a lot of power because they’re needed to get things from A to B. But as conditions worsen across the board – for drivers, office permanents and warehouse agency staff – our only chance, if we don’t just want very small and symbolic actions – is to do something together. The union, which, in our experience maintains these dividing lines between different groups of workers, won’t be proactive in this. We are all being outsourced, we all have weak unions, we’re all on different work contracts for doing the same job, being driven to work harder and more ‘efficiently’ for less pay, we’re being spied on. Unless we reach out to other drivers (permanents, agency and self-employed), and unless we link up with the warehouse crews, food production workers or supermarket staff, our struggles will be harder to win.
WINCANTON MANAGEMENT’S 10-POINT PLAN TO BREAK DRIVERS’ POWER!
1. Spy on drivers to try and catch them out e.g. hide behind the bushes and pounce when a driver doesn’t use his totally unnecessary straps; have all vehicles fitted with online tracking devices to make sure we know where the drivers are at all times. Try and stress drivers’ out individually by calling them up and hassling them to make them know they’re always being watched!
2. Cut down time-wasting and limit the time drivers have to talk to each other e.g. make the waiting area seats hard and uncomfortable! No unnecessary lounging about!
3. Divide-and-rule: try not to piss everyone off at the same time cos they might come together and put up a better fight – go for one group at a time e.g. don’t try and cut the shunters’ hours at the same time as you want to introduce new surveillance equipment in the lorries. This is a recipe for trouble!
4. Never admit your long-term plans for screwing people over – do things bit by bit. If you are challenged that you are e.g. cutting hours so that you can, in the future, have less shunters in the yard on each shift, just say they are being paranoid!
5. Always LIE to Sainsbury’s about the reason deliveries are late. NEVER tell the actual truth.
Top managers must sign-off on the exact lie we’re telling e.g. “traffic on the A406 and A205” (always a popular one!) or “driver blow-out” (when we can’t think of any other reason.)
6. Pressurise drivers into returning to work when they’re off work with a workplace injury – we don’t want to get a RIDDOR, be investigated and look bad! Downgrade injuries e.g. call ‘cracked ribs’ ‘sore ribs’. Get a manager or two to turn up at the driver’s house when they’re off to exert pressure.
7. Never presume a driver knows how best to do
his job (even though he’s the one that actually does his job). So for example: have de-briefs at the end of each shift and make drivers account for every minute of their shift; monitor drivers’ performance to try and squeeze even more out of them and then display the results – in order – on the wall to create a sense of competition rather than solidarity.
8. Driver solidarity – especially between agency and permanent drivers – needs to be discouraged at all costs, so pay them differently and give them different levels of training before they start the job.
9. Try and undermine peoples’ skills to make them feel like they are disposable e.g. introduce software for shunters so that a machine tells them where to go and what to do for the sake of ‘efficiency’.
10. Who do they think they are? Grown men?! Give them that school kid feeling e.g. deduct pay if people clock in more than 3 minutes late. We need more discipline!
￼￼How many times have we heard our co-workers say that we can’t do anything about our bad conditions? That we’ll get fired. That things will never change. That other people won’t do anything…
Six or seven years ago, warehouse workers in Italy were saying the same thing. Most of them had gone to Italy from North Africa, Eastern Europe or South Asia. Their residency status is linked to their job so they have good reason to be scared: if they got fired, many of them would lose the right to stay in Italy…
But since 2010 things have changed. Warehouse workers at companies like DHL, TNT and IKEA have started to organise themselves. A minority of them were going on strike and getting supporters to blockade the gates so that lorries can’t get in or out. Since then, other workers have joined. They have been causing massive disruption. As a result of their coordinated efforts, by reaching out to other warehouse workers in their area and local supporters, they’ve managed to get pay increases of up to 400 euro per month, guaranteed shifts, sick pay and bullying managers fired. In an ‘age of austerity’, doesn’t sound too bad, does it?!
