Police repression is being used to intimidate delivery drivers in Hackney, London, who are organising and fighting back against gig economy bosses. But the local working-class community is mobilising to support workers under attack.
Last Saturday, London Metropolitan Police launched a brutal immigration raid targeting delivery drivers in Dalston, Hackney. In response, hundreds of members of the local community rallied to the drivers’ cause, hindering attempts by the police to intimidate and deport these workers.
The scenes in Dalston were reminiscent of the heroic Battle of Kenmure Street in Glasgow – – almost exactly one year ago – where a similarly working-class community successfully prevented an immigration raid.
This shows the strengthening solidarity amongst workers, regardless of background, against the Tories’ racist ‘hostile environment’ and state-sanctioned thuggery.
A10 blocked by people trying to stop an immigration raid. pic.twitter.com/kL6SrLDzq5
— John Eden (@johnedenuk) May 14, 2022
As we have reported previously, for months, courier drivers working for Deliveroo, JustEat, and other companies have faced harassment by the police in Hackney.
These drivers are forced to wait for and load their deliveries on a public road, with no proper facilities. As a result, they are regularly harassed by the police for ‘anti-social behaviour’ – i.e. for doing their jobs.
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This was used as a pretext by the police to launch their immigration raid on Saturday. At least a hundred police stormed the backstreet used by moped drivers to load their orders, allegedly to tackle this ‘anti-social behaviour’, only to then start arresting drivers after asking their immigration status.
Upon hearing news about this attempted deportation, however, hundreds of local activists quickly arrived in an impressive show of solidarity.
According to the Industrial Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which is helping organise these couriers for the right to work safely and with decent conditions in Hackney, one targeted driver was successfully dearrested thanks to the bold and rapid intervention from members of the local community.
As can be seen in the videos below, the police responded to this resistance in the only way they know how to: with more brutality.
Police action in Dalston against deliver drivers has taken a brutal turn. pic.twitter.com/N3rlc5iSx2
— Samir Jeraj ?? ?? (@sajeraj) May 14, 2022
Police and protestors periodically clashed with the police pursuing and arresting people. I saw one person hit multiple times with a baton and I counted four going into vans. Once they had been driven off the mood eventually calmed down as the police left.
— Samir Jeraj ?? ?? (@sajeraj) May 15, 2022
The latest we have heard is that seven people are being detained in Stoke Newington police station, and another two in Leyton.
Stoke Newington is also the same police station that was recently the subject of a massive protest, due to their disgraceful role in the racist treatment of ‘Child Q’.
These latest events are part of the ongoing struggle for unionisation in the so-called gig economy. It is surely not a coincidence that this immigration raid took place following efforts by the drivers to organise and fight back. The intention is clearly to intimidate these workers – and others like them.
The situation is a direct product of the precarious position such workers find themselves in. Dalston is a major centre for nightlife, and is packed with trendy restaurants.
But as the drivers are not officially employed by the likes of Deliveroo and JustEat, they have no facilities with which to carry out their jobs. All the while, they make massive profits for these tech companies.
That is why so many drivers are forced to congregate on the streets of Dalston in order to load food, or to take a brief break between deliveries.
The local council’s cynical response is that it is for the apps, as their employers, to provide facilities for the drivers. This is formally correct, of course. But the council knows full well that the ruthless app bosses won’t do that, but will instead continue to hide behind the drivers’ technical status as ‘self-employed’ workers.
Hackney Council (a Labour council) benefits financially from the proliferation of popular restaurants in Dalston. Yet it doesn’t want to have to stump up the money to help the workers that actually make these businesses viable.
Clearly, the restaurants, the app capitalists, and Hackney Council all benefit from keeping these drivers in precarious employment: underpaid and super-exploited.
The IWGB has rightly responded with militancy to this police intimidation, and is prepared to take risks to defend these workers.
Similarly, Saturday’s demonstration of solidarity by the local community shows the potential power of the working class in resisting the repression of the state.
Unsurprisingly, however, the GMB – which has just struck a dodgy deal with Deliveroo to become their recognised union – was nowhere to be seen at this protest.
The struggle of the Hackney couriers and gig economy workers is ongoing: part of the wider intensification of the class struggle we are seeing everywhere, as a result of the deepening crisis of capitalism.
It is only with bold and brave methods like these that the labour movement can fight back against this rotten system.