The festive season is upon us. Many of us are thinking of buying presents for loved ones (if we can afford them) and some of us may be thinking of using the Internet to make our purchases. The most popular company on the Internet is Amazon, a US-owned multinational company, which dominates the web shopping market.
But how many people know that Amazon employs union busters? Amazon does all it can to ensure unions are not recognized in its massive facility in Bedfordshire.
Housman’s Bookshop in London has a very interesting page dedicated to union-busting activities at Amazon. It tells us that,
Amazon have a little-reported, but undeniable record of preventing their work force from unionising. In 2001, Amazon.co.uk hired a US management consultancy organisation, The Burke Group, to assist in defeating a campaign by the Graphical, Paper and Media Union (GPMU, now part of Unite the Union) to achieve recognition in the Milton Keynes distribution depot. It was alleged that the company sacked four union members during the 2001 recognition drive and held a series of captive meetings with employees.
Also In 2001, 850 employees in Seattle were laid off by Amazon.com after a unionisation drive. The Washington Alliance of Technological Workers (WashTech) accused the company of violating union laws, and claimed Amazon managers subjected them to intimidation and heavy propaganda.
UK union organiser Peter Lockhart said: “Behind the shiny facade of Amazon and the internet are poor pay, poor conditions, poor communications and poor management. It is anything but ‘new age’ inside that distribution centre.”
According to Unite the Union, Amazon continues to this day to see trade union representation as illegitimate.
The source for the above paragraph comes from this Guardian article dated 26 February 2008. This paragraph is particularly illuminating,
The very up-front Burke Group (TBG) of Malibu, California, whose website proudly advertises its expertise in “union avoidance consulting, counter-union campaigns, supervisory training, union vulnerability assessments, card signing mitigation, anti-corporate campaigns and more”, was reportedly active in eight UK companies between 2001 and 2003, and no one was any the wiser until after the recognition campaign was over.
US-based union-busting companies have made considerable inroads into Britain. The companies, like The Burke Group, describe themselves euphemistically as “labor relations companies”. Some of the names here may surprise you. Others may not.
Companies such as Amazon.co.uk, Honeywell, Calor Gas, T-Mobile and Virgin Atlantic have all made use of TBG’s services, according to Logan’s study, which cites data obtained from the consultancy’s website before it was password-protected. Amicus union officials at another company, GE Caledonian, said they were “blown out of the water” when workers there unexpectedly rejected the union. More recently, the consultancy carried the day at Kettle Chips in Norwich. The workforce at the company, which is owned by the private equity company Lion Capital, includes many immigrants and last year voted by 206 to 93 not to join Britain’s biggest union, Unite.
A lot of people like to think of Richard Branson as a nice guy. It’s the tidy beard and the jumpers that fool people. “Oh, he’s just a hippy”. They’re the worst. Beneath the cosy exterior lies the beating heart of a hard-nosed capitalist.
Amazon also advertises this book on its site. In the synopsis it says that it,
“Offers a behind-the-scenes look at how major corporations use their power to destroy worker’s unions and shows how unions are actually good for business and for the country”.
Someone should tell that to Amazon .
With Boris Johnson recently calling for a review of Britain’s draconian labour laws, the Tories’ thirst for union-busting has never been greater. On the one hand they will claim that it is a worker’s right to join a trade union but, on the other hand, if that union’s members should take industrial action, it’s a different matter. The workers and their union will be smeared and some employers will even find a way of dismissing striking workers on trumped up charges.
This is the ugly face of consumerism. Cheap goods delivered to your door at the cost of worker’s rights.