By building a community of support beyond their own individual companies and various language groups, they’ve even managed to hold a one-day general strike to demand more wages, a slower pace of work and union recognition. The strike in October 2015 was organised by SI Cobas/ADL Cobas, two small worker-led unions. It was largely successful, e.g. after three hours of negotiating at a supermarket warehouse in Milan, the strikers got a permanent contract for everyone from the following Monday…
So how was it possible for workers to stop being so scared? And what can we learn from the experiences in Italy? You can watch a film made about the struggles online at: www. labournet.tv
* Working conditions in Italy
Working conditions in the warehouses in this region were/are bad: people would have to wait for up to 5 hours at the gates to be told whether or not they were needed; some workers had to take a four hour (unpaid) break inside the warehouse before being called to work again; overtime was compulsory and shifts cancelled openly as a punishment if you didn’t work weekends; large, cooperative-owned companies slashed pay by 35% ‘because of the crisis’; some people worked 12 hours and got paid for 4; the work was heavy and back injuries common; as was sexual harassment (for women workers); work discipline/ bullying was rife; payslips were calculated wrongly.
“Everyone was pushed to work faster. There was a supervisor who, day and night, shouted: ‘Come on, come on, come on’, like a broken record! 200 people did the work of 500, so they saved the costs of 300 people. For five years, TNT enjoyed the best productivity levels in Italy but no one went to see under what conditions. The bosses reaped great profits and the workers were badly treated and becoming ill. It’s a mode of slavery. When I suggested to people that we should say no, they would say they couldn’t for fear of losing their job.”
(Mohamed, TNT warehouse worker)
* Struggles and the union
“The first problem was how to unite all the workers of the company to fight the fear together, fight the blackmail of a low income and the threats of losing the job, a constant pressure that has made many of us ill. To rule, they pit us against one another, Italians against foreigners (who are 90% of us), Egyptians against Moroccans. At GLS there were lots of Indians, most of whom speak hardly any Italian and the employer just took advantage of that to exploit us even more. We organised assemblies with the Indian and Chinese workers, we sensed the difference between them and the Arab workers but I said: “Forget where we come from, we are all workers here and we are all being exploited. We just need to concentrate on that.” (Mohamed, TNT worker)
SI Cobas, which is a rank-and-file union, made a strategic decision to make contacts with workers in this sector. They’re a union that stands for self-organisation that goes beyond particular professions or sectors. When a worker or a group of workers who want to do something against their conditions approach them, SI Cobas tell them to organise a strike – no matter if it’s only a minority of workers. The union then brings supporters to the gates and link them up with other warehouse workers in the area. They also take care of legal strike procedures.
“The people from the big warehouses went to those in the small warehouses and told them they had won in the struggle for their rights, and that they are not alone. If they needed support from the other warehouses they would all come and help. That’s how it happened in Piacenza, at IKEA. There were only few people who protested and took part in the strike, just 10 out of 300 workers there! Only 10 went on strike. But people from other warehouses came to support the struggle!” (Karim, SI Cobas delegate and warehouse worker)
“A one-day blockade at the IKEA store in Piacenza ‘means that goods are not loaded onto trucks. These do not arrive on time for the ships, producing a delay in deliveries at destinations in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. A one-day blockade blows up the organisation of the entire process, and in order to restart it companies must wait at least ten days, causing a lot of economic damage, as well as incalculable damage to their image…In a warehouse where fresh food is stored, a four- hour blockade means 2-300.000 Euros lost. (Aldo, SI Cobas organiser)
Management try and get around their blockading tactics but so far, SI Cobas have done quite a good job in adapting their strategies accordingly:
￼￼“Take the example of DHL in Italy: When this struggles began we had some problems. When workers blocked a DHL warehouse in Milano, DHL closed it and took the commodities to other warehouses, in Bologna, Naples, or elsewhere. They close the warehouse in Milano temporarily until the workers get bored and go home. But these workers did not wait until the gates were reopened but drove to the warehouses in other cities and distributed flyers there. They persuaded the DHL workers in other cities to join the struggle. And immediately, in less than one month, there were banners everywhere and the whole camp was in struggle.” (Karim, delegate and worker)
Many of the struggles have lasted a long time: anywhere from 2 months to a year-and-a-half in the case of the strike at big milk and dairy manufacturer, Granarolo. Obviously, in a situation like London, surviving for this long on no pay would be tough. In places like Bologna, they were able to do this partly because of squats that local groups of activists organise on a large scale. Not having to pay rent and bills definitely takes off the pressure and can open up the space for action. An old Telecom building housed more than 300 people (mainly migrant families).
