2. Introduction

This booklet is meant to be a record of the nitty-gritty details of organising an effective union from scratch in modern day Britain. We wanted as much as possible down on paper before it is forgotten. As such this booklet has its fair share of boring parts, although in fact the DIWU has seen more action in 3 years than most other unions see in 30 years!

Despatch riding and cycle couriering are dangerous jobs with people killed nearly every year. One DIWU member, Peter Fordham, was killed on the Pentonville Road on Friday 13th September 1991 (while working for a firm called Heaven Sent, believe it or not) Most of us have had at least one serious injury. When ‘human error’ is the cause that is not too bad because we all make mistakes occasionally.

However, a large number of crashes are caused by aggressive drivers cocooned within the safety of their car or van. They nudge, tailgate and generally try to intimidate us. These people are wankers of the highest order, and the resulting bike-car accidents are not accidents at all, but simply caused by these motorists’ stupidity.

But the problems couriers get from bad drivers, heavy traffic, pollution, vehicle breakdown, police harassment, bad weather, crap radios and wrongly-addressed parcels pale into insignificance compared to the problems the bosses provide us with. Money, or the lack of it, is of course the obvious one. Some firms are fairly ’honest’ in the way they treat us, but many have outrageous rip-offs of the couriers. Cheques get bounced, jobs done are not paid for, multi-drops are charged to the customers at the full rate but only a tiny percentage is passed onto the courier. fines are imposed for lateness, bonuses are fiddled, etc. Dynamo forced their cyclists to buy the company shirts for £15 each, then fine you £10 per day if you don’t wear it (i.e. don’t wear your own shirt!) Creative Couriers even took £10 from one rider’s wages to buy some flowers for a customer who the rider had had an argument with. If you complain about any of this the bosses invariably say “if you don’t like it you can leave”, and firms like 24 Hours Express on Borough High Street will offer you some gratuitous violence as well. After all these aggravations the bosses are then surprised when they don’t get a loyal or stable workforce!

Special Delivery Ltd. deserves a mention on its own as an example of what couriers have to face. This company quite simply ran a policy not to pay their workers. Special Delivery would continually advertise in the London Evening Standard, and recruit novice couriers. So, people would start work there and not expect to get paid for two weeks due to ‘week-in-hand’ money. After two weeks the boss would tell the courier that there had been a problem with the computer and there would be a delay of another week. When another week rolls round, another excuse would also roll round. By the time four or five weeks had been worked and no wages paid many people leave, people who try to argue with (or throttle) the office staff don’t get very far because riders can only communicate through a small hatchway. Persistent couriers may be referred to the other Special Delivery office in Aylesbury, but those who go there only get referred back to the London office. Any couriers who still have the tenacity to pursue their wages will be told at this point that their wages have not exceeded the radio charges, circuit fees, etc., so that in fact the courier supposedly owes the company money!

Special Delivery was not alone in operating like this, although it was probably one of the most blatant. Other companies have other methods to cheat their workforces usually under a smoke-screen of waffle about ‘market forces.’

Adam: My boss at Business to Business threatened not to pay my wages unless I grassed up the person who had been allegedly bad-mouthing the company (in fact the person had only been telling the truth that wage-cheques sometimes bounced). I refused of course, but eventually got my wages after a stand-off.

But the biggest source of financial complaint amongst couriers is that the. firms take on far too many people so the work, and the money, get spread too thinly. To all these money problems add the aggravation of dealing with bullying selfish bosses who usually despise the dirty couriers and you can see this industry is no bed of roses. However, when all is going well, and it’s a lovely sunny day, the job can be a real pleasure.

Industrial organisation is such a simple idea, that when all workers stick together we are invincible. United we stand or divided we fall, and all that. But to put it into practice is not so easy. Some gullible workers believe the propaganda they read in The Sun, The Daily Mail, etc., and so are against unions. Other people had better reasons to be apprehensive, e.g. the boss at Challenger told the riders they would be sacked if they joined the Union (what better recommendation could we ask for?!). We discovered that the situation in the despatch industry was that hundreds, even thousands of couriers thought a union was a good idea but felt that the obstacles were too great or that they were too tired to participate after an exhausting day on the road. Our job was to convince them that the DIWU was the best thing since Benjy’s snack bars.

Aaron: On 1st March 1989 Alan, Adam, Mohammed and myself all couriers, met in Alan’s flat and decided to found the Despatch Industry Workers Union, which would be loosely based on the anti-bureaucratic anarcho-syndicalist type of union that they have in Spain, France and elsewhere. Within a year the DIWU had a small loyal hard core and was known by virtually all the 5,000 or so couriers in London. We like to think that the bosses thought twice before introducing changes to pay or conditions for fear of retaliation by the Union.

Although membership levels were never great there was evidence that couriers read Despatches (the free DIWU newsletter) then started industrial action on their own e.g. at Routemasters where cyclists went on strike over the uneven distribution of work. This was fine by us. We have never had any desire to control couriers, only a desire to set free the working class.

Note: All events in this booklet are true. However, pseudonyms are used to protect those of us still working as couriers. The only real names used are Pete Fordham (a good comrade, deceased) and obvious enemies of the Union such as Jeffrey Ritterband, Southbank Ray, etc.


Serge Forward
Aug 12 2016 12:52