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Logistics and the Perspective of a Transnational Social Strike

il-capitale-disumano-310x165We publish the report of the workshop on logistics held during the TSS Paris meeting last October. Next appointment for discussion the TSS London Assembly, where a workshop on “How to strike when your boss is a machine, a software or a chain? Hints for a logistical strike” will be held on Saturday 11th (more info soon). Stay tuned! 

Organized by Amazon Workers (Germany, Poland), Deliveroo strikers/IWGB (UK), Precarious Di∫connections (Italy), Workers’ Initiative (Poland), Sud PTT (France) with participants from Workers Initiative (Poland), Plan C (UK), TIE (Germany), SiCobas (Italy), Amazon workers supporting groups (Germany), Left Journal (Bulgaria). Overall 30 participants from 6 countries.

Read the call out document for the workshop here.

Logistics is a crucial field of analysis and struggle for the perspective of a transnational social strike. One the one hand, logistics is not only transport and distribution: it has deeply changed the way in which production and labour are organized and distributed across different places, regions and states. This makes extremely relevant to understand this general change in order to fight back against it. On the other hand, labour inside the logistics sector is increasingly crisscrossed by struggles and disruptions opening new opportunities and presenting new challenges.

The workshop started with an intervention by Amazon workers from Poland and Workers Initiative on the opportunities represented by the TSS process for the transnational organization against Amazon, and the need of the TSS platform to valorize the experience of the material level of shop floor struggles. Workers made clear that they wanted to discuss the power we can collectively build to strike against a corporation like Amazon, and not to complain about being victims of exploitation. The Paris meeting represents a step further after the meetings held in Poznan and in Frankfurt between Amazon workers from Germany and Poland, given that the day before the WS for the first time a new connection was built with Amazon workers from France in a transnational meeting held in Orléans, south of Paris. The encounter between Amazon workers from different countries is essential in order to build a common knowledge on the strategies and tactics of the firm, as we know how Amazon uses the divisions created by borders (different labour laws, different wage level, different organization of labour and different strike laws) to play workers one against the other and to weaken the struggles. Equally important is the capacity to understand how companies interact and cooperate among themselves and the increasing role of state owned companies in the logistics sector. For example a group like Amazon uses the French postal services for some deliveries, so the question arises about how can we hit this organization of labour taking into account these operative connections: beyond borders, but also beyond firms. The shift of national postal services into multinational corporations is confirmed also by the presence of British Postal, Poste Italiane and French La Poste in several major logistics groups in Italy.

Moreover, the encounter with workers of Deliveroo from UK and union representatives active in the logistics sectors in Italy and France has shown the diversity of conditions inside the logistics sector itself. Together with large and connected warehouses, logistics is also made of smaller units and entails the capacity to use software and apps to organize and command labour. The experience of Deliveroo shows the possibility to build communication against the power of the algorithm starting from the recognition of the fake image ofworkers’ self-employment attached to this organization of labour and the need to organize in new ways. The capacity to connect a dispersed labour force through a creative use of social networks and chats proves to be crucial. The importance of intertwining different tools of struggle is confirmed also by the Italian experience, where blockades – as a matter of fact, an illegal act – have been very effective actions in opening new possibilities to organize and win in places where workers were denied any voice. The large presence of migrants workers in the sector is still another source of challenges and possibilities, as it stresses the importance to address as part of labour struggle the institutional racism that imposes blackmail on migrant labour. A hiring and contract strategy aimed at dividing workers along national lines is evident also in the way in which Foodora pays workers by delivery in Italy, while it corresponds them an hourly wage in Germany.

Starting from these inputs and the demands in the callout for the workshop the discussion raised several important points, for instance the fact that we recognize the need for common actions, and the question about how do we break the structural limits presented by a multifaceted organization of labour that splits the labour force into different shifts, different cities and different agencies. As we have seen in several instances, public authorities intervene not only by promoting precarization and limiting the right to strike, but also by declaring some services of public utility, thus limiting the possibility of an action. This can happen in case of a transport of perishable food in Italy, but also for care labour as in the case of kindergarten workers in Poland. Another point concerns the importance of knowing the algorithms, particularly where the algorithm is the main instrument to organize production and there is not a common working place as in the case of Foodora and Deliveroo. Or where the algorithm directly connects the organization of labour in working places seemingly far or disconnected.

The question, thus, is about how a project like the TSS can be also “logistic”, meaning with this the capacity to oppose the organizational and strategic logic of logistics. How can a strike be political so that it is able to use the logic of logistics, and its capacity to exploit different legal conditions, citizenship, mobility and wage differentials to move goods and production, against it? From the discussion there emerged a triple need for a project like the TSS: the need for an infrastructure to connect the existing struggles and build new connections towards new struggles; the capacity of this infrastructure to operate across the different borders exploited and reproduced by logistics; and the need to address the lack of a political discourse and claims that can serve as a common reference, turning communication into an organizational tool to connect struggles and political tool to expand them beyond their current limits. The challenge is thus to intersect different struggles at the shop floor with the building of common tools of analysis and action. Amazon Support Workers group of IL raised the possibility of a caravan as a form of how we  an link up different logistics centres and hold meetings. Several interventions raised the point that we need  tools to connect, raising the point that the request of the same salary can be a very simple common word to build large mobilizations, as well as tools to disconnect: how can we organize in order to use the particular leverage that we can have in some points of the production chain as part of a larger strategy. Here there is also a need to be more creative in our vision and in the use of technology to support the political struggle against exploitation. In other words, the organization at the basic level needs to be connected with the capacity to fight back vis-à-vis what we learn from an understanding of logistics as not only an economic sector, but a general politics of management, control and exploitation.

The TSS has been recognized as an infrastructure both to build these connections and to elaborate an in-depth common understanding of the enemy we want to fight. As such, the TSS can’t be reduced to the groups and people already part of it, but is considered as an open process and a tool which aims to involve new groups and people and to propose a new possibility for organizing across borders. All participants in the workshop expressed their will to continue this discussion as part of the organizational process of the TSS, starting with sharing written contributions to be published in the TSS website. This discussion will be then continued also through physical meetings both in the form of workshop in the occasion of the next TSS meetings, and as support of cross-borders organizing activities of specific groups such as the next international meeting of Amazon workers to be held in Wrocklaw, Poland.

Read all documents from the TSS meeting “From France to Paris” here

Know more abou the TSS process and next steps here