Tuesday, July 16, 2024

From Coventry to Tilbury? Reflections on the battle for union recognition at Amazon 

By Martin Kerin 

IN an ever-changing economy dominated by powerful global businesses, traditional trade unions have often struggled to keep up. Therefore, the news that Amazon UK workers in Coventry are on the verge of a victory over union recognition is most welcome.  

The GMB Union says it has enrolled over half of the workers at Amazon’s Coventry distribution centre, thus meeting the threshold for statutory recognition. This has followed a campaign by the union to sign up members in Amazon warehouses across the UK.  

I am proud to have joined a number of GMB recruitment drives outside the Tilbury distribution centre last summer. Led by Steve Garelick (GMB London Regional Organiser) and a band of dedicated volunteers, these events showed the extent to which workers are open to the benefits of trade union membership and in seeking the protection they offer.  

Workers stopped to talk to us, ask questions, give their opinions, take away information and make informed decisions about whether to join a trade union. Workers starting and finishing their shifts were open to dialogue and seemed genuinely interested in what the GMB had to offer. If the Coventry news is anything to go by, slowly but surely Amazon UK will become unionised, due to the will of its own employees and the persistence of the GMB. 

One of the surest ways of being a well-paid, well-treated worker is to be a member of a trade union. If the Coventry warehouse does end up formally recognising the GMB, there could be a domino effect leading to the Tilbury site where I stood. 

It is early days, but if this campaign has taught us anything, it is this: if theemployer won’t talk to a union, then a union must talk directly to the employees. If the employer won’t let a union in, then the union must stand outside and talk to the employees as they begin and end their shifts. Unions must present a compelling offer to would-be members, just like the GMB has done to over half of the Coventry Amazon workers. 

Bravo, Coventry! Next stop, Tilbury? I look forward to the unionisation of Amazon spreading from the Midlands to the rest of the UK. 

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