“So we started to build a militant movement, not only in the logistics sector. The logistics workers often go to demonstrations for housing rights and also support other sectors. They don’t just focus on the logistics sector. Now they help the metal workers, too. They have already helped the hotel workers.” (Karim, delegate and worker)
*(Legal) differences between Italy and the UK
There are differences in terms of labour/ trade union laws, so for example, in Italy the SI Cobas union managed to grow because they used the fact that official union delegates have 8 hours a month facility time. Delegates used this time to go to other warehouses and agitate/ speak to workers there. It’s difficult to imagine a Unite rep here doing that! In Italy, they also have a national wage agreement for the logistics sector. While this is mainly just a piece of paper, with enough actual pressure and a balance of power in workers’ favour, it has been accepted by some bosses – mainly at the bigger multinational companies.
Maybe another reason things kicked off in Italy was that the workers found it easier to come together against the bosses. This was firstly because they were in the same boat: they were all casual workers with no chance of becoming permanent. In the UK, it’s probably more difficult to come together because in our experience, agencies actively dangle the carrot of the permanent contract to keep workers loyal and working fast. “Just work hard and you’ll be made permanent.” So workers don’t want to risk doing something together.
And secondly, in Italy, the ‘us’ and ‘them’ feeling was probably stronger because the workforce was split more along the lines of managers being ‘Italian’ and all the workers occupying the ‘migrant’ roles. Whereas in the UK, shop-floor managers and supervisors are often the same nationality as the workers, meaning, from England, Poland, India etc. This means that workers whose English is poor, tend to have a better relationship with their managers who they can speak to in their native language, than their workmate from a different country.
To what extent can blockades work?
Over time, as SI Cobas grew and more warehouses were blockaded, the police started showing up more regularly and in bigger numbers. Many activists have been banned from whole towns and cities. A blockade might be necessary under certain circumstances, but in the end a longer-term strategy would need to focus on how we can build day-to-day collective steps at work.
To what extent can you rely on delegates?
There is one delegate for eighty workers. The militant workers are ‘delegates’ for SI Cobas, which means that they can leave work for their union activities without facing the immediate threat of being sacked. We could see the potential for the gap between the delegates and workers to grow wider, as they spend less and less time at work, take on more union responsibilities and are treated like heroes everywhere they go. These people easily burn out, are targeted by the police or get bought by the bosses.
*What can we learn and do?
We have to build a solidarity network of people from different workplaces here in
west London. If people have problems at their job or with their landlord or job centre, the others can come and support them. You can see how workers in Italy can now hold their heads high, how people have started to trust each other – while we in London still largely live in fear and in a dog-eat-dog atmosphere. If you want to join our solidarity network, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼It seemed that Amazon had some trouble hiring the 19,000 temps it needed across the UK for the Christmas rush in 2015. Temp agencies in Greenford were offering up to £9 an hour (up from £7.50 last year), as well as a £250 ‘joining bonus’ for people on weekend shifts and £150 for those on weekday shifts at Milton Keynes and Hemel Hempstead warehouses. They were also offering free buses to get there and payment for the commuting time. They were fishing in the big pool of migrant workers in our area, dangling the carrot of £500 per week (five 10-hour shifts plus paid travel time) – a good deal when you compare it to the £250 a week we get for a regular 40-hour minimum wage job.
But by now, most of the hired Christmas temps will have been let go. There have been TV exposés about the stressful working conditions and cut-throat work culture but unions have been locked out and workers have, up till now, not made any visible stands against the bosses. We can’t rely on the media to ‘shame’ companies to improve our situation, as this rarely works. Workers are not helpless victims that need rescuing by middle class do-gooders. We are the ones that can apply the real pressure – because we do the work and have the power to make the money for the bosses and shareholders – or not…
So where do we start when thinking about ways to take on a giant like Amazon? Well, some friends of ours started working and struggling for better wages and conditions at the Amazon warehouse in Sady, near Poznan in Poland, which opened in 2014 – while others we know have been supporting Amazon workers on strike in Germany. We think we can learn from workers’ experiences in Poland and Germany. They have already started to work together to coordinate their actions, knowing that if they don’t, management will play them off against each other. Striking workers in Germany recently met up with their fellow-workers in Poland who are organising through rank-and-file union,Workers’ Initiative (IP), to discuss their common situation.
