The “right to strike” is the fundamental safeguard to prevent us slipping into a slave society. The “right to assembly” (i.e. unionise) is embodied in the United Nations Charter of Human Rights. The only way to have an effective strike is to have picket lines to prevent scabbing. Despite police provocation and what the media say picket lines need not be just areas of violence and mayhem. So picketing, seen in this context, becomes an activity to be proud of which can improve your lot and safeguard your rights.
It has always been in the DIWU Constitution and on every membership card that workers should never cross picket lines, unless the strikers consent. This statement was probably too hard hitting for many couriers, and may have put off some from joining, but we wanted the DIWU to have honourable principles or none at all.
Dennis: One courier, when given Despatches, argued that the purpose of the despatch industry was to provide a delivery service for companies or the Post Office when their workers went on strike! (i.e. rent-a-scab) I should have just whacked him.
Since 1979 it is probably more common for workers to say that they must cross a picket line or they will be sacked. The founders of the DIWU wanted to challenge this attitude. In some ways it was a bold step because nobody has less job security than a self-employed despatch rider in the 1990’s. On the other hand, it wasn’t so bold because at the time it was easy to get another courier job, without references, within a day or two of getting sacked. In the beginning some of us were a bit worried about getting the sack, but now we consider it a badge of honour!
Consequently DIWU members refused to cross picket lines on numerous occasions. For example, Alan refused to cross a picket line at a striking factory in Dagenham, Rajiv refused to cross one during a BBC strike at the Aldwych, and...
Adam: I twice refused to cross picket lines at VNU publishers in Broadivick Street and once at the Daily Telegraph in Docklands. None of us got the sack. The bosses and the customers seemed to accept “can't cross picket lines” better than most of our fellow workers. I wonder if this is because in the bosses' minds they think strike-breaking requires armoured buses and thousands of cops, as used so brutally against the miners, the printers, and others. One courier called Joe, who worked at ADC, briefly joined the Union, then over a few pints described how he had been one of the strike-breakers at Wapping (during the printers dispute). He proudly told us that his boss said it was the motorcyclists who had kept Wapping running by bringing in photos, news, etc. Joe said he originally felt sympathetic towards the sacked printers until someone threw a brick at him, which supposedly make him more determined to cross the picket line. It had nothing to do with being paid the scabbing bonus of course! Anyway we politely told him we were on the other side with the sacked printers at Wapping. He never came to another DIWU meeting, the poor lonely soul.
In hindsight, when in dispute with a courier company DIWU’s tactics should have been to picket the customers premises not the courier company’s. There is almost no point in picketing the courier company because all the work is given out over the radio or by phone. But a bunch of hairy-arsed couriers making a racket outside the precious toffee-nosed customers addresses would soon have the courier bosses begging for mercy. If the situation got too heavy with the police we just disappear in different directions on our bikes then re-appear at another customers address and start again! This is, officially, known as Secondary Picketing which the toadies in parliament declared illegal. But rules are for breaking, right?!
Lastly, although not exactly on the subject of picket lines, there existed for years an informal boycott of South Africa House during the apartheid era. We never heard of any courier delivering there, only refusing to go there, which was heart-warming.