Reports from UberEats couriers on strike in London, Cardiff, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle. This report was first published by Notes from Below as part of their issue on "a month of revolt in the service sector".
The recent food platform strike on the 4th of October took on a different character to the previous strikes of couriers in the UK and Europe. The majority of these strikes have involved the “logging off”, or wildcat strike, of riders, who then converge on a central point for a protest targeted at the company. In the UK, this meant refusing to work while calling a demonstration at the Deliveroo or Uber headquarters. These vibrant and chaotic demonstrations showed the collective power of these workers, also sometimes expressed in flying pickets to nearby restaurants.
On the 4th of October, there was a demonstration called at the Uber headquarters during the strike. However, unlike these previous demonstrations, the majority of the striking riders chose to stay in their zones. This meant that for many initial observers, the strike did not seem to have the same power and numbers of previous actions. However, the lack of a central meeting point meant that drivers continued to organise on the day in a much more dispersed way. UberEats riders primarily pick up from their local McDonalds, which created a physical place for striking riders to picket. As you can see below striking riders enforced picket lines at their local McDonalds where they multiplied the strike by encouraging other riders to join. In this piece, we have collated reports from across London, as well as other cities in the UK 1 . What this shows is a potential mutation of the tactics, spreading the action wider as drivers actively picket and build the strike across what is effectively their workplace.
In Lewisham and Greenwich, in South London, riders took part in a flying picket for 2 and a half hours through Cutty Sark, Lewisham, around the O2 arena, Blackheath and New Cross. No Deliveroo riders were picking up orders, forcing busy restaurants to cancel lots of orders. Some orders were waiting for hours and Deliveroo were forced to introduce a £2 bonus per delivery in order to break the strike.
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In Erith, South-east London, riders enforced a strong picket into the night outside McDonalds. Their numbers swelled quickly as riders who came to pick up from McDonalds were persuaded not to and join the picket instead.
In Surbiton, Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith riders forced McDonalds to go totally offline by turning off app on their end, preventing customers from being even being able to order.
The picket in North Finchley, in North London, two weeks earlier had erupted in violence as strikers tried to prevent others from working. This time most of the fifty drivers simply stayed home, not working but also not picketing. The remaining dozen logged off and picketed McDonalds, with only two continuing to take orders by car. Although there was no blockade or flying picket, the lack of deliveries was enough to piss of the McDonald’s manager, who called the police on IWW activists and threatened to “destroy” their leaflets.
Riders were also on strike across South-west London. In Oldsfield, there were clashes between striking riders and scabs attempting to pick up food from McDonalds. At other McDonalds in the South-west the majority of drivers were on strike, however they didn’t picket, so scabs went unchallenged. In Putney, Deliveroo were also forced to pay drivers £1 extra per drop to incentivise riders to cross the picket line. The drivers held strong and no food was collected.
Strikers in Putney
In East London, at the Bethnal Green McDonalds many riders had participated in the strike the week before and were extremely angry at UberEats for ignoring them. IWW activists and riders also got a chance to speak to riders who didn’t know about the strike and who joined the picket.
At Holborn McDonalds, in central London, riders, IWW members and students held a firm picket line that was not crossed. Students came out in force from nearby universities to support strikers, much to the annoyance of McDonald’s management.
UberEats couriers approached the Newcastle IWW branch days before the strike wanting to take action. Riders had a real appetite for action but needed support. The strike began at Northumberland Street McDonald’s where riders and supporters gathered with banners and signs. The picket moved to the nearby Grainger Street McDonald’s where even more riders joined the demonstration. There was huge support from passersby who stopped and offered their solidarity to the striking riders.
Strikers in Newcastle
The Bristol couriers network brought together over 100 workers for a large demonstration beginning at Broadmead McDonalds. A striking worker said, during a speech:
‘There is, like you guys know, loads of people above us planning to make the fee drop go down and make it worse for everyone. That’s what we don’t want. That’s why we have to be here together and fight together. For that reason, everyone we have a strike together, we’re going to show them we have force - force to ask for what is fair, for everyone that’s working for Uber and Deliveroo.’
They made the same demands to both UberEats and Deliveroo: £5 a drop, 17p per minute waiting time in restaurants (equivalent to £10 per hour), additional app transparency and no victimisation. The strike was one of the biggest food platform mobilisations ever seen outside London. When Deliveroo sent down a ‘rider engagement team’ a few days later, the riders formally presented their demands. Future action is planned unless their demands are met in full.
Strikers in Bristol
In Cardiff, the IWW Couriers Network Cymru organised the strike of UberEats riders. It was a solid strike with very few scabbing riders. Any wannabe scabs may have been frustrated because activists succeeded in persuading a number of restaurants to switch off their apps for the duration of the strike, including the 2 key McDonalds in the city centre.
40 UberEats couriers joined a lively demonstration of over 100 people supporting the Fast Food Strike in Cardiff City Centre. The crowd gathered outside McDonalds before marching on to the other McDonalds and finally onto TGI Fridays. The rally was addressed by a number of riders who gave their personal testimonies and described life on £3-4 an hour. Riders then delivered their demands for £5 a drop and £1 per mile to UberEats.
Other unions came out in force, with UCU, PCS, Unite, Cardiff Trades Council and the Labour Party supporting striking riders.
In Scotland, the strike action was strong. In Glasgow, the IWW Couriers Network held two demonstrations to coincide with peak times, each drawing big crowds of not just riders but supporters too. The strike had a huge impact on Glasgow City Centre and halted the ability of the McDonalds to take orders. Riders were building off the back of their last strike on the 10th of September and they seem to be getting stronger and stronger.
Riders in Edinburgh struck too. They picketed the main McDonalds on Princes Street, with riders handing out leaflets to passersby and other riders.
Please send us your report from your local picket line at [email protected]
- 1The reports were commissioned from local IWW activists and riders by Notes from Below. We have synthesized these reports into this article.