10. First Courier

In December 1989 John, a DIWU member, was working at First Courier. There had been various small confrontations with management over pay and conditions. The issue of single drops to the other side of Town, which pay poorly, came to a head when John refused to do one. This was a challenge to “management’s divine right to manage.” However, the issue was hot enough so that soon four other cyclists had refused to do the job. There was in effect a mini-strike. The job was eventually palmed off onto a new rider who was unaware of what was going on.

John: We made our money at First by doing multi drops from Schroders and Touche Remmant, these came out at set times each day. We had little work and I’d just had what we called a two hour dinner break (i.e. standing-by unpaid). Then, just minutes before a multi drop came out I was told to go to Westminster SW1. I was in the City, this would take as long as a multi drop and pay £15 less. We were treated like scum at First, I’d had enough. I argued for at least half an hour over the radio, the job could have been done by then, instead it just sat on someone's desk. First never did themselves any favours. We never claimed to be on strike, but self employed and therefore had the right to do the work we wanted to.

This dispute was significant for the DIWU because it was going to be the first event we publicised via Despatches where the participants could be pinpointed as DIWU members. We discussed the disadvantages, like John might get blacklisted, and we discussed the advantages, like it would give good publicity to the union. Eventually with John’s consent we printed an article in Despatches No.3.

There are many firms to choose from in the courier industry, yet John had some problems getting a job after leaving First. ADC who have links with First refused to take him on and Go Between asked if he was “the same John who started the trouble at First,” and this was one year after the dispute and the article had mentioned no names. Several other firms also appeared suspicious and did not take him on.