Category: Travel and Transportation

A Taste of Power? Making Sense of Workers’ Struggle at Deliveroo

A Taste of Power? Making Sense of Workers’ Struggle at Deliveroo

Author Jamie Woodcock (The Fight Against Platform Capitalism, UWP 2021) guest blogs offering his view of recent developments in workers’ struggle in the food delivery sector in the wake of Deliveroo’s IPO last month.

On the 7th of April, Deliveroo riders took strike action across the UK as part of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB). In London, riders in green and silver jackets assembled outside Shoreditch High Street station, a local hub of restaurants. Workers, mopeds, bicycles, a mobile sound system, and press quickly filled the street. Then, as fits with their working day, the strikers set off for a ride around the city, ending with a protest outside Deliveroo’s headquarters in Cannon Street.

It has been almost five years since the first strike of Deliveroo workers in the summer of 2016. When I visited the picket line on the first day of the strike, we were not sure what to expect. The IWGB had come to support the strike, but it had been organised my workers on WhatsApp. What we found was a connected workforce of riders who were organising for basic rights and fair pay. As Callum Cant has demonstrated, the strike in London triggered a wave of worker resistance in European food platforms.

Much has changed with Deliveroo since 2016. It has grown rapidly, both across the UK and in an increasing number of countries. There are now an estimated 50,000 Deliveroo riders in the UK. However, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Deliveroo warned it faced an imminent financial crash. Although it has previously blocked the move, Competition and Markets Authority gave Amazon the greenlight to invest in Deliveroo, spurring investment in so-called “Dark Kitchens.” As the lockdown shut restaurants, these separate facilities for churning out takeaway food helped to create massive growth for the platform.

Throughout the pandemic, essential workers like those at Deliveroo have continued to work. For many isolating, takeaway food – and increasingly other offerings like groceries – have allowed those working from home to shield from the risks of the virus. Due to the bogus self-employment status used by Deliveroo, many riders fell between either furlough or the self-employed support scheme. The IWGB launched the #ClappedAndScrapped campaign to highlight how little support workers have received during the lockdown.

Buoyed by the surge in business during the lockdown, Deliveroo went from almost failing to an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in March of 2021. The coordination of the strike of riders makes this a good moment to stake stock of what has changed since the first open sign of workers struggle on the platform. The strikes in 2016 were against a change in payment scheme from an hourly rate with payment to drop, to only being paid for deliveries made. During the strike, a manager from Deliveroo came out to address the crowd – although he was quickly ushered away after strikers rejected his argument that the they “need to understand how the payment scheme was better for them.”

In my recent book, I have argued that there are three dynamics we can see unfolding with platform work – and each of these can be seen with Deliveroo. First, there is an increasing connection between platform workers, both on WhatsApp and social media, as well as in the streets. Second, despite that early attempt at interaction from a Deliveroo manager, there is a lack of communication from platforms, which leads to escalating worker action. Third, due to the growth of these platforms internationally, there is a new basis for transnational solidarity emerging.

Fast forward to 2021 and pay for deliveries is now the standard model, with hourly rates a distant memory. As part of a worker-led study of their own invoice data, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that some riders today are paid as little as £2 per hour. Workers have formed networks and joined unions, with WhatsApp chats remaining a key organising tool. Deliveroo refuse to recognise or negotiate with unions.

Over the past five years, Deliveroo has now achieved status as the most protested platform in the world. The recent IWGB strike was over familiar issues: fair pay, safety protections, and basic worker rights. It received support from unions internationally, including in Australia, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Spain. In the UK, the action around the IPO led to 12 institutional investors pulling out, with over £3 billion wiped off Deliveroo’s valuation. The Financial Times called it the ‘worst IPO in London’s history.’

With the recent Uber case in London, as well as the recent workers’ rights claim at the delivery company Stuart, the use of self-employment to deny rights is starting to crumble. There is still a lot that Deliveroo workers are fighting to change, but the recent strike felt like a taste of what workers power could look like with food platform deliveries.

JAMIE WOODCOCK is a senior lecturer at the Open University and a researcher based in London. He is the author of The Gig Economy (2019), Marx at the Arcade (2019) and Working the Phones (2017), also serving on the editorial boards of Notes from Below and Historical Materialism.

The Fight Against Platform Capitalism: An Inquiry in the Global Struggles of the Gig Economy (2021) is published in the Critical Digital and Social Media Studies series edited by Christian Fuchs. The book is available open access from the University of Westminster Press.

Longer distance cycling – ATS special issue call for abstracts

Longer distance cycling – ATS special issue call for abstracts

ACTIVE TRAVEL STUDIES: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Special issue – Longer distance cycling: roles, requirements and impacts

Guest editors

Professor John Parkin (University of the West of England, UK)
Dr Anders Fjendbo Jensen (Technical University of Denmark)

The bicycle is increasingly seen by many cities as a solution that provides efficient and effective urban mobility, and at the same time reduces the negative environmental consequences of motorized transport. Research on cyclists’ behaviour often focuses on everyday cycle trips of shorter lengths. By contrast, this call focuses on longer length trips.

While shorter distances are more common, there are indications of a potential for modal shift to bicycle for longer trips if they are facilitated by good quality cycle infrastructure separated from other modes. Longer distance cycleways are beginning to be built between settlements in some places, and provide continuous, attractive and comfortable routes where progress can be rapid and uninterrupted. Such longer distance routes can benefit everyday cycling, and can attract travellers who would have otherwise used a car.

The development and increasing use of e-bikes is also a significant potential contributor to more longer distance cycling. The increasing availability of other types of cycle, for example non-conventional cycles including recumbents, may be a factor in being able to cycle longer distances.

