The organiser leading Britain’s first Amazon workers’ strike

GMB’s Amanda Gearing on the Coventry protest that has been 10 years in the making
January 25, 2023

While I wait to speak to Amanda Gearing, I’m handed a mug of coffee with a sketch of Eleanor Marx on the side. I’m at the Tamworth office of the GMB trade union, the Staffordshire base from which Gearing, a senior organiser, has coordinated the first strike by Amazon workers in Britain. The strike, which will take place at the Coventry warehouse on 25th January, is 10 years in the making. An organiser for 15, Gearing has led the fight from the beginning. 

When we meet, Gearing is wearing a T-shirt that reads: “We are not robots”. She offers me a sandwich and is quick to laugh at the lighter moments in our conversation. But her outrage is palpable when she describes the way that workers have been treated by a company that earned £23.2bn in the UK in 2021. 

Born in West Bromwich, where she has lived all her life, Gearing has trade unionism in her blood: her father, who worked at Land Rover, was a union rep and convenor. Her mother, a cleaner, was a campaigner too—she took Gearing’s school to task for not having a zebra crossing on the road outside. 

Gearing followed in her mother’s footsteps; she ran a campaign against her daughter’s community school being turned into an academy. At the time, she was working as an administrator for PCS, the civil service trade union. Her bosses quickly realised that she was a natural organiser. 

She joined GMB in 2007; by the time she was promoted to a senior role in 2012, complaints about the Amazon warehouse in Rugeley were already in her in-tray. “There was an extraordinary number of ambulances going to the site,” she says. Workers were stressed by targets which linked their performance to their peers’. “It was a pressure-cooker environment… they were working as hard as they could, so they didn’t end up in a disciplinary.” 

Over the next decade, Gearing and her team tried various tactics to reach workers, riding the bus onto the Amazon premises and staging protests outside. It was difficult, she explains, as union officials were not allowed on site: “They’re a very anti-trade union company.” In 2018 the Coventry site opened, and several GMB members moved over from Rugeley. But momentum didn’t grow until after the pandemic, when “almost a perfect storm” of tensions led workers to take matters “into their own hands.”

Both warehouses had operated at full capacity during the peak of infections and the company’s profits had risen dramatically. So, when the firm reviewed the pay of their Coventry staff in August 2022, many workers were hoping for a rise of £2 per hour, to £12. They were given 50p. 

According to Gearing, staff were at breaking point, struggling with anxiety that had built up over the previous two years, and fears about the rising cost of living. And not just in the Midlands—warehouse workers nationwide staged sit-ins and protests, which were filmed and shared on TikTok. 

At the Coventry site, staff approached Gearing: “Because we’d been patient and steady over the years… they knew who to turn to.” GMB gained many more members, who balloted to strike. They were asking for £15 per hour—more than the starting salary for a nurse. Gearing stresses that nurses should be paid more too: “It’s not a race to the bottom.”

Running a campaign often means working evenings and weekends—when I ask Gearing what she does to relax, she laughs. “I don’t,” she says. Even if she is watching trash TV, she has her phone in her hand, because she’s running so many WhatsApp groups. But for Gearing, “none of it feels like work.”

In a famously male-dominated movement, this bubbly woman is behind a strike that is set to make history. But she believes there is always more to be done: “I’m still not congratulating anybody… we’re not there yet.”