Shutting down all the apps

Submitted by AWL on 1 December, 2020 - 6:46 Author: Michael Elms
Sheffield couriers' strike

On Wednesday 25 November the majority of the takeaway food delivery workforce in Sheffield struck.

The strike affected all of the big apps — Stuart, Deliveroo and UberEats — and involved over 100 drivers. It effectively shut down the delivery service across the city. On the drivers’ WhatsApp, pictures flooded in of restaurant order boards overflowing with uncollected orders.

The workers were united around three key demands: living wage after expenses; a fair process around discipline, with hearings and natural justice for drivers accused of infractions; and a hiring freeze, to stop the big firms from flooding the streets with new drivers.

In summer 2019, no union at all existed among drivers in Sheffield. Members of Workers’ Liberty in the city launched an organisation drive with help from Nottingham members of the IWGB, and soon a group of couriers came together and elected representatives.

Soon “South Yorkshire Couriers’ Network”, as it was known, affiliated to the IWGB trade union. In October 2020, the union’s ranks were swollen when drivers in Hillsborough organised a group of their own and successfully struck to win changes at the Penistone Road McDonald’s.

Today the majority of drivers in the city support the union or are dues-paying members, and drivers have expanded their circle of leaders and deepened their organisation.

Flying pickets

This preparatory work paid off, as the union was able to organise four squads of flying pickets each headed by its own picket organiser, patrolling different areas of the city, successfully suppressing strike-breaking by spreading the union message to new workers who hadn’t heard about the strike yet.

The employers have certainly felt the impact, with Stuart offering bonuses to drivers before the strike took place and effecting a hiring freeze immediately after; and the national management of UberEats telephoning restaurant managers around the city to apologise for the action. This week, flush from their successful action, the drivers will assess the strike and the efficiency of the strike fund system they have set in place, and mull their next moves.

Plans to expand the organisation to other towns and cities in the region are already afoot.

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