By Ross Saunders
Uber Eats riders staged their second action in Cardiff on Monday against low pay and insecure work. Protestors gathered outside the company’s Cardiff office on the appropriately named Vanguard Way to boycott the latest meeting managers had organised under pressure from their angry workforce. To date no progress has been made on the demands of the riders, who have vowed to step up their campaign.
Riders have been pressing the company for months to do something about a long list of grievances including long waits between jobs – grown to up to 45 minutes over the summer – a disregard for couriers’ safety and a lack of “boost” – a multiplier that increases the amount couriers get paid per mile.
Many riders are getting far below minimum wage at present and can hang around all day and receive only a few orders. The company uses modern technology to force workers into Victorian working conditions.
Many had reports of other riders who had been dropped by the company for standing up to them or joining a union but they’ve lost their fear. They said more couriers had turned up to the boycott protest than ever attended any of management’s sham meetings.
The company is trying and failing to conceal their nervousness: it denied access to the riders’ union rep from the IWW union for fully half an hour (with riders chanting “Same old Uber – always waiting) until they let him to speak to senior managers, who offered nothing in the way of concessions. The riders’ campaign must continue.
The riders’ action is clearly making a huge impact: all but ten of the regular riders were at the protest, meaning it effectively had the character of a strike. Riders played the app sound over the megaphone to cheers, showing how many calls for delivery were going unanswered. If the action continues into the autumn, when students come back to Cardiff, Uber Eats stands to lose huge amounts of money in lost profits.
While denying access to their workers’ union rep, management called the police to try and get the protest outside dispersed. Armed officers in three vans appeared but protestors refused to be intimidated.
The company has said that the slackening demand is due to the summer when lots of students have returned home, but at the same time they claim business is up 11% in the last week. Riders say they haven’t seen evidence of that, possibly because the company has continued to recruit new riders all summer despite less work being available.
Riders have the same needs and the same bills to pay no matter how many workers Uber Eats has on their books and no matter what time of year it is. The company should pay a retainer in periods where demand slackens and a much higher rate per mile.
The riders’ campaign has already been met with huge sympathy in the trade union movement and the wider working class. Cardiff Trades Council members attended the protest today and offered solidarity. With strike action at both McDonalds and TGI Fridays in recent months the potential exists to link up the disputes of service-sector workers into a powerful movement that could force considerable concessions from the bosses.
Monday’s action in Cardiff followed a spontaneous strike first called by Romanian riders who work for Uber Eats last Saturday. The call was taken up by other riders and all refused to work on Saturday morning as a warning shot to the company. Two of the biggest Mcdonalds restaurants in the city were forced to turn off the Uber app because delivery orders couldn’t be filled. The riders’ action would have been impossible if the divisive ideas of the far right took hold, and is proof that workers’ unity across language must be built to effectively challenge the bosses.