News & Commentary

July 8, 2024

In today’s news and commentary, Amazon workers in the UK participate in an historic election, Samsung workers in South Korea begin a three-day strike, and labor leader and scholar Jane McAlevey passes away after a long battle with cancer.  

Polls open today at a Coventry, UK Amazon warehouse, where workers will decide if they want to be represented by the GMB union. If successful, this election will, for the first time, force Amazon to recognize a union in the United Kingdom. GMB has engaged in organizing efforts at the Coventry warehouse for nearly a decade. This most recent push for statutory recognition began a year and a half ago and has seen over 30 days of strike action since. Amazon rejected a request for voluntary recognition. Workers allege that the company has deployed anti-union tactics, including displaying QR codes around the site which, when scanned, generate an email to the GMB canceling union membership. The country’s Central Arbitration Committee granted workers the right to hold this week’s legally binding ballot. Many of the Coventry site’s 3,000 workers have expressed pay and safety concerns. The results of the election are expected on July 15. Meanwhile, the union will lead protests outside other Amazon warehouses in England, as well as outside the company’s London headquarters.

Continuing with industrial action overseas, workers at Samsung Electronics in South Korea began a three-day strike today. This comes just one month after the union staged a one-day walk-out in response to a breakdown in contract negotiations. As Otto reported, the National Samsung Electronics Union represents nearly 30,000 employees, approximately a quarter of Samsung’s workforce. The parties have been negotiating since January, but reached impasse over wages, time-off and bonus structures. Last month’s collective action did not cause noticeable production disruptions and just last week the company reported considerable second quarter operating profit growth. The union suggested that if negotiations do not progress during this three-day strike, workers will engage in a five-day action next week.

The labor movement lost a giant this weekend with the passing of Jane McAlevey. McAlevey was a labor organizer, author and scholar who advocated for growing worker power by growing community power. She taught over 40,000 people from over 130 countries through workshops at the UC Berkeley Labor Center and online courses at Berlin’s Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. McAlevey believed in and fought for worker-led unions, and promoted what she called “deep organizing,” or one-on-one conversations to persuade indifferent or opposed workers. She was involved in worker-led campaigns from Connecticut to Nevada and advised many organizers abroad. Her organizing model included a profound understanding that working people are more than just workers. McAlevey’s strategy relied on this recognition to mobilize members both in and outside of their workplace. McAlevey has been battling cancer since 2009. On April 14, 2024 she entered hospice care and passed away on July 7 surrounded by her medical team and family members. Her work and scholarship will remain a guide for the labor movement.

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