Amazon workers strike in Germany

Workers at Amazon’s biggest warehouses in Germany, in the cities of Bad Hersfeld and Leipzig, went out on strike on Sept. 19 and 20 to demand higher wages.

Amazon Germany is the largest foreign subsidiary of the mammoth Internet store. With 9,000 workers — compared to 90,000 in the United States — Amazon’s German company provides 14 percent of its total revenue worldwide.

Germany does not have a national minimum wage, but it is customary to pay union-level wages based on job description. And that’s the axis of the struggle for Amazon workers in Germany. By defining the Amazon workers as “logistics” workers instead of “retail and mail order” workers, the Amazon bosses can pay approximately 9.55 euros per hour instead of 10.66 (about $14).

The Ver.di union and its members at Amazon are fighting and striking for that additional pay. Ver.di announced that the adhesion to the strike was greater than expected and they would continue the struggle with Amazon in the coming months. On Sept. 20, the union bused 600 workers from Bad Hersfeld to Leipzig to build strike solidarity.

Students at Leipzig University, who themselves often work in temporary, underpaid and low-security jobs, formed an “Amazon Solidarity Alliance” and collected 500 signatures in solidarity with the strikers at Amazon.

Amazon Germany was exposed last winter for particularly brutal labor conditions for its temporary employees, hired during the period before the winter holidays. Besides being deprived of benefits normal for permanent workers, these workers — mostly non-Germans recruited mainly from Spain and Eastern Europe — were paid nearly a euro less than promised and were harassed and brutalized by a security firm whose guards had neo-Nazi connections.

Solidarity inside Germany with these workers was strong enough that it forced Amazon to cut its ties to the security firm.

Any success for the workers at Amazon Germany could also serve as an inspiration for the millions of underpaid workers in the United States who are trying to organize.