Tuesday, 9 May 2017

#deliverunion: Couriers are organising across Europe

Late April, over a hundred bike couriers of companies like Deliveroo and Foodora met in Berlin. They are protesting against the precarious labour conditions at the fast-growing delivery companies. Their protests are part of a European campaign of activist unions, partly inspired by a succesful strike of London couriers.

Hundreds of bike couriers work in food delivery in Berlin. Self-employed workers receive 4.75 euro per delivery; employees 9 euro per hour plus 1 euro per delivery. The conditions constantly change, and ‘generally not to the advantage of workers’.

The delivery companies are growing fast as a result of the hundreds of millions they receive from investment companies. In Berlin, this has resulted in fierce competition at the expense of workers.

The Berlin trade union FAU doesn’t want to create a works council (widespread in Germany) but create company-level groups of activists who engage in direct action - whether strikes or generating publicity. The ultimate goal is a collective agreement.

Sources: FAU, TAZ, Tagesspiegel. Via Kurt Vandaele

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

‘Cleaning company ends contract with Rotterdam Hilton over treatment of workers’

Dutch newspaper AD reports that major cleaning company CSU will no longer provide services to the Rotterdam Hilton hotel over its failure to commit to the Responsible Contracting Code. “That’s why our ways part”, a CSU spokesperson told AD.

Liliana Dirks of trade union FNV emphasised the uniqueness of the situation: “The Hilton is a major client. For CSU to want rid of them is telling: the Hilton simply doesn’t want to improve its role as a contractor or its labour conditions.” The Hilton declined to comment because they would still be in talks with CSU, AD reports.

The Responsible Contracting Code was created in 2010 in response to a nine-week strike of cleaners demanding respect and a living wage. Signatories agree to include social criteria in their contracting decisions.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Deliveroo, Uber: How to organise the gig economy

Deliveroo couriers in London recently won a victory after standing up against plans to make their jobs even more precarious. They went on strike, staged a protest at the London offices of the meal delivery company and refused to let management deal with their complaints individually. To cover income losses caused by the strike, they crowdfunded a strike fund, raising £12,994 in small donations.

Hilary Osborne and Sarah Butler of the Guardian explore what this victory means for opportunities to organise the broader gig economy, consisting of companies like Uber and Deliveroo with extremely precarious jobs.

An obvious barrier to organising gig workers is that they often work individually. One way to get in touch with them would be to set up worker centres like in the US, where volunteers provide advice. And of course there’s social media. Alex Wood of Oxford University:
Even amongst the workers who are working around the world from home we find most of them join online social networks through Facebook, forums and blogs […] These networks form the basis for people to share dissatisfactions.
Legal cases could also make a difference. The British GMB union is backing a court case taken by Uber drivers, who say they are employees rather than self-employed (similarly, the German public prosecutor is challenging the self-employed status of Ryanair pilots).

Will unions make an effort to organise the gig economy, even if it takes a lof of effort? Wood:
There’s a high turnover of people and there’s low market bargaining power. If they go on strike it’s not going to bring the economy to a halt, unlike coal miners or rail workers.
Then again, one could argue that if unions fail to prevent the spread of the gig economy, both workers and unions will end up having a weaker position. Alice Martin of the New Economics Foundation suggested new unions may have to fill the void of traditional unions are unable to deal with the gig economy.

Mags Dewhurst of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, who campaigned with the Deliveroo couriers, emphasises low-paid workers can win:
The biggest problem people face is getting in contact with each other. Once they are in contact and they have decided to work with one voice, they have effectively unionised and the company is screwed.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Workers at over 30 airports unite; Dutch security staff win improved labour conditions

Photo: Matthijs de Bruijne

In a display of international solidarity, workers at over 30 airports across the world united on 1 June to protest against deteriorating labour conditions and job security. The action coincided with the annual general meeting of aviation lobby organisation IATA.

