Article from the London Evening Standard 22nd February 1990 about the libertarian direct action union the Despatch Industry Workers Union and the reasons behind recent organising attempts of messengers and couriers in the capital.
Uneasy riders start a big push for better working conditions
London’s growing army of bicycle couriers are getting on their bikes to protect their interests. The CCs, as they are known in the trade, are joining trade unions in a bid to improve conditions. There are reckoned to be up to 1,600 operating in the capital. Membership of the new Despatch Industry Workers Union (DIWU) and a newly-formed branch of the Transport and General Workers Union has been increasing in line with demands for better working conditions among the 500 or so despatch companies now operating in London. Seasoned couriers say the industry’s trendy image, recently portrayed in the TV series Streetwise, ignores the realities of surviving regular city snarl-ups, appalling road conditions and profiteering bosses, DIWU members Shaun Lambden and Paddy Robinson claim self-employed riders can expect to work in all weathers, avoiding “notoriously bad potholes”, only to have despatch companies cream off 40 to 60 per cent of the clients’ fee. “Someone worked out that they were covering up to 40 miles in one day in order to earn a decent wage,” said Shaun.
“On top of that, some companies don’t even have riders rooms to rest in between jobs, so when it’s wet you end up sheltering in doorways or expensive cafes.”
Eight cycle couriers have reportedly been killed and many more injured in the last year alone. Andrew Cope, senior accident registrar at Ban’s hospital, who is compiling research on despatch riders, says at least three cycle couriers are admitted to the casualty unit every week suffering from minor grazes or serious fractures.
He said: “I have seen two deaths in the last year, where cyclists have collided or been crushed between lorries. Undoubtedly there are many more like that.”
Derek Ransom, City of London road safety officer, says cycle couriers often flout the Highway Code and put pedestrians in danger by riding on pavements. In addition, he says many rider don’t have proper insurance to cover themselves and victims of accidents.
But the 70 or so employers represented by the Despatch Association are dismissive of the current rider’s organisation, Secretary-General Gideon Fiegal said: “There is no unionisation as such and no question of’ them posing a threat to us.”