Bike Delivery Workers Strike in Several Countries

Precarious couriers are leading the struggle against platform capitalism

Over the last two years bike messengers for Deliveroo and Foodora (both international food delivery companies) have gone on strike in several european countries in order to push back against their precarious working conditions. This amounts primarily to the self organization of the workers themselves but also to the work of radical unions across europe who are in the process of forming a new international of anarcho-syndicalist unions namely the IWW in the UK, the CNT in France and Spain, the FAU in germany, and the USI in italy. Because of the growing international network the strikes are likely to spread further.

The first of these strikes was a successful wildcat strike (which is rare for the industry) in London against a proposed pay cut of half per delivery for deliveroo workers in august 2016. This was followed up by strikes in Turin, Italy in October 2016 against a proposed transition from hourly to delivery based pay and in favor of raises however in this case many of the organizers were fired and despite favorable media coverage most of the demands have not been met. There was another strike by deliveroo workers in the Uk in February 2017, this time spreading beyond london including Bristol, Brighton, and Leeds. In Berlin on May 18th Foodora and Deliveroo workers came together for a variety of demands including higher pay, greater transparency in hours, and a guarantee of being paid a living wage. July saw strikes in Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia as well as in Milan. In Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux in august 2017 deliveroo riders also struck over a proposed altering of their payment plan.

These strikes have generally been “spontaneous” (referring here more to their organization outside of mainstream unions rather than appearing out of thin air), organized by the workers themselves or through alternative rank-and-file unions, and utilizing confrontational tactics, such as blocking restaurants to prevent deliveries and wildcat strikes. Where more “traditional,” business union style approaches have failed to make inroads, these tactics clearly have been effective for launching and winning workers struggles against the “gig economy,” sometimes referred to as platform capitalism, in which the workers often own their means of production, such as their bike, car in the case of uber, or home yet are paid through a platform owned by a company, typically in ways designed to skirt if not completely ignore labor protections. With this type of employment growing and the general perception that this is a largely alienated and isolated workforce that does not lend itself easily to unionization or worker actions, these strikes and the growing international movement around them mark an incredibly positive development, illustrating useful lessons for the labor movement more broadly.

While this is focused on a section of the food system that we have not covered in much detail the importance of worker self organization and militant tactics in the bettering of conditions for workers is a far more generalizable lesson than that.

Why do you think these workers have been able to defy expectations for workplace organizing in the “gig economy”?

Catalan Farmers Resisting the Spanish State

Catalan farmers trick Spanish police and trap them in field to stop them disrupting general strike

Catalan farmers drive hundreds of tractors through Barcelona in support of independence vote

Catalonia’s Push for Independence Has an Unlikely Symbol: Tractors

Catalonian farmers took on several large scale collective actions in support of the independence referendum from Spain on October 1, 2017. This a move that for many is rooted out of more out of a form of localism or municipalist socialism rather than nationalism, a coalition of Anarchist unions including the CNT even called and conducted a general strike for October 3rd, although more in opposition to the massive repression of the spanish state than in support for a new nation state. The farmers actions likewise were oriented towards confrontation with the police and the state.

On September 29th two days before the referendum farmers on tractors filled the streets of Barcelona in support of the referendum. On election day Farmers parked their tractors in front of polling stations in order to defend them from raids by spanish Guardia Civil (there were several anyway). However the most creative action came on october 3rd during the general strike when farmers in La Jonquera announced plans to close the border with France. When the police arrived there were no farmers to be seen. The farmers instead had blocked the roads back to Barcelona, trapping the police.

Farmers and tractors are not new in European Protests. Farmers frequently join demonstrations in support of the zone to be defended (la ZAD), europe’s largest squat, in France and French farmers have even dumped manure on government buildings. That is certainly true historically in Catalonia as well. During the Spanish Revolution hundreds of thousands of peasants in Catalonia and Aragon voluntarily collectivized more than 60% of agricultural production in the region through the CNT, increasing agricultural production by 30-50% and massively reducing inequalities of wealth and power. In recent years there have been several other large scale tractor demonstrations in Catalonia.

These demonstrations have had a legitimately revolutionary potential, demonstrating the very forms of solidarity and action that have the potential to transform a bourgeois independence referendum into social revolution and farmers have played a leading role in it, even in a place with an urban and (post)industrialized population.

How can we support struggles such as these? What types of support would even be possible in an institution structured such as this one? Farmers and rural populations in the U.S. are often assumed to be inherently reactionary and even counter-revolutionary, yet the example of catalonia illustrates that this clearly need not be the case. What struggles might motivate farmers to participate in similar ways nearer to us?


