Solidarity with the Amazon strikers mass rally Solidarity with the Amazon strikers mass rally. Photo: Alistair Cartwright

Alistair Cartwright reports from an inspirational mass rally and march led by Amazon strikers in Coventry on Saturday

On Saturday, Amazon workers and rank-and-file activists across the country shut down Amazon’s BHX4 centre in Coventry.

The equivalent of twenty-four football pitches in floor-space, Amazon’s BHX4 sits at the heart of the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of UK logistics – a strategic area of warehouses that can hit roughly 90% of all addresses within 4 hours by road.

At 3pm, as hundreds of trade unionists from all over England were travelling to the rally called by the Rank and File Combine and Amazon workers in the GMB union, Amazon’s Seattle HQ instructed the local management to close the BHX4 centre and send home all the workers on full pay. 

Rank and File Combine announces ‘We shut down Amazon’. Photo: Alistair Cartwright

It’s difficult to overestimate the significance of that achievement. BHX4 is a ‘cross dock facility’. That means goods destined for almost all of Amazon’s twenty UK distribution centres will pass through this one monster warehouse.

For the past twelve months, dozens, then hundreds, and now over a thousand workers at the sprawling three-floor establishment have been fighting for their rights, overcoming union-busting tactics by one of the world’s most powerful companies to demand an end to poverty wages and a £15-per hour basic rate.

On Saturday 5 August, one year since strikes began in 2022, Amazon was forced to close down its Coventry nerve centre. As one worker said in his speech, this is the first time an Amazon strike has closed down a warehouse.

Speaking to the hundreds who travelled from London, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and local towns to show solidarity, workers explained how the strike had started with an unofficial ‘wildcat’ walkout of around 50 staff in response to a measly 35p pay offer (on top of current pay rates of around £11). With inflation at 10% (as measured by the Consumer Price Index, which excludes many housing costs) the insult of a pay ‘increase’ less than a third of the rising cost of living galvanised people into action. Speaking off the record but addressing his comments directly to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, one worker put it in these blunt terms:

‘We are working like lions and eating like ants. It’s not normal, so we are begging… think of something tangible to do. Talk to your shareholders, you are the boss, you know what you need to do. But if you feel that what we are we doing – you are not impressed about it, well, I have nothing much to say. But I believe the company image is going to have issues. Imagine, Amazon. Jeff Bezos, one of the richest men in the world. And his staff are complaining that they cannot even feed themselves very well… it’s so shameful, really, really shameful.’

The strike has grown more than ten-fold since then. As of today, about 1,100 workers have joined the union – with the GMB – representing just under half of the total workforce. In order to prevent workers reaching the 50% threshold for official union recognition, Amazon has been ‘flooding’ the Coventry site with extra staff. No one on the ground quite seems to know the real size of the workforce anymore, but this hasn’t deterred the fight at BHX4. (If anything, it has only brought fresh recruits to the cause). Over 800 took action today, according to GMB organisers when the count was taken at around 7pm, before what would usually be the nightshift.

Fran Heathcote, President of the PCS union addressed the rally and brought solidarity from her union

Today’s rally will be a boost not only to the Amazon strikers but in some way the nationwide strike wave that continues to spread despite set-backs and halting advances. Banners on display ranged from local trades councils (Watford, Islington and others) to community organisations (Acorn, Unite Community Black Country), climate campaigns (XR) and numerous individual trade union branches.

One of the Amazon workers central to the organising efforts, Darren, put it like this:

‘Look around you… Everyone here has their own struggles but they see yours [ours] as momentous, because what you’ve done is to take on one of the richest men in the world.’

Photo: Alistair Cartwright

Despite the ‘unseasonable weather’ and characteristic ‘hidden from view’ quality of the location, the mood was feisty and upbeat, aided by dhol players and a PCS drumming band and brilliant free food from a local caterer.

Photo: Alistair Cartwright

At 7pm, strikers and protesters marched towards the Amazon gates to the sound of drums and chants of ‘we shut you down’. The march broke through a cordon of security guards with ‘Amazon Defender’ jackets, and got right up to the gates of the HQ shouting and singing. Everyone knew this was a day of victory. A day that should boost the confidence of all the Amazon strikers and everyone fighting against bullying billionaire bosses.  

The last word goes to Varinder, one of several workers who took the mic for the first time on a public platform:

‘We can’t be sitting quiet, we have to fight for our rights, so that we can get a good income, good pay, because it’s very difficult to survive on such small pay. So we have to get united together so that we can fight together.’

To get involved with the Rank and File Combine find them on Twitter @RankFileCombine or email [email protected]

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Alistair Cartwright

Alistair Cartwright is an activist with the Stop the War Coalition and a member of Counterfire.