Traffic came to a standstill in central London today, Wednesday, as up to 300 people marched through the city at rush hour.
The Precarious Labour Strikes Back protest was called by the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) union to coincide with two events.
The first was taxi firm Uber’s appeal against a previous employment tribunal ruling. The ruling, if upheld, would force the firm to treat workers as employees rather than self-employed contractors.
The second was a strike by outsourced security workers at the University of London (UoL) who are demanding to be brought back in house.
People assembled at 8am outside Transport for London (TfL) in Southwark, south London, before marching to the appeal hearing on Fleet Street then on to UoL.
James Farrar is one of the two drivers who won the landmark ruling against Uber. Speaking outside TfL he slammed the transport body for allowing Uber to get away with treating its workers so badly for so long.
“The minicab industry has always been a cesspit of abuse,” he said. “And that’s been presided over by TfL for 20 years.”
He was responding to claims by Uber’s lawyers that the firm was just like any other minicab operator.
But any employment practices that allow companies to get away with effectively paying below the minimum wage need to be stamped out. Like any bully caught red handed, Uber’s response is to say it’s no worse than anyone else.
And it can rely on its powerful financial and political backers, meaning licence-issuers are too scared to confront its practices. “Licensing regulators like TfL must protect all licensees, not just the ones which have financial and political clout,” said James.
Uber paid just £500 a year for its licence to operate in London, said James. Meanwhile, the 120,000 private hire drivers in London pay a combined total of £24 million in licence fees.
Instead of managing the market, TfL “handed out licences like sweets,” said James.
Yaseen Aslam, the other driver who launched the tribunal alongside James, spoke to crowds outside the appeal hearing on Fleet Street.
“Uber has supercharged the industry and has taken exploitation and abuse of drivers to another level,” he said. “All Uber wants to do is flood the market with drivers with no responsibility for liability.”
He added, “History is always made by people in struggle. Each and every one of you are part of history. We are all Uber drivers, Deliveroo drivers, foster care workers, fast food workers and together we will make it happen.”
Later in the morning supporters of striking workers at UoL unfurled a banner from the Senate House building in Russell Square, central London.
The workers have already won the London Living Wage of £9.75 an hour after a brief but effective strike earlier this year.