If Amazon workers in the UK (or other warehouse workers who are part of bigger multinational companies) want to do something collectively and effectively, hooking up with their brothers and sisters abroad will be necessary in the long-run…
21st century exploitation is global…
Walmart, IKEA, Amazon, Apple … these companies are symbols of what the future has to offer. They are modern, multi-billion pound profit companies. Their business success is based on the fact that management is globally organised and can exploit workers wherever they find the most profitable conditions and play workers off against each other – especially workers from areas with high unemployment. What seems like ‘greed’ by multinational corporations is just the healthy expression of the general rules of the system we live in: reduce costs and wages, use technology to squeeze workers, and increase profits and/or share value.
Dollar, dollar bill y’all!
Amazon employs over 180,000 permanent people in its offices and 173 warehouses around the world. Amazon only announced their first profits in July 2015. Up until then the company had only recorded losses – and it has been around for twenty years! This is because any money they make has not been recorded as a profit for shareholders but instead it has been used to undercut competitors in the hope of becoming a future monopoly. At the profit announcement, shares surged and Bezos, Amazon’s founder, made $7 billion in 45 minutes. Compare that to the minimum starting rate for the 7,000 Amazon permanent staff in the UK, which is £7.20 per hour, rising to (on average) £8 after 2 years.
Divide and rule
Amazon has to constantly be on guard against their workforce coming together. They are a union- busting company, meaning that they use dirty tricks to keep the unions out. So far in the UK no union has managed to get their foot in the door. But that’s not to say that Amazon could not find ways to cooperate with unions if they had to. So they also try and use a mixed workforce of different language groups, hoping this will prevent workers coming together. For example, at a warehouse in Germany, 44 different nationalities were taken on in 2012’s Christmas season, many of them bussed in from crisis zones like Spain, Greece, Poland and Portugal.
Amazon gobbles jobs
By using new technologies (internet shopping, electronic monitoring of workers in warehouses, robots for picking items) and employing large numbers of people in huge warehouses, Amazon can undercut traditional retail and delivery companies. In this sense Amazon is not creating jobs, but reducing them, e.g. in the US 42,000 jobs were lost in the retail sector in 2012 due to Amazon’s ‘business success’. Postal delivery jobs are also affected: Amazon UK is Royal Mail’s biggest customer, accounting for 6% of all parcels. When Amazon UK announced that that they would use the Connect Group’s infrastucture to deliver parcels themselves in early 2015, the Royal Mail share price went down the drain. Thousands of jobs at Royal Mail are at risk – jobs that are equally threatened by Royal Mail’s ‘internal’ automatisation drive in the sorting offices.
Slave to the rhythm
In a profit-system, higher productivity cuts jobs and turns our lives into a stressful hell. At Amazon toilet breaks are timed and monitored. Management uses a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ system: you get half a strike against your name if you’re one minute late for work. Arm monitors with GPS tell the pickers what and where to pick and and count them down for each item to enforce the productivity target. Squeezing their workers is crucial to their business plan. But they still have problems with their technologies: the Kiva picking robots are not as flexible as humans and still more expensive than cheap labour. Workers in Poland tell us that the conveyor belts clog up regularly. Meaning: they still need us!
Power to (not pity for) the people
The Amazon business model has an internal problem: if you bring thousands of workers close together in big warehouses, apply loads of work pressure and pay them peanuts, then it is only a question of time before trouble starts. If you work in a small book shop you might hate your boss’s guts, but the rest of the world wouldn’t give a toss. If Amazon workers stopped working, the world would be in tears over delayed birthday presents and undelivered sex toys! So it is pretty lame
to portray the Amazon workers as poor victims and semi-robots – this is unfortunately what most of the established trade unions and campaigns do. Amazon does not pay less than other warehouses, working conditions are not so much worse than other warehouses – no need for pity! The difference is that given the size and concentration of Amazon warehouses Amazon workers have potentially more clout – they could create the initial power that many of us are lacking!
Struggles at Amazon: in Germany
Recent struggles at Amazon show that this is not just wishful thinking. In Germany – which is the biggest Amazon market outside the US – eight out of their nine warehouses have lost a total of 80 days to strike action for better wages since May 2013, most recently, this Christmas. The biggest union in Europe, ver. di, have managed to represent a minority of mainly permanent workers there. They want workers to be classified as ‘retail’ workers’, not ‘logistics’ workers because this would mean they earn more money through a national wage agreement. Solidarity groups have formed to support workers. Strikers were invited to university rallies and supporters came to picket-lines
and temporarily blockaded the gates, delaying the orders going out. Officially Amazon did not agree to the demands, but increased wages ‘voluntarily’.
