Amazon workers walk out to protest returning to office

By HERMAN MORRIS

The week of May 31 saw the second mass mobilization of tech workers at Amazon, following the 2019 walkout around Amazon’s impact on climate change. This action was planned and announced in reaction to the return to office mandate from Amazon. The workers have been further angered by the wave of layoffs that has eliminated some 27,000 jobs at the company since November.

Previously as a COVID-19 measure, office workers were sent to work from home. As time went on and the tech industry’s outlook worsened, this was changed first to a policy that was set at organizational discretion, and now it is being set to a mandated three days in office at minimum. This change has impacted workers who have used the work from home policy to move closer to family, move to a location that is more affordable, or decided to have a child and use working from home as a method to manage caretaking and professional responsibilities.

The stated reason for the policy reversal from Amazon management is: “Collaborating and inventing is easier and more effective when we’re in person. The energy and riffing on one another’s ideas happen more freely.” Stripped of its corporate pep, the message is plain. Amazon thinks it can work its employees harder in the office, and therefore, back into the cubicles they must go. That this is happening now is only a sign of the weaker place tech workers have in the labor market than they did two years ago, as layoffs rise and profits lower in the industry.

The reaction to the policy change at Amazon was nearly instant, with a petition circulating at the company and getting 30,000 signatures (roughly 10% of the tech workforce). Once this was ignored by management, the walkout was announced, as a joint action between the original petition organizers and the Amazon climate activism group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. The demands of the walkout were twofold: for Amazon to give workers the flexibility to determine how they work, and for the company to focus on how it will meet its climate goals as part of its office policy, as forcing people to attend work in person has a direct impact on the climate and environment. In all, 1900 workers pledged to participate in the walkout, with 1000 pledging in Seattle and the rest virtually.

It should be noted that estimates from those in attendance of the walkout on May 31 place its attendance to somewhere between 300 and 600 attendees, well short of the original pledge and short of the 2019 walkout around climate. This demonstrates the significant challenges that workplace organizing in tech faces as the chilling effects of layoffs and intensifying work hang over the workforces at these companies.

While the efforts of those workers who are organizing these actions and raising these demands at the job are laudable, it must be remembered that only the militant organizing of the workplace into a union is going to give the workers at Amazon the safety to mobilize mass actions against these attacks on their wellbeing, as well as the strength to get those demands met.

Photo: Protesters picketed in Seattle last year in solidarity with Amazon workers in Alabama. (AFP / Getty Images)

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