Strike action by Deliveroo couriers has spread across the country, with simultaneous strikes having been held in various locations over pay, on 1 February. These strikes were inspired by an energetic and visible strike that took place in Bristol on the 18 January, and precipitated by steadily decreasing pay.
Bristol, Cheltenham, Horsham, London, Nottingham and Worthing all saw strikes by couriers, mostly starting 6pm. Birmingham struck earlier that week. Couriers in those six places are all, it seems, discussing or planning further strike action and protests. Couriers in Bournemouth, Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester, and at least one other place, are also planning future strikes, and probably many more beyond these 12 places that I know of at the time of writing. Many places have been discussing strikes on Valentine’s day, 14 February. This is a busy day for Deliveroo, and riders can communicate ″no love for Deliveroo″. Other places have been discussing alternative dates.
On 1 February, in Bristol, we built upon the previous protest, with around 250 or more riders striking, the bulk of the active workforce. This led to three quarters of Deliveroo′s normal operation shutting down — 120 of 160 restaurants stopped delivering — and very long waiting times, and cancelled or refunded orders. A large proportion were striking by simply logging out and choosing to stay at home, rather than joining the protest, because of the snow and the cold weather. They struck despite Deliveroo yet again offering ″boosts″ — additional pay — in an attempt to undermine it.
Around 40 of us — couriers and supporters — were on the protest, which was energetic and loud. We protested outside and leafleted within four restaurants. We know that Deliveroo was scared of this too, as they had it seemed hired bouncers to be outside some of the restaurants, and at least one of them followed us from restaurant to restaurant. In Nottingham, too, Deliveroo reportedly supplied bouncers to restaurants too.
In Cheltenham, around 30 people struck, a significant proportion of a much smaller fleet. 22 people joined in a protest, chanting and talking to customers in the busiest restaurants. Deliveroo attempted to bring in riders from other zones. There was nonetheless a significant backlog of orders with long waits, and restaurant managers reportedly furious at Deliveroo.
Horsham saw 11 people striking in a smaller workforce still, with a few of them talking to couriers who hadn′t heard about it before. Most of the riders had been brought in from other zones, although some were from Horsham but felt unable to strike because of loss of pay. Some restaurants turned off their Deliveroo service, and others saw over two hours delivery times as they struggled with a backlog.
Worthing, perhaps the smallest workforce of them all, reportedly saw slightly fewer people striking. The majority of restaurants turned off their Deliveroo service, and the others had a backlog. Deliveroo called some riders about their strike action, confused about what was occurring.
Couriers in London went on strike for longer, starting earlier in the day, with perhaps 50 present at the protest — much more on some reports — and others passively striking. There is a much larger total number of couriers in London, across many zones, and Deliveroo reportedly placed a £2 boost on all orders to try to bring in strike breakers. Riders picketted a restaurant and a set of Deliveroo′s ″dark kitchens″ in Islington. Dark kitchens are prefabricated shipping containers with industrial cooking equipment which Deliveroo rents to restaurants wanting to expand their delivery service.
Nottingham saw a large number of riders striking, causing severe delays and cancelled orders. Birmingham, earlier in the week, had seen a strike by 50 couriers, who protested outside Deliveroo′s offices. We know that the strike caused Deliveroo to directly lose tens of thousands of pounds across the country, perhaps significantly more, in lost or refunded orders. We know that they were scared enough to email restaurants across the country warning them about it, and to hire bounces in many places. In many places they raised pay significantly to attempt to break the strikes — but they should raise that pay not just for a day, or weekend, but in the longer term!
Most places had fairly similar demands, as we encouraged them to model theirs on ours (bit.ly/demandsBC). The core of these demands is higher pay a hiring freeze which would allow us to work more orders and so raise our weekly pay. We also have demands around due process for termination — i.e. job security — and transparency. Most places have one or two demands about particular aspects of their local working conditions.
To escalate this strike, activists in all of these areas need to build robust local organisation, and reach out to more and more couriers. This means organising local meetings of couriers, to plan democratically and to organise how to reach out effectively to yet more riders.
Bristol Couriers′ Network (BCN) have regular and well publicised general meetings for all couriers, and we make sure that we always have one shortly after a strike that we publicise at the strike. BCN also elected a committee that does more detailed organising between these meetings. For every strike and meeting we make bilingual leaflets. At every restaurant where we see other riders, we discuss the struggle, try to persuade them if they are unsure, give them leaflets, and take their phone numbers. We keep in contact through texts and WhatsApp. Press releases, getting support from local union branches and left-wing groups, and social media, have been very useful too.
This local organising is the backbone of how we can build a successful strike movement to force Deliveroo to pay us better. BCN has affiliated to the IWGB union, and lots of us have joined. Cheltenham Couriers′ United likewise have a growing number of members, and activists in various other places are members too, and hopefully more will join up and more places will affiliate. IWGB′s Couriers and Logistics Branch (CLB) has been very supportive and has a wealth of experience of fighting and winning in the courier industry in London. Couriers nationally should try to co-ordinate and come together in a more organised way nationally, which will help us to support each other better.
The similarity of demands in most places across the country is a good step in the right direction. One demand that hasn′t yet been raised in these strikes is for us to be categorised as workers rather than ″independent contractors″, a demand that would automatically win us many workers′ rights. Deliveroo has promoted a lot of misinformation about the supposed but non-existent advantages of the way they (mis)categorise us. Many riders have accepted or repeated this misinformation.
Locally and nationally we need to have this discussion, and I think most couriers will be won round when they know the facts. Finally, the spreading of these strikes increases the urgency and importance of building a strike fund. In Bristol we have almost £1,600 altogether, but with hundreds of riders altogether we decided that it wasn′t enough to make available for the last strike. IWGB′s CLB is also reviving its slightly bigger strike fund, to be further supported by a proportion of membership dues, and to be available to members.