To put pressure on workers in Germany (as well as for future expansion into Eastern Europe), Amazon recently opened new warehouses in Poland (Sady near Poznan and Wroclaw) and Czech Republic, solely to cater for the German market. Many goods are shipped from Germany, sorted
and packaged across the border in Poland and sent back – a big detour and not environmentaly friendly! Sending the goods back and forth makes no sense, but it does from a business point of view: the minimum wage in Czech Republic is 330 Euro per month – around a quarter of workers’ wages in Germany.
There are between 2,000 and 3,000 workers at the Sady, Poznan warehouse, who when it opened, were paid the equivalent of around £1.80 an hour. Agency workers, hired through temp agencies and who make up 50% of the workforce, got the same wage. Standard full- time shifts are four, 10.5 hour days. The company provides buses, which bring workers from different towns up to 50 miles away. Some people spend more then 4 hours a day on a bus, commuting.
Winter of discontent
From the beginning, workers have had problems with wages not being fully paid and often delayed, as well as with a complicated system of bonuses. The finance office is in the Czech Republic and it is difficult to get hold of them. Temp workers decided to speak to the local press, which opened up public debate about the terrible working conditions not only in Amazon but in workplaces in the whole area. Low wages, high productivity targets, bullying, work stress, job insecurity, instant dismissals and the covering up of workplace accidents were also raised by workers. And there was a scam with the ‘productivity bonus’, which was only paid when the basic wage was not met because there was not enough work.
All of this means the company shoots themselves in the foot. This Christmas (2015), Amazon’s plan had been to employ around 6,000 people during the Christmas period (2,000 permanent workers and 4,000 temps). By the time they should have finished recruitment, they were still looking for workers…
Although unemployment across Poland is pretty high, near Poznan where they built the warehouse it is only 4%. Maybe this is why workers there started organising themselves
just after the place opened. Just before Christmas 2014 some workers approached the rank-and-file union, Workers’ Initiative (IP), – who, as it turns out, already had some people working inside the warehouse, to set up a union. There are now 330 members, most of them permanent workers.
Once IP had a small membership inside Amazon, they formally presented the management a list of demands, including:
1. A wage increase to 16 zloty/hour; 2. A seniority bonus of 10% after 12 months, 15% after 24 months;
3. For the time it takes to walk
to and from the break to not be included in the break time – the warehouse is so big that by the time they walk there and back again, there is hardly any actual ‘break time’ left!;
4. An allocation of company shares; 5. Yearly shift plans.
After a few meetings, management refused all of the union’s demands. Amazon aborted negotiations in November 2015.
Acts of resistance
“They say that we should increase productivity by 20%! What do we get in exchange? Some manager on the top will get a nice bonus and we will get a donut.”
In May 2015, just half an year after it opened, 400 workers signed a petition against higher targets. A few months later, a state inspection was carried out at one of the warehouses, confirming the bad conditions that workers had been talking about. As public criticism mounted, Amazon suddenly announced a wage increase: 7% for the assembly line workers and 12.5% for the foremen, i.e. from
13 (£2.20) to 14 zloty (£2.36) and team leaders getting 18 zloty (£3) an hour. But even with the increase, it was still only about a third of what workers in Germany get. The threat of simultaneous acts of resistance at Amazon in Poland and Germany created pressure on management. In Poland it meant that workers did actually get a pay rise, although Amazon did not admit workers’ actions had been the real reason, nor was the rise as high as the union were demanding.
You’ll never walk alone..?
Striking Amazon workers in Germany decided to meet up with struggling Amazon workers in Poznan. They knew that if they didn’t coordinate their actions, management would try and undermine them and ultimately they would lose. For example, when workers were on strike in the Leipzig warehouse in Germany, management re-routed deliveries to the warehouse in Poland. Workers in Poland were then asked to work overtime to make up for the work not being done in Germany. They didn’t want to
be scabs, and because some of them had already linked up with struggling workers in Germany to start developing some rank-and-file coordination, they refused to do the extra work. Dozens of workers took annual leave or worked slow at the end of June 2015. This is a big step forward. Solidarity between workers becomes something practical, not just symbolic.
