18. Best insurance quote: "Norwich Union are tossers"

In December 1991 the DIWU took on their biggest adversary, the Norwich Union insurance company. It was not so much an industrial dispute but more like a political campaign. Until that November, Norwich union had covered 80% of all couriers. They then came out with some vague new statement that said couriers may no longer be covered. All the smaller insurance companies panicked and suddenly refused to renew courier policies.

Despatch riders were thrown into an even more uncertain future, and even the bosses shat bricks at the prospect of having nobody left to work for them. Many despatch riders applied to renew their insurance policies, but were refused and thereby forced to leave the industry. At that stage it looked like the whole motorcycle despatch industry would disappear within twelve months as the couriers’ policies expired.

Adam: DIWU members phoned and wrote to Norwich Union but they were totally uncooperative and unwilling to clarify their plans. Consequently most DIWU members were in favour of a demonstration against Norwich Union. I thought it would not do any good and was a deviation from workplace organisation, but I was outvoted and it was decided to go ahead. It turned out to be a great success from the morale boosting point of view. Having a go at the Norwich Union was important; this was an issue that affected all motorcycle despatch riders, we would have failed them had we not “taken up the banner” and waved it about a bit.

We distributed thousands of leaflets and even the massive Motorcycle Action Group followed our coat tails and produced and distributed their own leaflet for our demo.

About 100-150 motorcyclists showed up at Finsbury Square on Monday 2nd December 1991. Alan gave an excellent rabble rousing speech, which he is good at. About ten of us had red and black arm bands which looked tasty and Alan made plenty of DIWU placards.

Rajiv: When we set off towards the London office of Norwich Union in Fenchurch Street there was so much noise and dust that the city gents just stood there gobsmacked. They must have thought the revolution had started. We went through the city revving our engines, beeping our horns and stopping the traffic. In the confined spaces of the city it was a hell of a racket, and a good laugh. When we got to Fenchurch Street we blocked the road and carried on making a massive din, so all work stopped in the nearby offices as people watched usfroni their windows. We demonstrated for an hour as planned. By this time the press and the police were running all over the place. We got radio and newspaper coverage, and we plastered the area with DIWU stickers.

Graham: Alan and myself went inside and negotiated with Norwich Union but only got some vague promises out of them. All in all it was a very good day, and nobody got nicked as the police kept their distance and seemed frightened off.

To help us on the same day Norwich anarchists organised a successful bikers demo outside the Norwich Union head office, and Manchester anarchists organised a demo outside the Manchester N.U. office.

The problems getting insurance caused by Norwich Union signalled the end of a job for many despatch riders. It also signalled the end of the DIWU. The recession had already forced many couriers to change industries, the total number of couriers on the road in 1992 was probably only half of the amount five years previously. Now the remaining couriers were either refused insurance or asked for very high premiums and only Third Party Cover.

The insurance situation stabilised by the middle of 1992 and now couriers can be fairly sure of getting cover from Norwich Union albeit if you pay 50% loading on top of the normal exorbitant rate. It’s a huge amount of money to shell out before you can do a day's work.