Last night, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) had a public meeting in central London with Deliveroo workers and other couriers.
LabourStart co-sponsored the well-attended meeting, and editor Eric Lee was one of the speakers.
Here is what he said:
My name is Eric Lee and I am the editor of the LabourStart website.
LabourStart is the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement.
We do a lot of online campaigns in support of trade union rights around the world. Those campaigns are brought to us by our partners in the international trade union movement, including the global union federations, the International Trade Union Confederation, and national and local unions in many countries.
Over 135,000 trade unionists are part of our network who are mobilised when needed to support workers who are fighting for their basic human rights, for the right to join and form trade unions.
Right now, we are running campaigns at the request of unions in support of jailed trade unionists in Iran, Egypt, South Korea and Turkey; we are fighting against attempts to outlaw independent trade unions in Kazakhstan and demanding the rehiring of sacked trade union leaders in Liberia.
The fight for the right to join and form trade unions is a massive, world-wide fight. In many countries, workers do not have the possibility to join and form trade unions.
This is the case even though all workers, in all countries, have the legal right to unions because all countries are bound by the conventions of the International Labor Organisation, a United Nations body. Those conventions specifically give workers the rights to trade unions and every government in the world is obligated to uphold those rights.
Today many unions in many different countries are engaged in a fight against precarious work, and in support of regularised employment for workers. We have supported workers on this issue on many occasions, in different countries.
The struggle of Deliveroo workers here in London combines both of these issues — the right to have a trade union, and the fight against precarious work.
The so-called “gig economy” is a new way of describing an exploitative system where workers have no rights.
Where workers are poorly paid.
Where things like sick days and holidays do not exist.
Where workers can be sacked on a whim by their employer.
Where workers are treated with disrespect by their bosses.
We thought that here in the UK, we had moved beyond this. We have a proud history of trade unionism, have millions of members in powerful unions, and have won many victories over the decades.
But all that is under threat today. Even though we’re not in the situation faced by workers in Iran, where workers cannot join or form independent unions, or Turkey or South Korea where unions are struggling with repressive, anti-worker governments, we are also not where we want to be.
Trade unions in the UK have faced a historic decline, over many years.
They are a fraction of their former size. They wield much less power and influence than they did in the past. They struggle to organise new members, especially in the “gig economy”.
This is why the struggle at Deliveroo here in London is so important.
The workers at Deliveroo are not going to get decent pay, better working conditions, job security or respect at work just by asking for it.
They won’t get it with online petitions or sympathetic articles appearing in the Guardian.
They’ll win those things only when they have a powerful trade union in their workplace.
That is why I support the work being done here by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.
You have taken on the difficult task of helping to bring a trade union to Deliveroo.
I am confident that you will win, and that Deliveroo workers will someday soon enjoy the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement.
Until that happens, we at LabourStart, and I’m sure many other trade unionists, are ready to do all that we can help — by spreading the word, by supporting meetings like this one, by helping to raise money.
Whatever it takes. Whatever you need. We are with you.