While the combination of longer distance good quality infrastructure and e-bikes could act as an encouragement for some, the combination of the two may not be attractive to others. Overall the special issue is interested in the potential contribution of longer distance cycling and its implications, good and bad. On the positive side, there may be gains in accessibility and inclusion; on the negative, longer distance cycling may deter shorter (slower) cycling trips and/or stand in tension with the concept of the 15-minute city.

This special issue will cover the following areas:

  • Funding and public policy, and other policy relating to the support of longer distance cycling, for example, employers’ policies. 
  • The design and construction of infrastructure, and the value of technology, such as e-bike development and use.
  • Implementation strategies, such as communications and social marketing, used to promote everyday longer distance cycling. 
  • The extent to which longer distance everyday cycling is inclusive and attractive. 
  • The extent to which longer distance cycling for business can serve last-mile and other delivery/servicing needs 
  • Cycle logistics business models for longer distance deliveries, and the experiences of those working in the cycle logistics industry.
  • The way in which longer distance cycleways support trip making behaviour for everyday and regular trip making.
  • Equity and equality issues relating to those attracted to longer distance cycling and those who are not attracted to it, and the way this is affected when specific cycling infrastructure is provided.
  • The choices available to people who cycle longer distance, including the value of the option of multi-modality as part of longer distance cycle trips.
  • Case studies and intervention studies. 
  • Analysis of the impacts of longer distance cycling both socio-economically and on the environment (e.g. carbon reduction, air quality, noise and severance). 
  • Emerging practices of longer distance cycling, for different purposes and in different contexts. 
  • We are interested in papers from all parts of the world. The call is not primarily intended to cover longer distance cycling in relation to leisure or tourism but we are open to submissions that address longer distance cycling for business (e.g. couriers or freight).

Timescales and practicalities:

Please submit abstracts (400-600 words) at https://activetravelstudies.org/about/submissions. You will first need to register at https://activetravelstudies.org/register 
Deadline: 16th November 2020.

Authors will hear from the editors encouraging a full submission or providing feedback by 14th December 2020.

Full submissions to be made by 31st March 2021. These will be peer reviewed. ATS submission categories include: research articles, commentaries, reviews, debates and interviews.

Provisional publication date of issue: from June 2021.

ATS is a peer-reviewed open access journal and no fees will be charged to contributors to this special issue.

‘Active Travel Studies’ journal open for submissions.

‘Active Travel Studies’ journal open for submissions.

Active Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal launched today for submissions a venture based at the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy. Editors Tom Cohen and Rachel Aldred here discuss the thinking behind the journal and outline below the range of published material to be expected and context of current debates on active travel in 2020.

Active Travel Studies will provide researchers with a natural home for new findings on all aspects of active travel, including but not limited to walking and cycling. As an open-access journal, charging no fees to either authors or readers, it will reduce barriers between those who are producing knowledge on active travel and those who wish to benefit from it.

‘We’re very excited about the journal,’ explains its editor, Dr Tom Cohen. ‘It marks an opportunity for research on active travel to reach a wider audience and to do so without the delay common in academic publishing. The journal will welcome a range of submissions (debates, reviews and interviews, as well as more familiar research articles) and we plan to allow multi-media output as well as more conventional formats.’

‘Another way in which we hope to differ from many journals is in remaining approachable – we welcome the opportunity to discuss with authors their ideas concerning possible submissions. But this will not be at the expense of academic rigour: all submissions will be subject to peer review.’

The journal is launching at what may be an auspicious time, as COVID-19 has provoked both a sharp increase in active travel and heated debate about whether and how that increase can be made permanent. As Cohen puts it, ‘our hope is that the journal can provide sound evidence to inform both this policy transition and others in the future.’

About the Journal

Active Travel Studies is a new, peer-reviewed, open-access journal intended to provide a source of authoritative research on walking, cycling and other forms of active travel. In the context of a climate emergency, widespread health problems associated with inactivity, and poor air quality caused in large part by fossil-fuel transport, the journal is relevant and timely. It will perform the critical function of providing practitioners and policy makers with access to current and robust findings on all subjects relevant to active travel.

We live in times of climate crisis, with illegal levels of air pollution in many cities worldwide, and what has been called an epidemic of physical inactivity. Technological change alone will not solve such problems: we also need major growth in active travel (primarily walking and cycling, but also other active and semi-active types of travel, such as scooters) to replace many shorter car trips. Active modes could even (e.g. through electric assist trikes) help make urban freight much more sustainable. Journals within many fields cover active travel, but literature remains highly segmented and (despite high levels of policy interest) difficult for practitioners to find. Established, mainstream journals are not open access, another barrier to policy transfer and knowledge exchange. Thus, while many towns, cities, and countries seek to increase active travel, the knowledge base suffers from a lack of high-quality academic evidence that is easy to find and obtain. This reinforces practitioner reliance on often lower-quality grey literature, and a culture of relying on ad hoc case studies in policy and practice. This journal provides a bridge between academia and practice, based on high academic standards and accessibility to practitioners. Its remit is to share knowledge from any academic discipline/s (from bioscience to anthropology) that can help build knowledge to support active travel and help remove barriers to it, such as car dependency. Within this normative orientation, it is rigorously academic and critical, for instance not shying away from analysing examples where interventions do not lead to more active travel. It goes beyond immediate policy imperatives to share knowledge that while not immediately change-oriented can contribute to a deeper understanding of, for instance, why people drive rather than walk. As well as publishing relevant new research, the journal commissions both commentary pieces on such research, and critical reviews of the existing literature. Reflecting the diversity of its audience, its content is varied, including written work of different lengths as well as audio-visual material.

For more information on submissions see the journal page ‘About’ and drop down menu for information on editorial team, editorial policies and submissions.