Deliveroo drivers fighting back against exploitation

Deliveroo drivers across London have united – with the help of the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) union – to organise in the ‘unorganisable’ gig economy. The aim? To achieve union recognition for the drivers in Camden and to change employment status for Deliveroo riders nationally. Deliveroo riders are currently classified as ‘self-employed independent contractors’, meaning they are not entitled to basic workers’ rights. Deliveroo riders are seeking to change their employment status to ‘worker’ – a form of self employment which grants rights such as the national minimum wage, the right to paid holiday and the right to protection against discrimination; none of which drivers currently have.

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Bourgeois Labour Party – no change with Corbyn at the top

corbyn jeremy

A year ago, in the summer of 2015, the Labour Party was in complete disarray and facing a deep crisis. It had lost two successive general elections in 2010 and 2015. Its defeat in 2015 was especially abject: after five years of punishing austerity for the working class at the hands of the ConDem coalition, Labour failed to prevent a Tory victory, was wiped out in Scotland and lost 24 seats overall. There had to be the semblance of change if the Party was to avoid disintegration. Corbyn’s victories in the subsequent leadership elections have enabled the social democratic left to begin a new project; sowing expectations that the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership can now fight austerity and transform itself into a socialist party capable of winning working class votes. Robert Clough argues that this is an illusion.

Corbyn’s success, announced on 24 September, came with a substantial margin over his challenger, Owen Smith, to the delight of his supporters. Overall, Corbyn won 61.8% of 506,000 votes cast, compared to 59.5% of 422,664 votes cast in 2015. While support from trade union voters increased slightly, from 57.6% in 2015 to 60.2%, votes from Party members increased substantially (49.6% to 59%). Corbyn’s second victory was never in real doubt: his ability to attract thousands to his rallies contrasted with the efforts of Smith, whose meetings sometimes struggled to get into double figures. The Labour Party machine tried its best to exclude Corbyn supporters both by preventing those who had joined the party after February 2016 from voting in the election, and by disqualifying large numbers of registered supporters, those who had paid £25 to vote in the election. Given that Labour Party figures showed that 180,000 supporters had signed up in the two-day period for registration over 19-20 July, and that 121,517 actually voted, claims that 40,000 Corbyn supporters had been prevented from voting seem justified.

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Deliveroo drivers lead the way in fighting casualisation and low pay

Deliveroo

Deliveroo food delivery drivers in London are showing the way in the fight against increasingly casualised working conditions and pay cuts. On 16 August, after a week of spontaneous strikes and protests, Deliveroo management backed down from its plans to force drivers onto a new contract that would mean a huge pay cut for many. The workers’ action, carried out by predominantly migrant labourers, organised with the International Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) radical trade union and supported by the RCG, attracted huge public and media attention to the casualised labour conditions in the food delivery industry.

The British food delivery industry is valued at £9bn. Smartphone app-based companies such as tech start-ups Deliveroo and UberEATS are dominating the market through the raw exploitation of their workforces. 2016 has been a lucrative year for Deliveroo, with projected revenues of £130m on top of £200m investment from venture capital funds, including Index Ventures, Bridgepoint Capital, Accel and DST Global – a firm headed by Time magazine’s ‘Titan list’ billionaire Yuri Milner. This most recent round of funding brings Deliveroo’s total investment to $472.7m (£355m). Deliveroo has now made it onto the ‘Unicorn list’ of start-ups valued at over $1bn. UberEATS – launched in London in June this year – is a delivery start-up owned by multinational transport firm Uber; a company with a total valuation of $66bn (£49.6bn).

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Haringey care workers fight low pay and poor conditions

Seventeen support workers from the London Borough of Haringey have, with the support of their union Unison, launched a court case against several care agencies and Haringey Labour Council. The workers, mainly black women, were previously employed by the agency Sevacre but are now employed by smaller agencies who took over the council contract. They are employed on zero-hours contracts and complain that their travel time between visits goes unpaid, and that the block wage they are paid for 24-hour ‘live-in’ support in their clients’ homes works out at just £3.72 per hour spent in work – less than half the minimum wage.

Across the British care sector 82% of the workforce are women. Low pay across care services has long been justified by the idea that the joy of providing care is a reward in itself, and compensates for pitifully low wages. This is seen in recruitment adverts with the question ‘Do you care?’ Beyond the obvious sexism of such a theory, it goes completely against facts, which tell us that of those who leave care jobs, 56% do not get recruited into other care roles.

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Communists and the Trade Union Movement

workers demonstrating

Published in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 141 February/March 1998

The defeat of the Liverpool dockers and the isolation of the Hillingdon Hospital strikers point to two conclusions. The first is that the trade union leadership is actively preventing any struggle against the Labour government. The second is that the left is powerless to do anything about it. Yet almost all the left believe that unions will play a crucial role in organising working class resistance, and that it is the job of socialists to transform these organisations into ones which can fight for working class interests. They say that the central strategy for socialists is to build 'rank and file' movements as a means of organising trade union members against their bureaucratic leaderships and through this process capture the trade unions for working class struggle.

Robert Clough argues that this is a bankrupt strategy. The general experience in Britain has been that mass trade union struggles have only proved possible during periods of full or near-full employment. Furthermore, these have also been the only conditions where oppositional movements within the trade unions have threatened the stultifying grip of the union leadership. But for socialists, trade union struggle is not the same as class struggle. The first is about improving conditions of work - higher wages, shorter hours, more security. The second is about power. The first is by definition only possible in conditions of relative prosperity. The second requires conditions of acute economic and political crisis.

The one time when trade union struggle presented a significant threat to the British ruling class was in the period leading up to the 1926 General Strike. It was also the only period when a widespread trade union struggle took place against a background of high unemployment. Critical to this was the role the newly-formed Communist Party played through the Minority Movement in influencing wide sections of the trade union movement. This article examines why this period was an exception, and how in the end, the working class was defeated. It will look at how the trade union movement evolved, and how that evolution expressed a changing relationship between the ruling class and the labour aristocracy on the one hand, and the labour aristocracy and the working class on the other.

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