Uber Eats delivery driver (Picture: Wistula)

 
At the entrance of a narrow alleyway in Tower Hamlets, east London, delivery worker Omar and his fellow workers on bikes and mopeds formed a picket line. 
 
They were standing outside a dark kitchen, a food business with no dine-in space that serves customers through delivery only, trying to persuade other workers not to pick up deliveries. 
 
After managing to turn one worker away, Omar told Socialist Worker they were holding the line to keep the strike strong. 
 
“We’re fighting for all people. We are fighting for all delivery drivers.” he explained.
 
“Not everyone knows about the strike, so we try and explain to them. We aren’t going to force anyone, but we must explain why we are striking.”
 
Not long after a man who said he owned the dark kitchen came out to try to force them off. He focused his anger on Omar, warning him that he would never work again. 
 
Within seconds even more workers flocked to the scene to support Omar and explain why they were picketing.
 
One thing that they made very clear to him was that they wouldn’t move. This was the kind of unity in action that was seen across London, other parts of Britain and the world on Valentine’s day last week when workers decided to strike for better pay. 
 
Workers in London who use delivery apps like Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Just Eat say they’ve had enough. They are tired of ever-dropping pay, working in punishing conditions and police intimidation.
 
On the streets, workers were keenly aware that there is only one way to win them a better deal — stop the flow of the bosses’ profits. 
 
Delivery workers, most of them Brazilian migrant workers, gathered outside a McDonald’s in Hackney with their bikes.
 
Security workers stationed outside the fast food restaurant watched their every move. 
 
Gavin told Socialist Worker that workers had devised a way to stop other riders crossing the picket line.  “We’re clamping up their bikes for as long as the strike is on,” he said. “We’ve told them not to deliver, and they haven’t listened. 
 
“We know each other well around here. I know all the riders. 
 
“We stick up for each other. If someone’s bike gets stolen, we all run after the culprit. But we have to keep this strike strong. That means trying to stop people from accepting orders.” 
 
And workers didn’t stop at picket lines to try and send a message to the bosses of delivery apps like Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Just Eat
 
Drivers and riders decided to travel in a convoy to the home of Deliveroo co-founder and CEO Will Shu. Videos on social media show hundreds of riders outside his residence. 
 
The streets of London were filled with solidarity but also fury at app bosses who have pushed workers to breaking point. 
 
Gavin explained that he has been a delivery driver for a punishing 12 years. 
 
“In east London we are making about £2.80 for each delivery, if that. In about eight hours, you can maybe make £50 or £60 on a good day. That’s it. 
 
“The apps take sometimes 50 percent of the price of each order, and we’re getting maybe 10 percent. How is that fair when we do the work?”
 
Striker Marcus, who is originally from Brazil added, “We work in the cold and the rain.
 
“We get double orders where the locations are too far away from each other. 
 
“With Uber Eats sometimes I only make £2.20 for a delivery. We work all day, and we need more pay for what we do.”
 
Thais, was picketing outside a McDonald’s in Dalston, east London. She told Socialist Worker that she was striking for a better future. 
 
“I’ve been a rider for almost three years. Every day it’s worse and worse, and we are paid less and less. Today, before the strike I worked since 9 am and made just £45. 
 
“I can’t study, I can’t go to the gym, I can’t do normal things. I can only work.” 
 
John, an IWGB union member, was also outside the dark kitchen in Tower Hamlets. 
 
He told Socialist Worker he was striking because pay rates keep dropping and conditions are getting worse. 
 
“I get tired a lot. I’ve had a lot of back issues doing this job. I’ve had to ask my landlord to let me pay my rent later a few times because I don’t have enough money,” he explained. 
 
Riders are also regularly subjected to police repression and intimidation. The police targeted workers picketing on Brick Lane in east London.
 
They took riders’ bikes away, and conducted immigration checks. This is a regular occurrence for workers even when strikes aren’t happening. 
 
Gavin added, “I’ve had my bike stolen five times. That’s like having your whole livelihood taken away. The police never care. You feel like you’re worthless to them.” 
 
*Some names have been changed
 
Who’s organised the strike?
Delivery strikes in Britain have been organised from the ground up by workers. The first strike on 2 February was a great success which meant that more workers wanted to join the action. 
 
Strikes were organised by a group of workers who are part of the DeliveryJobUK group. 
 
Their spokesperson Rafael, who is a rider in Bromley in south east London, spoke to The Gig Economy Project about how they went about organising the strike. 
 
“There was a group of riders at one of the dark kitchens in Battersea who decided to organise a strike, and at first, it was only going to be at that dark kitchen,” he said. 
 
“But then more people wanted to get involved, so we created the first WhatsApp group, and from there, we have three WhatsApp groups with about 1,000 people each, only with Portuguese speakers, mainly Brazilians and a few Portuguese. 
 
“We also now have another group with more than 1,000 English speakers of different nationalities­—Algerians, Albanians, Romanians, Indians, people from all over the world.
 
“We also have groups of people in different cities. Bristol, Brighton, Peterborough, and a new group in Dublin. 
 
“So we now have about 4,000 that we know, and of course, there are many people who are not on these WhatsApp groups but know about the strike.” 
 
DeliveryJobUK has said it plans to organise another strike.
 
The IWGB union, which has been working to organise delivery workers for some time, also supported and publicised the strikes. 
 
But ultimately most workers who took part aren’t in unions and are creating networks for themselves. 
 
The greatest tool delivery workers have is the connections they have with each other. 
 
Many workers on picket lines told Socialist Worker they knew about the strike because a fellow worker had told them. 
 
Far from being un-organisable delivery app workers are showing they can do it themselves.
 
How widespread are they? 
It wasn’t just in London that workers took action. Workers struck in several places across Britain. 
 
There were pickets outside a KFC in Stourbridge in the West Midlands and in Brighton and Blackpool as well. One rider tweeted from Newton Abbot in Devon that he would strike.
 
“I have joined the strike for this evening. Not delivering in Newton Abbot tonight. Others are as well. Though my area only has about 15 full-time core drivers,” they added. 
 
Across the United States, thousands of workers for Uber and Lyft taxi apps also joined with delivery workers to strike. 
 
Drivers from the Justice for App Workers (JFAW) said they would not pick up customers from airports in 10 cities. 
 
In the Bay Area of San Fransisco taxi workers rallied outside Uber’s headquarters. In Dublin, Ireland, striking workers gathered at the Spire on O’Connell Street to demand better pay. 
 
One of the delivery workers there said, “We would like it if the bosses of the apps could hear us. Because we try and talk to them and send messages and always there is no answer.”
 
How do the apps work?
The very nature of how companies like Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat function means that the bosses are constantly finding new ways to exploit workers. 
 
These platforms rely on workers to deliver meals to customers and take a cut of the total price of an order from food businesses in the process.
 
Yet this formula hasn’t been particularly lucrative for the bosses. Take Deliveroo—which has always struggled to make any profit.
 
Most years it has lost money with 2022 being a particularly bad year where it lost £147 million in the first six months of the year. 
 
The company has been kept afloat by the millions of pounds it has been handed by investors who hope it will make a profit in the future. 
 
After years of not making any profit, Deliveroo founder and CEO, Will Shu, thinks things are looking up.
 
Deliveroo announced that it planned to hand back £250 million to its shareholders late last year — in a sign the company thinks it can start to generate profit one day.
 
In August of last year, Shu said, “We are basically free cash flow break-even at this point.” He means that the amount of money coming in is the same as its spending. 
 
But to even get to this point, Deliveroo bosses have had to squeeze workers tighter and tighter. 
 
Back in 2016 the way that Deliveroo paid workers was quite different. Workers were paid £7 an hour plus £1 per delivery.
 
But this pay scale was scrapped in favour of an algorithm that calculates how much workers should be paid for each journey. 
 
All of this means that Deliveroo has got away with paying workers less and less every year. 
 
In 2016 the company promised workers £3.75 per delivery. Today most workers deliver orders for well under £3. 
 
And the law allows companies like Deliveroo to continue to rob workers by hiding behind claims that riders and drivers are self-employed — which robs them of workers’ rights. 
 
In 2021 the Court of Appeal rejected a claim made by the IWGB for collective bargaining rights stating that delivery drivers and riders weren’t workers. 
 
Last November the Supreme Court granted Deliveroo the right to not have to engage with unions. The law is not on the side of delivery workers.
 
Fighting outside the courts and striking is the only way to win against bosses intent on exploiting workers more and more each year. 
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