Let the Crops Rot in the Fields

Let the Crops Rot in the Fields

Let the Crops Rot in the Fields was the call to arms from the Free Alabama Movement of the national prison strike in september 2016 against prison slavery, the largest prison strike in US history with 46 prisons impacted. This call was picked up primarily by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), the prison labor organizing section of the Industrial Workers’ of the World (IWW), a radical labor union with a long history of organizing marginalized sections of the working class. In addition to the actions within prisons, solidarity actions also occurred outside of the prison walls in a variety of states. It is formated a little strangely because it is intended to be printed into booklets and distributed in prisons.

The call focuses on the role of super exploited prison labor in the economy and sought to get prisoners to disrupt that production through a series of strikes, rebellions, and shut downs. It is critical of the more established methods of resistance to Prisons (as listed: Hunger strikes, Marches, and letter writing campaigns) and puts forward the strike, broadened somewhat into economic direct action, as a revolutionary alternative. In their words:

We must let the crops rot in the field if we aren’t receiving the benefit of the harvest. Let the crops rot in the fields is a proven strategy that was passed down to us from our Ancestors from the slave plantations that was used to disrupt the economics of the field.

This is using a system analysis in order to utilize the collective power of imprisoned workers to bring the entire prison system to its knees. The fact that this resulted in the largest prison strike in US history and demands won in several prisons is a testament to the efficacy of the tactic and to its likely continued use.

Bard has the Bard Prison Initiative but is want to meaningfully challenge the system of policing, criminalization, imprisonment, and slavery. Again, as I said on my last post, for this to relate in a meaningful way to the context of bard we would need to reconsider what we mean by it. Is bard the administrative shell who can only act through market mechanisms and purchasing choices or is solidarity between students, workers, and faculty with broader struggles possible? If we are genuinely interested in changing (or preferably in my opinion abolishing and revolutionizing) existing structures we desperately need to rethink what types of struggles actually potential to disrupt the reproduction of this system. This seems particularly relevant in this case because Chartwells and Compass Foods are deeply involved in profiting from prisons.

Is it possible to address prison slavery in food production through ethical consumerism? What other strategies could be more effective?

If you would like more information on the strike check out the report back from prisoners involved put together by IWOC called The Fire Inside.

Autonomy in Tampa, Solidarity in Immokalee: Love Letter to the Future

Autonomy in Tampa, Solidarity in Immokalee: Love Letter to the Future

This is a write up from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief a collective based on the principles of “solidarity, mutual aid, and autonomous direct action” and there work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and a broad coalition of left organizations to provide disaster relief in florida. The article calls borders and states into question and proposes mutual aid as a long term solution. It also advocates building popular power outside the state. Their strategy includes the expropriation of food from supermarkets.

The website is It’s Going Down which aggregates writing from anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements. A perspective you aren’t likely to see very often in the mainstream press but it is fairly honest about its biases and perspective and usually pretty close to the ground. I am sympathetic to it. The analysis in this piece is systematic and revolutionary, about building popular power to challenge the contemporary social order. In order for this to relate to bard we would need to redefine what we mean by bard.

what do you think of the tactics? Effective? Necessary? Do you think they are right that we can build popular power through disaster relief?

134 Environmental Defenders Have Been Killed So Far in 2017

This is an aggregator of environmental activists and workers killed defending land or natural resources. There have been 134 killed so far in 2017 according to the list. The list is fairly explicit that industry is the major driver of these deaths with the primary industries responsible being mining and extractive (33 deaths), agribusiness (23 deaths), logging (23 deaths), poaching (18 deaths) and water and dams (8 deaths). The list is interesting in that it includes grassroots activists and community members as well as state environmental officials, such as park rangers killed by poachers. Does including both make sense in the same list?

While it is hard to find a direct connection between this and bard’s food purchasing, this demonstrates some of the limits of a consumer driven approach in that it ignores solidarity and collective struggle focusing instead on purchasing habits.

The great nutrient collapse

The great nutrient collapse

The article explains the results of studies indicating that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is resulting in less nutritious food.

The source is pretty credible. The focus is mixed it could be said to be systemic because it is looking at an interaction between different parts of a system and the impacts. It could also be said to be reductionist because it only focuses on one impact of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and focuses mostly on nutritional value. However this issue clearly relates to the whole food system. It seems relatively convincing but it is possible that it is missing other factors that could be contributing to a loss of nutritional value such as topsoil loss and degradation.

Does this explanation appear to be the most convincing explaination for the loss in nutritional value?


McDonalds Strike in the UK

McDonald’s Workers are on strike in the UK against zero hours contracts (a contract with no fixed hours or any guarantee of having work at all) and for a 10 pounds an hour wage, a living wage in the UK. This strike, a coordinated action across job sites, appears modeled off of the fight for 15 movement in the US, with strike actions centered in service industry jobs, typically having a lower rate of union membership, a more atomized work force, and low wages. Despite the service industry becoming an increasingly dominant source of employment in the post-industrial global north, these actions illustrate that the power of the working class has not completely vanished.

If the McDonald’s strikers’ demands are met, it will be a victory for all.