By Theodore Shoebat
The terror of the coronavirus has been causing workers strikes throughout Europe, as people do not want to go to work in fear of getting infected with the virus. These strikes have been manifesting in Italy and France. In the French commune of Saran there is an Amazon facility whose employees are refusing to work until better sanitary conditions are met, according to a report from the French publication, L’Humanite. Union leader Jean-François Bérot explained: ”People come to work in deplorable conditions…We have no means of protection, nor sufficient space to maintain a reasonable distance. You should know that 300 to 400 employees work together, all confined to the warehouse.” Employees are made to move boxes without any access to hydroalcoholic gel when they load whole cartons for shipping. “A box can be handled twenty times by different people,” points out an employee. “We come to work with fear in our stomachs every day, it can’t go on.” One union delegate, Nadhir Rafrafi, reported that the “Managers all agree with our positions”. France’s Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, expressed his remonstrances on the working conditions of Amazon: “These pressures are unacceptable and we will let Amazon know”.
The mayor of Saran, Maryvonne Hautin, also expressed disdain for the working conditions of the Amazon warehouse in her letter to the regional prefect:
“Mr. Prefect, I have the honor to draw your attention to the disturbing working conditions of employees of the warehouse of the Amazon company, partly located in the town of Saran,” writes the elected official. “The minimum required employee protection measures (…) are not applied within the buildings concerned. … “I would like to know the decisions that you intend to take to force the Amazon France group to immediately ensure the protection of its employees”.
The fears of the workers in the Amazon warehouse are not unwarranted, since an employee at this plant actually tested positive for COVID-19 and has been in quarantine since March 17, according to La Republique.
Saran is not the only place in France where workers are going on strike due to poor working conditions in light of coronavirus. In Douai, 200 Amazon employees are refusing to work. Khaled Bouchajra, a delegate for the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), exhorted: “The employees are to be scanned: save our lives!” He also complained that while other businesses have shut down due to the threat of coronavirus, Amazon insists on staying open and making their employees works: “My wife asks me to stop working to protect our family. I really don’t understand how this situation is possible. Everyone closes like PSA (French automobile manufacturer), except us. How would Amazon be essential to the survival of the nation?”
Julien Vincent, who represents Amazon logistics workers for France’s CFDT, echoed the view of Bouchaira:
“Fewer than one percent of our stocks are groceries, so we’re far from being indispensable for the country to keep going … As far as we’re concerned, either everyone has to close, or no one does – you can’t have half measures.”
Vincent calculated roughly that 30 to 40 percent of Amazon employees in France stopped working out of wither fear of coronavirus or because schools have closed down and they had to keep their children at home. The company has had to hire temporary workers to make up for any shortages, Vincent added. He also pointed out that hundreds of Amazon employees have exercised the French right of refusing to work while still receiving full pay. But some Amazon employees have said that they were told by Amazon managers that such a rule can be contested. Because of this, workers protesting at the Saran site said that they were demanding that this right be applied to them, according to a report from Al-Jazeera.
One employee accused Amazon of price speculation: “The kilo of pasta has increased to more than 10 euros. It is simply speculation that benefits Amazon”. Such words denote a growing angst against big business that goes beyond just coronavirus.
Massive workers strikes have been taking place throughout Italy. On March 25th of 2020 a general strike was proclaimed by Italy’s Base Syndicate Unions (Unione Sindacale di Base or USB). Workers who have been working in the front line of production for “non-essential” items have demanded for safer conditions. But the strike does not just apply to these. The protest day was extended by the union to all sectors, including essential public services and, in particular, to health. Italy’s Chambers of Self-Employment and Precarious work (Le Camere del Lavoro Autonomo e Precario) explained why the general strike applies to health workers: – “over 5,000 infections between doctors and nurses, that is double the number of China; only today, 5 deceased doctors, 34 since the beginning of the epidemic”.
Warehouses and factories have been emptied of workers due to the general strike, according to a press release by the USB: “from north to south, from Trieste to Taranto, empty logistics warehouses and factories with stops that also involve 70% of the workers”. There is another strike planned out for March 29th in Tuscany where the unions are demanding earlier closing hours and for Sundays off. In the words of unions, the decision to call for a strike “derives from the fact that many companies in the sector have not taken into consideration the union’s requests, both nationally and regionally, to reduce, at this stage, the opening hours to the public and to foresee the closure of all the stores on Sunday days located in the validity of the legislative decrees issued by the Prime Minister on the difficult health situation”
The grievances of the workers are understandable and the anger has been building up. The anger of workers was seen in the Gilet Jaunes movement in France in 2018. But such demonstrations ended thanks to the quarantine laws that were imposed. But this does not mean that the anger suddenly stopped, or that the ire of the workers has ceased escalating. If anything, the real threat of coronavirus, alongside corporations making their employees work in unsafe conditions and not reducing working hours, is only going to make the anger surge up even more. If anything, the quarantine laws did not end workers’ demonstrations, but only forced it into the pot, and now it is simmering, and with every moment of anger increasing, it will boil over in an implosion of rage. There is rage against corporations and the governments that support them. Amazon is a multinational corporation, and people will point the finger to it’s lack of care for employees as a symptom of globalization; they will call for the deal of globalization, they will say that they are no longer slaves of America, no longer laborers of corporations that are not native to their countries; they will instead call for the support for local businesses in their hatred for outside companies. Also, the economic impacts of the coronavirus crises will also push people towards political radicalism. This will be symptomatic of the rise of nationalism and socialism. If anything, the coronavirus crises is accelerating us towards an age of nationalism, just as 2008 sparked anti-elitism and the 2015 migrant crises invigorated fringe political parties.