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The Fight to Unionize Amazon: View from a Costa Rican Call Center

The news that workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama are fighting to unionize has spread around the world. Two Amazon workers in Costa Rica tell us how this fight is perceived from those who work in the call center “on the other side of the world.”

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The following is a testimony by two workers from an Amazon call center in Costa Rica, where the company employs thousands. The individuals wish to remain anonymous.  

As Amazon workers, we know that the company is among the most restrictive in the world when it comes to the right to unionize. Low rates of unionization are also a general feature in the United States, where — as in Costa Rica — the union bureaucracies have deep limitations when it comes to their orientation and the role they play in the few private-sector workplaces that have unions.

Just as in the big imperialist countries, Costa Rica has union bureaucrats that must be fought at every turn. The topic of unionization here inevitably conjures up the image of figures such as Albino Vargas, union bureaucrat par excellence, who has long been the general secretary of the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP), Costa Rica’s largest union. He has lived off of his ANEP affiliation for 20 years, without truly defending the interests of the workers as a whole. 

Here in Costa Rica, call center work is clearly different and working conditions vary, but everyone knows that Jeff Bezos is one of the richest men in the world precisely because he relies on the exploitation of about 1.2 million people globally. This means that in many ways, the same language is spoken and the same tools are used for everyday life at work.

As call center and Amazon workers, we have to understand the actions the company takes to prevent unionization. One is to block Amazon’s Fulfillment Center Associates on the “Phone Tool” internal directory. The tool shows the company’s organizational chart and allows workers to communicate with each other and their bosses, among other things.

Recently, some 500,000 Level 1 distribution center workers disappeared from the directory. The intent is clear: prevent workers from unionizing by taking away one of the ways people can communicate within the company and identify potential union sympathizers. This is something the company can do easily anywhere in Amazon, including in customer service where thousands are currently employed. The company has shown it has all sorts of methods to stop workers from organizing, and that it’s not afraid to use them.

We must speak out about the precarious labor rights at Amazon, and hold the company accountable for its actions against the working class.

Without unions, employers like Amazon are free to impose extremely exploitative working conditions — grueling workdays, impossible productivity goals — along with the discriminatory and racist practices for which the company has been denounced. There is a clear link between this struggle and the Black Lives Matter movement, which has had a strong impact on the precarious and mainly Black and immigrant working class.

The Amazon union struggle in Bessemer has already had a tremendous political and moral impact on those who work “on the other side of the world” answering calls from customers, vendors, and even Amazon employees. Each of these workers has a valid claim against this giant multinational and its infamous business practices, all of which benefit the bosses at the expense of workers.

We have no choice but to stand with the Amazon workers fighting to organize and for better working conditions. There’s no doubt that Amazon call centers, warehouses, and workplaces of all kinds across the world will erupt in celebration at an eventual victory in Alabama. Until then, we send our full solidarity from Costa Rica.

First published in Spanish on April 1 in La Izquierda Diario.

Translation by Otto Fors

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