By Alex Rutherford
Couriers for Just Eat, one of Britain’s biggest online takeaway delivery services, have been striking for several months in various cities across the UK, protesting against their terrible pay and working conditions.
Although ignored by the mainstream press, the strike began in Sheffield more than 100 days ago on 6 December 2021 and has now spread to various other cities, including Leeds, Chesterfield, Middlesbrough and Worcester. The striking workers are members of IWGB, an independent union.
While restaurants using the service traditionally managed their own deliveries, the coronavirus pandemic saw a rapid expansion of the fast food delivery industry. Many companies felt compelled to use a delivery service in order to remain competitive and Just Eat profited from this by sourcing cheap labour to carry out the deliveries.
Just Eat uses several tactics to keep its costs low, like hiring agency workers and claiming its workers are ‘self-employed’ on the Uber model. However, particularly in major cities, the majority of couriers for Just Eat are in fact employed by a company called Stuart Delivery, a same-day logistics company owned by DPD, which itself is ultimately owned by the French postal service La Poste.
Stuart has recently dropped the base rate of pay for deliveries by 24%, further cutting the pay of some of the lowest paid workers in the country. They are also notorious for over-hiring, meaning many drivers are unable to find enough gigs to make the money they need to survive. Couriers only make £2-3 per delivery, forcing many to work 10-16 hour days for less than £100 – less than the minimum wage!
The cost of living crisis has doubly impacted these workers, as they are required to pay their own fuel and maintenance costs. Meanwhile, DPD reported an 80% increase in profits in 2020, while Stuart CEO Damien Bon was paid £2.2million in the same year.
One of the main reasons that Stuart is able to force workers to accept these super-exploitative wages is the demographic of the workforce. The vast majority of couriers are migrants, in many cases desperate for any form of paid employment in order to feed themselves and their families.
The plight of the Just Eat couriers is symptomatic of the imperialist system, which inflicts economic, climate and military devastation throughout the world, seeks to prevent immigration to at all costs and then ruthlessly exploits those who make it over the border.
The major trade unions have largely failed to organise these workers. Many speak little English or have no common language with those outside of their own community, making them an unviable concern for bureaucrats more interested in balancing the union finances.
But the language barriers between workers from different countries can be overcome by translating and disseminating information in various languages including Spanish, Romanian, Polish, Portuguese, and Arabic. Workers Power supporters have joined other socialists in doing this solidarity work in conjunction with the IWGB.
The couriers who have already gone on strike are to be commended for both their courage and their ability to organise. However, the strikers require solidarity and assistance from the wider working class in order to succeed.
The resources and expertise of the larger trade unions such as GMB, which has in the past organised Uber drivers, would make a huge difference to this campaign. However, the Just Eat workers must be the ones who lead the campaign, set its demands and determine its tactics if they are to succeed.
Socialists have a key role to play in this urgent task. We must provide all possible practical assistance to the strikers by leafleting couriers about the strikes, joining the picket lines and fundraising for the strikers.
We must also oppose the attitude of some sections of the workers’ movement that view migrants as a threat to wage levels, and instead make the case for organising with the lowest paid to raise their pay and abolish precarious work and outsourcing, so that employers cannot use one group of workers against another.
To donate to the IWGB strike fund go to http://tinyurl.com/StuartStrike
To help with solidarity work contact Workers Power