The North Star


The first Amazon union in Europe?

UK Amazon workers voting on union recognition

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Two years ago, hundreds of Amazon workers at the BHX4 warehouse in Coventry, England spontaneously walked off the job in protest of an insulting wage increase. Now, following over 30 accumulated days on strike, a failed attempt at union recognition, and the blossoming of a UK-wide movement of strikes and actions in Amazon warehouses, 3,000 BHX4 workers are on the brink of becoming the first recognized Amazon union in Europe.

On April 19th, the GMB Union, who has supported BHX4 workers since their initial 2022 walkout, announced that the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) ruled in favour of their application for a union recognition vote at the warehouse.

"This is the first time we've managed to do this in the UK," told Stuart Richards in an interview with North Star, "and a huge, huge step forward. A mountain to climb still, but a huge step forward."

The climb to even get to this point has been steep — in June of last year, the GMB had begun an initial application for union recognition but were forced to withdraw it after they had learned that Amazon flooded the warehouse with over 1,300 new hires to dilute the percentage of card-signing members.

In order to obtain union recognition in the UK, the GMB have to get 50% plus one of the workforce to sign a union card. Garfield Hylton, a long-time BHX4 worker and GMB representative, told North Star that the needed percentage of card-signing workers hasn't been obtained yet at BHX4 but is within reach. He says they have between 40 and 46% of the workforce.

There is no denying that the application is a gamble. Without the certainty of already having 50% plus one on the application date, BHX4 workers and the GMB risk failing to meet the needed percentage when the recognition goes to a ballot — meaning that they wouldn't be able to file for union recognition for another 3 years.

But Richards told North Star that the worker activists, who have been the main drivers of the union campaign on the inside, pushed the GMB to file the application because they are confident that the balloting process will present an opportunity to win more workers over to the union.


"[Amazon] spends so much time trying to portray the union as an external organization and misses the basic fundamental fact that the people building the union within that workplace are the activists that are already in there, and they are vastly supported by a significant number of workers. And actually, they are much more trusted than the shareholders and bosses of Amazon."

 "We've not seen a reduction in members as a result of the union busting. All we've seen is, again, an increase and a lot of anger from workers who are just seeing this as a real attempt to try and kind of limit their voices."

On April 26th, the GMB announced that BHX4 workers are taking Amazon to court over their blatant and coercive union busting, which has become increasingly more brazen since their sabotage of the recognition attempt last summer.

Richards reported that on top of their regular anti-union propaganda posters, BHX4 management has been posting QR codes that when scanned, will generate an email that goes straight to GMB's membership system saying that the worker wishes to cancel their membership. In addition, Amazon has brought in new management to better "communicate" their policies to recently-arrived immigrant workers. Richards explains:

"For the first time ever, we've seen managers brought in from other places that actually speak other languages to tell [workers] about why they shouldn't join a union. All the workers are going: 'Why is this person now only coming to tell me I shouldn't join a union, when I've been asking you for years to have someone come in and explain these policies to me?' So again, it's pretty blatant, but it hasn't worked. The workers are proving much stronger than the union busting at the moment."

When asked how union recognition would change the work conditions at BHX4, Hylton brought up two separate examples of workers being forced to work through a gas leak and a fire to illustrate the current lack of say that workers have in determining their work conditions.

Despite the lack of union recognition, Richards says that energy on the shop floor would tell you otherwise. "Coventry at the moment feels like a unionized workplace. So there are activists in there that are walking around with their GMB shirts... they are supporting workers in any kind of formal meetings, disciplinaries, grievances... We're already in dispute over pay, taking strike action. So I think the work that they've built up to this bit kind of reinforces the fact that actually recognition is the icing on the cake. It's not an end goal, it's just part of that struggle."

Credit: GMB Midlands/Twitter.

Back over across the pond, Amazon workers in Canada have been contributing to Jeff Bezos' unionization nightmares with recent applications for union recognition in Laval's DXT4 warehouse and two fulfillment centres in British Columbia. Hylton provided his reactions to the news:

"I think the fact they're doing what they're doing now is brilliant. It is to be admired. And if they don't do it, they're going to find Amazon a living hell of exploitation because [Amazon] are the masters at that." 

Richards chimed in with his reaction: "From us at the GMB, we just want to send our full support and solidarity to those workers. We can't underestimate how big a deal it is even to get to this point. So we will definitely be celebrating when they get that over the line and they win that victory. And hopefully at some point, some of our activists will be able to go out and see them and show support and solidarity and vice versa."

He continues: "Developing global networks of solidarity is the way we're going to win this. We need to win in Amazon because what happens in Amazon will happen in other workplaces. That's symptomatic of what's gonna happen to the rest of the economy."

"Amazon has the ability to operate globally, shift work around globally to avoid union organizing, to try and reinvent practices where a site gets organized. The only way we can tackle that and make significant victories is if we look at this on a global scale."

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