ADCU strike, Birmingham ADCU strike, Birmingham. Photo: Kieran Crowe

Kieran Crowe reports from an electrifying picket in Birmingham as the ADCU strike against Uber across the West Midlands

Hundreds of drivers braved sub-zero temperatures and mobilized for an electrifying picket by the App Drivers’ and Couriers’ Union (ADCU) in Birmingham this Tuesday. The building they were blocking was Uber’s local headquarters, marking a ground-breaking strike by drivers against the exploitative company.

“Shame on Uber! We demand justice! Stand united, fall divided!” they chanted. The crowd was as diverse as you’d expect and reflecting this they passed the microphone around so that drivers could do the chants in their own mother tongues. The sense of unity was genuinely powerful. Organisers estimated that around 2,500 drivers had logged off from the Uber app for the strike, as well as a large number of Uber users who were not using it on the day in solidarity.

ADCU has multiple demands from Uber. The most basic is pay. Uber frequently exploits drivers by simply setting cash rates for them that simply aren’t earning any cash after the cost of driving and returning is taken into account. One driver reported that a fare was paying £500 for a four-and-a-half-hour drive to another city, for which he was being paid half and with no hope of a return job. Beyond pay, though, is Uber’s unjust control of access to the app itself. The company currently claims the right to exclude any driver it likes – a very clear means to keep drivers from asserting their own rights. ADCU wants proper procedures for registration and de-registration from the platform.

But the final demand is simply safety. Uber drivers currently face far too much danger on the job, and ADCU is taken-up the fight over it.

This strike has taken place on the very same day as railway workers had commenced another 48-hour shutdown on the trains, and just days before the historic strike by nurses, giving the event a real sense of its links to a rising workers’ movement. There was also international solidarity on display as Mohammad Tipu Sultan, an organiser from the New York Taxi Drivers Alliance, had come all the way to Brum to support the strike and give his experiences from over a decade and a half of organising.

The struggle against Uber is a fantastic stand by exploited workers in any case, but the particular nature of Uber as a company gives it an ever-greater relevance to the wider labour movement. Uber was founded precisely to use modern communication technology to subvert and sidestep government regulations, but even more so to reduce workers’ rights. A victory for the ADCU is a rollback of the ruling class’s offensives on all workers.

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