We were stunned and deeply saddened to learn that Christian Krähling, Verdi ombudsman at the Amazon site in Bad Hersfeld and perhaps the most important labour movement leader at Amazon in Germany, passed away on his forty-third birthday. Christian had been closely associated with the work of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung for many years.
Florian Wilde and Fanny Zeise both work on trade union strategy at the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung in Berlin. Translation by Federico Tomasone.
He had been a participant in the “Renewal through Strike” conference series since its first iteration in Stuttgart in 2013, which he always enriched with his own contributions and to which he travelled together with colleagues from the logistics centre. At the 2016 “Strike Conference” in Frankfurt, for example, he described in the workshop “Industrial Action under Difficult Conditions” how he and a handful of upright Verdi unionists were the first to stand up to the online giant Amazon and take up the struggle for an adequate collective bargaining agreement. His company group grew rapidly and was soon able to motivate colleagues at the other German sites to also get active and join the struggle.
This struggle has been going on for ten years now, with the workers deploying ever new forms of action, pinpricks, boycott actions, and strikes to put pressure on their cause. In the process, the activists themselves are under strong pressure from the global corporation, which tries in ever new ways to undermine their solidarity and weaken their fighting strength. In 2019, Christian dealt with these perfidious attacks at the fourth strike conference in Braunschweig in a working group on “Countering the Low-Wage Sector” and gave a lecture on “Divisive Strategies of the Giant, Counter-Strategies of the Activists”.
With Christian, the globally operating company had an unwavering internationalist as an opponent. Early on, the strikers in Bad Hersfeld observed that Amazon shifted shipping to other European countries without further ado in order to mitigate the effect of their strike actions. Again and again Christian visited the Amazon workers in Poland, France, and Spain. He also played a central role in the international advisory council “Solidarity across Borders” organized by the RLS in October 2015, and used the opportunity to establish a network with Amazon workers active in unions from other European countries. The RLS brochure The Long Struggle of the Amazon Employees would probably never have been published without Christian’s worker expertise.
Like all Amazon workers, Christian was subjected to almost seamless surveillance of his work by the corporate data kraken using the most modern technologies—and he organized resistance against this, as well. In 2017, he spoke about his experiences with the dark side of digitalization at a symposium jointly organised by Verdi, IG Metall, and the RLS entitled “Digital Revolution: Who Says Where Things Go?” Christian emphasized that trade unions must be proactive in these conflicts, “and find a language that colleagues in the factories understand”.
Making left-wing and trade union politics understandable in the workplace was an issue close to his heart, and he sought to develop his own ways of expressing this through poems and music. These poems bear witness to the fact that Christian was a tough and undaunted fighter, but also an extremely sensitive person.
We don’t know whether his boss Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, took any notice of the passing of one of his most important counterparts within the company. He is probably far too blinded by the additional billions in profits he is reaping from the corona pandemic, which has boosted his fortune to 121 billion US dollars. It currently continues to grow by 2,498 dollars per second—more than Christian netted in an entire month of hard work at Amazon. Bezos’s wealth is based on the merciless exploitation of his workers, a condition to which Christian sought to put an end and for which he argued, organized, and went on strike for ten years.
“Picket at the FRA3 late shift stands!” was his last Facebook post on 1 December 2020. A few days later, he passed away. He will be greatly missed, also by us, for whom Christian Krähling’s far-too-early death is an obligation to continue to support the Amazon workers’ struggle for dignified working conditions and a decent collective bargaining agreement.