But as well as an expression of workers’ confidence and international organisation, the strikes also reveal the divisions between workers. In Germany, only 20-30% of employees are taking part in the strikes, mainly permanent workers in ver.di. So at Amazon in Leipzig, out of 2,000 permanent workers only 500 are union members and only 400 of them went on strike. And temp workers have not been so involved in disputes because they are not union members – “why should I become a union member if the job’s only for a few weeks?” Those that do get involved find that their contracts are not renewed. Unless these workers come together, it is no surprise if the struggles remain rather weak.
What to do? – no more border-line syndromes!
The example from Poznan shows that even under difficult circumstances – (e.g. the wages
in Poland are low, there is no unemployment benefit) – workers can kick arse and force management to pay up! This begs the question: what are we, here in the UK, so afraid of?!
There are many ways to put pressure on a company like Amazon. When we are in a minority, disrupting the work- flow collectively ‘on the job’ might be more effective than ‘striking’ outside, especially if most people continue working through the strike and the union does not want to blockade the trucks ‘for legal reasons’. And we have to get the temps involved – whether they are union members or not!
We also can’t leave the creation of links between warehouse workers – in particular between workers of different countries – to a small circle of paid union officials. We have to find ways to organise that ourselves. So we are hopeful that the international meeting of Amazon workers from Germany and Poland that took place in April and October 2015, and will happen again in February 2016, is a positive leap forwards.
And we have to kill the company badge inside our head! For example, we can see how the work of Amazon and Royal Mail workers is closely linked and how both Amazon and Royal Mail management forces us into their competition game. We have to relate to each other as fellow workers – who have to fight under similar conditions and need each other in future. If anyone is working at Amazon in the UK and wants to share their work experiences, email us or post something on our new forum!
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼News about working class people struggling against bad conditions and government cuts often don’t make it into the big media and even more rarely arrive here on the fringes of the city. Below some news against the ‘nothing can be done’ attitude!
* Maternity unit of Ealing hospital occupied
In June 2015 people protested against the closure of the maternity ward of Ealing hospital, where around 3,000 babies were born last year. Some of the protestors occupied the reception area.
* (Bike-) Couriers win higher wages
Couriers working at Gophr and Citysprint organised various actions for higher wages. They are organised in the small union, IWGB. In autumn/winter 2015 Gophr promised to increase the wage to £11.10 per hour and Citysprint said they will play a surcharge of 50p for each delivery.
￼* Art students occupy university to protest closure
The university building is supposed to be sold to real-estate developers. This would put 2,000 student posts and 93 campus jobs at risk. On 10th of December 2015 students decided to occupy the building in Whitechapel.
￼* Sisters Uncut protest against government cuts of services for victims of domestic violence While the government seems to have plenty of dosh for arms and real estate owners they cut money for public services, amongst others, for women try to get away from violence at home. Sisters Uncut took various actions in autumn 2015 in order to fight back.
￼* Students’ rent strike and actions win compensation payment and rent cuts
In autumn 2015, some students won a 25% decrease in their university rent after they went on a rent strike. They refused to pay extortionate rents to live in “unbearable” living conditions. The UCL Cut the Rent campaign continued in January 2016 when 150 students collectively withheld £250,000 in rent, demanding rent cuts of 40%. Since 2009, UCL management has increased rents by 56%.
* Wildcat strike against library closures in Lewisham In November 2015, library workers in south London walked out of work in a protest over plans to convert three libraries into “healthy living centres”. Doors have been locked at all 10 libraries in Lambeth after opponents said the council “refused to listen” to concerns over the move.
* Struggle against eviction on the Sweetsway estate
After more than six months of occupation to prevent the demolition of 142 family homes, Barnet Council, Annington Properties, the London Metropolitan Police and other emergency services are colluding to carry out a violent eviction of the entire Sweets Way estate. In September 2015 tenants and supporters tried to stop the attack.
* Student nurses protests against bursary cuts
The government have announced they are removing NHS bursaries for amongst others, student nurses, midwives, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists. This means they will be left with thousands of pounds worth of debt, which could take years to pay back from a salary which is capped at a 1% rise over the next 4 years and not in line with the rising costs of living in the UK. In London students started the first protests in December 2015. https://www.facebook.com/ events/1520448934947698/
* Anti-begging order scrapped in Hackney after protests
In June 2015, after various protests and the collection of 80,000 signatures, Hackney council scrapped the Public Space Protection Order, which was used to harass and criminalise homeless people.
