Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The couriers’ branch of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain has taken a claim to employment tribunal, which, if successful [and since the time of writing, the case has been won, Ed.] could not only revolutionise employment for cycle couriers but has huge implications for everyone who wants a fairer jobs market. The claim is against four of London’s largest courier businesses – CitySprint, eCourier, Addison Lee and Excel Group Services – challenging their classification of people who work for them as ‘independent contractors’. Red Pepper spoke to CitySprint courier and chair of the IWGB couriers’ branch Mags Dewhurst as she prepared for her tribunal.
We need to set a precedent in case law to show that we are being bogusly classified as independent contractors. We work for one company and we have one boss. I hope we can show that minimum wage legislation and the working time directive regulations should apply to us. That means things like having the right to the national minimum wage, paid annual leave and access to basic employment rights most people take for granted.
You have to bite the hand that feeds you if you’re going to change things, because they’re feeding themselves much more. We subsidise our employers completely. We provide the cost of the bike, maintenance, the labour, the parts, everything. The cost of my phone and data that I need to do my job all fall to me. The company says that proves I’m running my own business. I say, no: I’m fronting the operational costs of your business.
When you’re presented with a series of bad options: that’s not freedom. People say that we have a choice, but the freedom argument – which essentially boils down to the Tory idea that everyone is an individual and should be remunerated on their merits in a market‑based system of meritocracy, where the strong and intelligent are rewarded and the poor, stupid people fall – doesn’t sound like freedom to me. That’s just exploitation.
What they’re doing with the ‘gig economy’ is archaic. Enthusiasm for the gig economy comes from people who have never done the job, so they don’t understand what it means. Because businesses need to deliver a guaranteed service, it’s rarely people dipping in and out; instead its long-term, casualised employment. The problem is that they’re not paying people for the time when they are not productive when they are sick, or too old for work, or are slow and tired because they have been overworked.Unless we do something about it I think it will become standard to have thousands of people controlled by an algorithm, monitored and controlled by a smartphone, with zero employment rights.
I get angry, and I get upset sometimes. You can take it very personally. But I know they don’t care about me. This process is not to get our employers to care about us, because they never will. The point is to force them, legally, to have a duty of care towards us. To have some basic obligations to the people who actually do the work. When you receive automated emails saying things like ‘we appreciate that you work really hard’ it’s like a kick in the teeth. These saccharine tech companies are run by people who used to work in PR. It might sound caring but on a day-to-day basis they don’t give a shit. That’s what drives people out.
What’s happening in this part of the labour market will spread to other areas – it’s a logical consequence of this kind of capitalism. I graduated at the time of the credit crunch and everything has changed since then. A lot of jobs went, and the jobs that replaced them were precarious. Unless we do something about it I think it will become standard to have thousands of people controlled by an algorithm, monitored and controlled by a smartphone, with zero employment rights.
People should have flexibility when they work, because they need it and they want it. The economy and our lives are 24/7. We should have flexibility, it’s only bad if you strip everything else away, like pension rights and maternity leave. If companies really insist on only paying people when they’re being productive, then they should at least let them accrue annual leave, sick leave and pensions.
I think the tide is turning, but it’s far from won. I found the Uber ruling [that its drivers should be treated as employees, not self-employed] really uplifting because it was a ruling of common sense. It was great to see an independent judge not just bat away Uber’s PR bullshit but to completely rip it apart. It’s not a final victory, it’s a temporary hiatus, but it has bought us some time we can use to build momentum.
Follow the couriers’ case at iwgbclb.wordpress.com
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Richard Murphy says that the appropriate political will and understanding of tax can put an end to offshore avoidance and evasion
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes