19. Other activities

Below are listed most of the other activities the DIWU got involved in so that critics who are tempted to say, “why didn’t they do such and such?” can see that we probably did.

The DIWU organised a benefit/social in December 1989 which was a great success with about 110 people attending. We also had a public meeting in October 1990 where about 30 couriers came along to find out about the Union.

Virtually all the other social events we organised were unmitigated disasters, due to poor attendance. Only the die-hards attended film shows, Christmas piss ups, alternative cabaret, First Aid course and the run out to Brands Hatch to watch the racing.

In contrast to the apathy of many couriers, various solicitors often gave us their undivided attention. We were twice threatened with legal action by West One, twice by Westminster Council and once by a firm in Liverpool. Adam was also threatened with court action by one of the sharks in the despatch industry, Charles Lamb, who handles many couriers’ tax affairs. We always ignored the bastards.

For two years the minutes of the meetings were typed, photocopied and posted out to all people on the contact list in order to sustain interest. After that a more readable and more security conscious summary of Union business and forthcoming activities etc was sent out monthly, called Union News. We produced popular booklets on Tax matters and National Insurance, a history of the Independent Couriers Association in New York, badges, stickers, posters, pens, key rings, T-shirts, calendars, membership cards, rule books, policy booklets, information for new members and numerous specific leaflets plus Despatches quarterly. Occasionally we had outside speakers at DIWU meetings e.g. TGWU strikers from Liverpool, and representatives from Anti Fascist Action and the Anti Poll Tax Movement.

The DIWU membership took an active part in co-ordinating several national Anti Poll Tax demos and were also involved in anti-fascist activity. During the 1989 Ambulance Dispute while the TGWU supported a poxy fifteen minute stoppage during what would be most people’s dinner break, the D1WU, true to form, at a day's notice, organised a demo at Parliament Square where 30 to 40 riders sped round and round blasting their horns causing a right rumpus. This got us on prime time TV and cemented links with striking ambulance workers for whom we’d already raised several hundreds of pounds. A couple of weeks after the demo traffic lights were put up on all four corners of the Square, wonder why?!

We contacted all the London Branches of the UCW and BETA unions requesting financial assistance, but got none. However, the (then) National Organiser of the ACTT union offered his services to us after seeing our posters all over town. Journalists from The Guardian, Financial Times, Evening Standard, City Limits, Ride Magazine, Moving Target, London Biker, Transport Review, the BBC, LWT and various other bodies and freelancers contacted us for interviews. Some did articles, and John and Sam did a 15 minute documentary on the union for BBC Radio 5. We also assisted in the making of a documentary film about the industry called P.O.B. which was shown at some of our social events. It was very good but has not yet been broadcast.

We were in regular contact with the Independent Couriers Association in New York, and had letters from couriers in Germany and Austria and letters from anarcho-syndicalist organisations in Spain, France, the USA and Australia. We also had a letter from a member of the IWW union in Ottawa who wanted to start a DIWU branch there.

Adam: Being an open organisation the DIWU sometimes succumbed to wishy-washy ideas, consequently we entered into correspondence with Westminster Council re: allowing motorcycles to use bus lanes, with the police re: excessive harassment of couriers, with Delta Despatch re: pay, with Addison Lee re: deductions from wages. [think all of these letter writing campaigns were a complete waste of time and energy.’, and possibly harmful to the DIWU as they took away the emphasis from organising industrially to begging the powers that be for favours. The DIWU also maintained links with Camden Occupational Health Project and North Kensington Law Centre. But best of all, we wrote to the Anti Trust, which is a kind of philanthropic charity for 'left wing’ groups, and to our amazement they donated £800 to us.

In December 1989 the DIWU delegated Alan to go to Paris to a conference for communication workers organised by the Intemational Workers Association. It was good but geared more towards postal and telecom workers than despatch riders. We also delegated John and Pia to take part in the Trade Union Anti Poll Tax Conference in September 1990, and Adam spoke about the DIWU at that year’s May Day Rally in Clerkenwell Green. In October of that year a car load of us were all set to go to Edinburgh at the request of a group of couriers who were organising lightening strikes right across Scotland. After lots of phone calls, letters, delays and changes of plans the trip was eventually cancelled.

The DIWU was in occasional contact with the Motorcycle Action Group and the British Motorcyclists Federation, and we ran a DIWU stall at the Magna Carta rally attended by thousands of bikers. We did some graffiti around London which has lasted well but we wish we had had lots more. Rajiv wrote and recorded a punk song called “Join the DIWU”, which is not everybody’s cup of tea but some of us like it.

We provided advice and a witness for a cycle courier from Special Delivery (probably the worst firm in London) who took them to the small claims court for non payment of wages and won. Another DIWU member decided to use debt collectors to get wages he was owed and that was successful too. For several firms we tried to get ‘Company Reports’ i.e. details on profits, directors, and other juicy bits of information. However, most of the despatch firms we enquired about had covered their tracks very well by using different trading names, addresses, splitting the company into tiny fractions to avoid the prying eyes of people such as us or the Inland Revenue.