Scottish activists celebrate international victory against Amazon after pay hike announced

Ben Wray

Global effort against massive low pay corporation wins results

SCOTTISH activists who campaigned against low pay and poor conditions at Amazon warehouses have joined international celebrations after forcing the company to lift their pay levels.

Amazon has relented to global political and industrial pressure by raising its basic pay to $15 per hour and in the UK to £9.50.

The raise follows major international damage done to the Amazon brand by persistent campaigning by activists, unions and action by political leaders from Bernie Sanders in the US to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland.

Bryan Simpson, a union organiser and spokesperson for the Better than Zero campaign group for fair work, told CommonSpace that direct action and unionisation were the key factors in the pay rise. 

He said: “Back in 2016 we heard reports of workers at the huge Amazon depot in Dunfermline sleeping in tents in nearby waste ground because they couldn’t afford the bus home. We then took direct action which blocked their distribution on the busiest day of the year.

“It’s action like these as well as the growing threat of unionisation, including strikes across Europe, which has forced the richest man in the world to give staff a 20 per cent pay rise. Conditions for workers are far from perfect but union members are making a difference.”

Read more: Amazon workers call in protests at Dunfermline warehouse over working conditions

Over the summer, thousands of Amazon workers went on strike demanding better conditions. In July, workers in Germany, Poland and Spain all went on strike together in a coordinated attempt to disrupt a key promotional event for its Prime media service.

The hike to $15 in the US reflects the massive strides taken by the campaign in America to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour – the ‘Fight for $15′ movement. Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO worth $166.3bn, was also the target of Senator Sanders’ ‘stop Bezos’ Bill which if passed would penalise companies like Amazon which hire large numbers of workers on state assistance due to low wages.

He was backed up by Sturgeon in Scotland, who has attempted to convince company bosses to increase wages in several meetings. Scotland has major Amazon warehouses in Dunfermline, Fife, and Gourock.

Facing intransigent corporate chiefs, Scottish Enterprise are preparing to roll out new criteria that will restrict companies from receiving state subsidies unless they sign up to certain conditions including the national living wage of £8.75 per hour.

US labour economist Sylvia A. Allegretto has noted that Amazon depends on its ability to attract huge numbers of seasonal workers, some 100,000 over the busy winter shopping months. The company is thought to fear that the damage done to its brand means they will struggle to attract sufficient labour, particularly as unemployment is low.

Rebuttal: Is the Scotch Whisky industry really ‘ours’?

Groups like Better than Zero have long argued that ‘precarious’ workers were not beyond organisation, nor their employers immune to industrial and political pressure.

The TUC welcomed news of the pay increases in the UK, but insisted Amazon must allow its workers to join unions.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Amazon didn’t gift this, workers organised for it.

“The fight goes on to improve working conditions and get this company to pay its fair share of taxes. Join a union today.”

Tomorrow (4 October) there will a be a coordinated fast food workers strike across the UK.

Picture courtesy of Scott Lewis