For many years, I was a worker at an Amazon warehouse outside Poznan, Poland. At the start of each working day, we were greeted by the corporation’s motto, written on the warehouse wall: “Work hard. Have fun. Make history.” By day’s end, the motto appeared to us not just ironic, but cruel. Treated like robots and managed by unforgiving algorithms, Amazon workers are denigrated, intimidated, and exploited to breaking point.
Then, this September, my colleague Dariusz died in our Poznan warehouse. He had been arguing with the manager about his heavy workload when he began to feel enormous pain in his heart. But despite his condition, a medic was never called, and Dariusz had to go through the warehouse on his own to get to health responders. It was too late.
In my role as health and safety officer, I’d tried to monitor the company’s behavior toward workers like Dariusz, and other cases where management failed to help suffering workers. But for my efforts to hold the corporation accountable, Amazon fired me. It seems that workers like Dariusz and me don’t fit in the version of “history” that Jeff Bezos would like to write.
Now it’s our turn to make history — but on our own terms. This Black Friday, my fellow workers and I will protest Amazon’s exploitation at warehouses throughout Poland. We will not be standing alone. Across Amazon’s global supply chain, workers and their allies will rise up in the largest mobilization against Amazon in history.
Amazon’s abuses extend far beyond our Poznan warehouse. Widely recognized as an outright dangerous workplace, the corporation has a serious injury rate nearly twice as high as that of non-Amazon warehouses. Dariusz is not alone: Amazon has a shameful history of fatal incidents, and systematic disregard for COVID-19 protocols.
These episodes are not accidents: for worker exploitation is built into Amazon’s business model. To defend its soaring profits — and the extraterrestrial adventures of its executives — Amazon has moved aggressively to suppress labor resistance across its workplaces.
In the United States, Amazon’s campaign to “crush” unionization efforts is well documented. In Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon systematically violated labor law in its attempt to disrupt and dismantle the unionization process, according to the National Labor Relations Board. These tactics are not reserved for Amazon’s blue-collar workers alone. Last year, for example, Amazon illegally fired tech worker activists Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who had previously organized fellow white-collar workers to rally against Amazon’s key role in the climate crisis.
We can follow these repressive practices along Amazon’s global supply chain. A garment factory in Chittagong, Bangladesh — a major supplier to Amazon’s rapidly growing apparel empire — closed in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving 1,200 workers without an income. Workers at the facility had been unionized for thirty-five years, but Amazon did nothing to stop these union-busting tactics by its contractor, whose non-union facilities have remained open.
In Cambodia, workers at Hulu Garment — a sewing facility that supplies Amazon — were told to “sign” a document with their thumbprint to receive their paycheck during the height of the pandemic. But factory management had hidden the word “resignation” under the paystub stapled to the document, suspending the entire force of 1,020 workers and robbing them of $3.6 million in pay. One month later, the factory reopened, but most of the workers were never rehired. Cambodian trade unions estimate that garment workers were deprived of $109 million in wages during the national lockdown in April 2021 alone.
Back in Poland — at the final link in Amazon’s supply chain — delivery workers are squeezed, exhausted, and discarded. As elsewhere, they are put under just as much pressure to meet their targets as warehouse workers like myself. Though nominally independent or contracted by an outside firm, the hours they spend transporting Amazon’s goods and packages are long, hard, and rewarded with dangerously low pay.
Making Bezos Pay
But we’re fighting back. Under the banner of Make Amazon Pay, a global coalition of workers, trade unions, and parliamentary allies is getting organized to demand better wages, working conditions, environmental practices, and tax contributions — linking together the struggles for dignity across Amazon’s supply chain.
On Black Friday, this coalition will mobilize in a global day of action against Amazon, with strikes and protests in over twenty countries across six continents.
The Black Friday mobilization isn’t just about Amazon workers. The corporation is destroying more jobs than it creates, emitting millions more tons of carbon dioxide than we can afford, and blasting its executives into outer space while evading taxes here at home. This movement is for all of us.
So when I go out on Friday to protest here in Poland, I’ll know that I’m not alone. Amazon may have tried to intimidate, silence, and dismiss me. But our movement is growing, powered by workers who have seen Amazon’s true face, heard its hollow promises, and been instructed—day after day — to “work hard,” “have fun,” and risk our lives for a paltry wage.
Together, we will “Make History” — and make Amazon pay.