Amazon strikes: Why the first ever walkout by the company's UK staff matters

For the first time, Amazon UK workers have taken industrial action. Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana speaks to some of those going on strike.

Amazon points out that today's strike is "tiny" involving less than 1% of its UK workforce. 

So, does today's first strike by the company's workers in this country matter? 

Most would argue it does because it could be the start of something - a sign of organisation within the gig economy that could spread. 

The thing that brought workers out today was ultimately pay. Last summer they were offered a 50 pence per hour pay rise to £10.50. 

After the pandemic - when hundreds kept coming to the warehouse despite the health risk - they felt it was a kick in the teeth. 

I've spoken to workers who described their fear during Covid - with one saying they wore masks morning until night, and would see people turn up in white suits to clean workspaces where colleagues had Covid. 

But it’s not just about pay. I’ve repeatedly heard worries about the way workers are given a rate to keep up with as they fill boxes, scan goods or pack items. If they slip behind, the system clocks it and and they can face a warning chat. Ultimately it can lead to a disciplinary. 

You can hear the worries over this in the way workers talk. 

Amazon workers staging their first ever UK walk out Credit: PA

Garfield Hylton told me he has diabetes and needed to use the toilet more than average. But every time he leaves his station for the loo it's stressful - if the first one is occupied and he has to find another, he worries the break from scanning will be flagged. 

He describes lifting weights of seven, eight or nine kilos repeatedly for a nine or 10-hour shift with just two half hour breaks - and they involve going through scanning machines and walking to the canteen. 

It's unsurprising that union membership in this type of workforce - with many foreign workers who may not speak English perfectly - is low. 

So the very fact that a few hundred got organised in Coventry is not something Amazon can totally dismiss - especially when their workers have now had strikes across the world including in the US, Spain and Germany. 

This week, workers met in Geneva to talk about more action. 

This UK action is unlikely to disrupt customers - as Amazon say - it's too small. But any action at all in one of these modern giants - who have transformed consumer experience, but also working experiences - is significant. 

One expert told me people were worried about robots taking our jobs. Now, she said, the worry was about jobs treating people like robots and questions around that critical point are at the heart of this walk out. 

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...