Amazon and Zalando workers inspire through organizing
Worker activists with German union Ver.di gave personal testimonies regarding the importance of union organizing at online retailers at the UNI Global Commerce Conference in Berlin.
Thomas Rogil, an Amazon warehouse worker, helped lead the very first strike against the commerce giant in 2013. He told the UNI crowd that organizing was not easy, but in the face of employer opposition, the union has gained the support of Amazon workers in his facility and throughout Germany.
“The first strike was a moving experience –seeing people not going in, standing outside supporting their coworkers. It was also important because we expressed our demands for recognition, higher wages, and better working conditions.
“The company said that the strike had nothing to do with the raise we got, but we believe otherwise.
“We have seen conditions improve too. The conditions in the warehouses were bad. It was hot—there was no air conditioning, and we had nothing to eat or drink. This has changed only because we made our issues public, and because we had the support of our union and elected officials.
“When we heard that there were similar conditions at other Amazon warehouses, we helped our coworkers organize. Since that first strike, we have tried different types of walkouts and strikes across Germany.”
Rogil concluded that “Amazon is trying to stop what we are doing, but will continue to make progress in Germany and globally. Things have only changed because we have organized.”
Like at Amazon, Zalando workers have improved their conditions through collective action.
Their campaign started with just started with just four union members in 2015 at the company’s facility outside of Berlin, and it has grown to more than 430 members.
Zalando workers are organizing to fight erratic work hours, physical and psychological pressure, and inadequate pay. Ver.di and Zalando employees had their first bargaining session with the company’s management earlier in the week, and the company, the forth largest online retailer in the world, did not meet workers’ demands.
Warehouse employee and union activist Konny Wronowski told the UNI gathering, “We are behind the success of this company and its expansion, not the executives running around in their suits. Right now, we are denied participation in the company’s success. And we are not going to let that happen.
“Zalando’s profit margins are high, but since they won’t give us 25 cents more, then we go on strike. We have 48 different nationalities working there, and though we come from different places, we are together. Wish us success.
“When I finish speaking here, we are going to leave here and go straight to the picket line. It is our first industrial action, but we are ready to do as many as it takes.”
With those words, Wronowski put on a bright green strike vest, and marched out of the conference hall.