￼* Successful action to prevent raid against ‘illegal’ workers
Workers facing police raids and deportation will accept the lowest wages. So one way to to fight back against the pressure on wages that all of us are experiencing, is to try and protect migrants from raids. In the summer if 2015 there was successful resistance against raids by the immigration police in south London.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼“This Flexi Worker role does not have standard hours of work and you will be required to work at such times and for such periods as may be applicable to each Assignment…”
(LSG job advert)
During the last 20 years the big airlines have outsourced catering and other work to smaller companies. They did this to protect themselves against a potentially strong and united workforce. The catering companies became big global corporations as they bought up other companies. Alpha and LSG Sky Chefs merged in 2012 and now employ over 30,000 people in 50 countries, catering for over 300 airlines, e.g. American Airlines, Canada Airlines, Singapore Airlines. There is big money involved: LSG made £73 million profit on revenues of £2.6 billion in 2014.
This has brought about an an inevitable attack on conditions. Airline catering companies can’t allow their workers to get away with indiscipline or a strike: any delay in the food supply would result in flight delays, backlogs, and heavy fines if deadlines aren’t met. Air-traffic is the most strictly timed mode of transport and the catering workers in kitchens and warehouses 5 or 10km away from the airport feel that pressure on a day-to-day basis. In 1998 and 2005 workers in Southall, West London, most of them of South Asian origin, many of them women workers, put up a fight against the attack on terms and conditions, but, predictably, the world’s biggest airline catering companies LSG and Gate Gourmet came down hard on them and the trade union bosses weren’t much help.
Struggles in time and (aero)space
* LSG, Southall, 1998 – Strike ends in a lock-out
LSG tried to force their workers in Southall to sign new, worse contracts. The workers, most of them TGWU union members, had two ballots before taking official strike action. On the first day a decision by the court prevented them from going ahead. Management then sacked 200 workers on the second strike day and hired new ones. Only a few of the original workers got their jobs back, after months of symbolic pickets and legal show-fights. The TGWU union only gave lukewarm support to the workers – at the time the TGWU had thousands of members at Heathrow airport, but the union tactically decided not to call other workers out for support – they didn’t want to risk a confrontation with the law or the New Labour government at the time.
* Gate Gourmet, Southall, 2005 – Another hard strike
In the 1990s, British Airways (BA) outsourced work to Gate Gourmet. In August 2005 management wanted to enforce a worsening of conditions and one day brought in agency staff, seemingly replacing permanent workers. The old workers met up
to discuss what was happening
in the canteen and to protest. In response management sacked over 800 workers over the next two days. An unofficial walkout by BA ground staff – mainly baggage handlers – at Heathrow airport in solidarity with the Gate Gourmet workers resulted in a 48-hour airport shutdown. But the baggage handlers had to return to work – the TWGU union did not wan to be associated with ‘illegal’ support strikes. In the end the union told workers to sign contracts with worse conditions.
In both cases proper blockades of the gates would have been necessary. This might have been difficult at the time, but possible nowadays, as many people are fed up with low pay and zero-hours contracts and willing to come out in support. Similar disputes have happened around the globe, e.g. in Finland, where, in November 2013, around 400 LSG workers walked out over pay. The following day there were no warm meals on the Finnair flights. Management tried to increase pressure on the workers, but the airline workers’ union threatened to go on a support strike. The threat alone was enough to get management to agree to a better offer. An international coordination of disputes is possible.
Working at LSG in Southall
At the unit near Heathrow there are around 350 people working
￼Office: 60 (incl. HR, transport office, security)
Warehouse: 10 (shifts start from 6am, 8am to 12noon)
Carts: 30 (incl. some temp-workers from ASAP)
Kitchen: 100 (incl. training- kitchens for chefs)
Dish-room: 30 (cleaning trays etc.) Security: 20
Dispatch: 40 (incl. airport security) Cleaning/Canteen: 15
Warehouse: £8-9 (plus £12 p/w bonus
for fork-lift driving)
Dish-room/kitchen: £6.50 – £7
Shop-floor-/Line Manager: £30,000 per year
￼* Divide and rule: Different pay and conditions for the same workforce
In the warehouse, only people with old contracts have sick pay and more paid holidays, double pay for working on their days off, time and a half for overtime. Everyone hired after the Alpha LSG merger in 2012 didn’t get these bonuses. In the warehouse half of the workers are on old, half on new contracts.
