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”?

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