New modes of work call for new forms of organising


August 16, 2018

In terms of courier organising, a lot of the media focus, quite rightly, has been centred on London and the South East of England, where the inspirational work of the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) has led to several high-profile strikes and a series of influential court cases regarding the categorisation of self-employed workers. But at the same time, outside the capital, the Industrial Workers of the World union (IWW) has been pioneering a new model of courier organising.

The IWW Courier Network is currently active in all four countries of the UK, including many areas that are often overlooked during organising drives. The network started in Cardiff, in January 2018 and was created as a practical solution to a general feeling amongst couriers in the city that there seemed little benefit in paying a monthly membership dues to a union. There was an obvious apathy towards the idea that collective action could achieve anything. Few people appeared motivated at the prospect of having to pay money regularly towards something that it seemed, at best, wouldn’t benefit them at all, and, at worst, could result in them getting sacked. A lot of people didn’t really understand what a union or what organising actually was either.

The network system is essentially an organising structure to address these concerns; specifically that of the lack of knowledge about, and general apathy towards, unions and organising at work; being tied into a union membership when not being certain of your monthly income and the lack of faith in collective action actually being able to achieve results. In this respect, the network is a response to the precarity of work in the 21st century, and what seems to be a general lack of knowledge about the benefits of collective organising amongst
workers.

With the network system, we hope to show couriers that organising at work is successful in winning demands – providing that you put in the effort and are brave enough to act together. Through this structure, we hope to share and develop practical organising skills with the aim of winning member demands and building the collective self-confidence of couriers.

It has to be said that we do encourage network members to join the IWW – although recruitment comes second to class power. Our approach is instead driven by a perceived need to include as many couriers as possible in collective action whilst recognising that most of them aren’t necessarily going to join the union. We’re aware that the benefits of collective action also need to be proved to couriers and that you can’t expect people to join a union with no practical evidence of its benefits. Rather than courting official union membership in the short-term, we’re focused on organising precarious workers, sustainably, in the long term– something that our union’s historically been at the forefront of over the last 113 years, across the world. You can find out more about the history of our union by watching this great documentary.

The IWW Couriers Network is organised on a loose, federal structure. Local network branches are free to join in terms of membership, and are open to non-IWW members and IWW members alike. They are led directly by the membership and make their own decisions, based on the relevant issues in their area. Reflecting the long-held commitment of the union to direct-democracy and worker self-management, organising in the network is led from the bottom-up, rather than the top down.

The network branches are partnered with their local IWW branch, who provide official representation, advice and materials. These branches then make up part of the network of their respective country – in the case of the UK, the Couriers Network Cymru, Couriers Network Scotland currently. The countries then make up the IWW Couriers Network UK.

As the system is barely 6 months old, and is a product of necessity, these structures are still developing and are likely to evolve as the network grows. A national conference of the entire network is planned for the late summer to review progress and build on future organising plans.

Already the IWW Couriers Network has seen significant wins in local areas, thanks to the collective action of network branches. The Cardiff branch of the network which has been active for the longest period of time has seen new additional boost zones and delivery zones added following pressure from the union, along with improved map routing in the App.

In the first two months of forming, Glasgow has also seen significant improvements. One restaurant in the city would keep couriers waiting, unpaid, up to 45 minutes for their delivery to be prepared. Couriers delivered an official letter of complaint through the union, with the threat of industrial action if these delays were not reduced. Within days of receiving the letter, service at the problem restaurant started to improve. Amusingly, the union’s presence in the city has also prompted UberEats and Deliveroo officials to organise frequent ‘feedback’ sessions over the past three months in an attempt to circumvent its growing influence.

The Glasgow branch of the network also held a memorial Critical Mass ride for Pablo Avendano, a Caviar courier in Philadelphia, who was hit by a car whilst delivering, to honour his life and raise awareness of the dangers that food couriers face at work.

New modes of working call for new forms of organising. How successful the network model proves to be in the long term is an open question, but our current success and momentum indicates that appetite for organising does exist and can be funnelled into winning demands.


author

Chris Fear

Chris Fear is the lead organiser for the IWW Couriers Network. You can contact the network at [email protected]