Over a thousand solidarity tweets were sent with the hashtag #airportworkers, even surpassing IATA’s own social media effort. Over one-third of the #airportworkers solidarity tweets specifically mentioned Dutch airport Schiphol.

In Amsterdam, 250 airport cleaners, ground handlers, security staff, and KLM workers marched to the headquarters of airport operator NV Schiphol as part of their campaign for quality, safety and secure jobs.

KLM ground staff have recently achieved that KLM withdrew its plan to replace thousands of experienced workers with agency staff; negotiations continue.

The day after the protest, Dutch union FNV reached an agreement with Schiphol airport to improve labour conditions and hire more permanent staff in airport security. There have been issues regarding labour conditions ever since Schiphol Airport assumed responsibility for security contracting in 2003. After worker protests in 2014, some improvements have been made, but not enough to meet health and safety standards. It took five short work stoppages before the current agreement could be reached.

Schiphol airport workers will continue their campaign. Among other things, they want low cost airlines to respect Dutch labour law.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Can musicians organise and get paid for their work

Musicians are often asked to play for free, because this would give them exposure. Sometimes, employers pay less than agreed or nothing at all. Researchers spoke to 70 musicians in London, Paris and Ljubljana and wrote an article in Jabobin Magazine.

Some unions try to support musicians. For example, the British Musicians’ Union has launched a Work Not Play campaign to name and shame employers who ask musicians to play for free. However, organising musicians isn’t easy.

There are significant obstacles to such efforts, due in no small part to many musicians’ skepticism of unions. In France anarchist ideology is also alive and well in the music scene, and we found widespread resistance to the idea of formally regulating labor markets.

Some musicians expose bad employers by word-of-mouth and social media. Some go one step further and organise into collectives that aim to change labour relations. For example, in Ljubjana

we spoke to members of collectives founded on egalitarian principles that had created alternative venues and production and distribution channels. They also built new relationships with venues, asking the venues to commit to pre-agreed pay rates in return for booking them for well-attended cultural events. While these collectives fight to improve material conditions for musicians, they have also projected a radical political message against the privatization and commercialization of venues and distribution channels.

Ian Greer, Barbara Samaluk, & Charles Umney. Work Not Play.

Friday, 8 April 2016

US: How unions transformed the lives of millions of low-wage workers

In an article in the LA Times, labour expert Harold Meyerson analyses the success of Fight for 15 - the campaign to raise the minimum wage:

When SEIU and a band of 200 New York City fast-food workers began the Fight for 15 in 2012, their goal was to unionize the sector, beginning with the industry giant, McDonald’s. That goal is as elusive today as it was then, but the campaign has nonetheless begun to transform the lives of millions of low-wage workers.

Both California and New York have decided to raise the minimum wage. It’s a similar story with the workers who fought unsuccessfully for organising rights at Seattle’s SeaTac airport but ended up winning a higher minimum wage across Seattle:

It proved easier to win a significant raise for 100,000 Seattle workers than to unionize 4,000 workers at the city’s airport — with whom management has yet to sit down at the bargaining table.

Meyerson argues that unions are facing disfunctional labour laws and losing power, but still they manage to win significant improvements for workers. It will take even more of that ingenuity and tenacity to find solutions for today’s disintegrating labour market where regular jobs are replaced by temps, independent contractors, on-call workers and subcontracted workers.

LA Times

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Dutch union wants to ally with environmental organisations

In his New Year speech, chairman Ton Heerts announced that the Dutch union FNV wants to create a movement around social and environmental issues, in collaboration with other organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth:

On occasion, we already work with such organisations, for example on the Energy Agreement or in protesting the free trade agreement with the US, TTIP. Or on the Fair Bank Guide and in the Social Alliance. But we should strengthen our collaboration and jointly create a social and sustainable agenda, become a movement.

Further, he criticised the fact that the Netherlands is the European leader in job insecurity. “Flex jobs for all is equal too, but what kind of society will that result in? Back to the day labourers of 1900? We take a stand for real jobs, and we will increase our efforts the coming year.”