There are only a few temp-workers hired through the agency ‘ASAP’ – a quite significant local recruiter. One of them was offered a permanent contract after two months, but their pay and conditions hardly changed as a result, given that e.g. permanent workers in the dish-room or the cleaners are also on the minimum wage and zero-hour contracts.
There are between 40 – 50 flights a day. A big aeroplane takes up to 80 carts, filled with food, drinks etc. The flights are not regular enough to develop a proper routine, particularly in the warehouse. The volume of work goes up and down a lot, which means that overtime is announced at short notice.
Some drivers are on 8-hour, some on 12-hour shifts (for company internal transport). Some drivers were transferred to Alpha via Tupe, i.e. they should have retained their previous pay and conditions, but now they are not being given their correct holiday entitlements…the union is dragging their feet.
* A visit to LSG at Manchester airport
We spoke to Alpha LSG workers at the unit next to Manchester airport. In total there are around 200 workers (including kitchen, warehouse, drivers).
Workers inside the same warehouse have 38 different contracts!
90% of the older Alpha workers were transferred to an agency called GAS after their merger with LSG in 2012, and had to accept a wage cut. Management promised the same pay as LSG after two years, but wages are still at £6.70. After two-and- a-half years some people went to management and asked about getting the same pay, but management said that they haven’t given a written promise, so “what do you want?” GAS also doesn’t pay sick pay. Workers said that the union wasn’t doing much. One driver said that they’d had a pay offer of 0% this year (so that’s more like pay cut then?!) and that they were thinking about stopping working overtime. A difference to London LSG is that the drivers have mates, so there are always two people in a truck.
What can we do?
For the last 15 years, there has been cooperation between Alpha and American Airlines, but in mid-2015 there were problems due to delays and Alpha might lose the contract. In 2015 a smaller contract got lost and the airline then outsourced the work to a warehouse/catering unit across the street from Alpha LSG, a company called ‘Plane Catering’. This ‘loss’ was compensated by a different small contract coming in from another airline. The ‘loss of contract’ threat is used by management to put pressure on workers, but once workers of different airline caterers coordinate together, this pressure could be turned against management.
The way the LSG unit in Southall is organised makes it difficult for workers in different departments
to talk to each other at work. To overcome these divisions, a meeting outside of work would be helpful. What would it take for workers to reject the divisions imposed from above? What would it take for airline catering workers to find common cause with airline staff, many of whom have also been subject to worsening pay and conditions, as the recent Air France workers’ dispute demonstrates (those guys who ripped the shirt off their bosses back)?
If you want to meet and discuss how to go forward and/or send us your experience for the next issue, e-mail: email@example.com
We live and work in Greenford and Park Royal. We think that workers, wherever they come from, are screwed over and should fight back together. We have to figure out how we can run this world without bosses, bankers, politicians and mind-numbing, boring jobs in the future. This newspaper is a means for us to exchange our experiences about conditions at work. We have to learn from other workers. No one else will do it for us. We are fed up hearing or saying: “Nothing can be done”, because a lot IS being done, the question is: “What works, what doesn’t?”
SUPPORT EACH OTHER!
The newspaper is not (just) about words. We need a local network of workers who support each other: if someone doesn’t get their wages or has trouble with the job centre; if some of us are kicked out; if people need someone to leaflet their workplace or want creative ideas to undermine the management. For the struggle to survive and beyond. Do you need support? – Get in touch! And keep in touch – because others will need your support, too!
WHERE DO WE GIVE OUT THIS PAPER?
We try to distribute this paper once a month at following places – if you have other suggestions where
we could hand it out, let us know.
– Greenford Auriol Drive (amongst others, Sainsbury’s and Tesco warehouses)
– Park Royal (Bakkavor, Greencore, Premier Park)
– Royal Mail DC (Greenford and Princess Royal)
– Greenford Retail Park
– Ealing and Southall Job Centre
– Greenford Bus Depot
– to share your experience of your workplace (anonymously of course!)
– to write about a conflict at work and what the workers did in response – if it made a difference, or not
– if you need support for an action you want to do e.g. getting outstanding wages from the temp agency or distributing a leaflet outside your workplace
– if you like the newspaper and want to get involved!