As a form of self-organisation and resistance, and driven by the principles of mutual support and solidarity, workers in Rio de Janeiro have launched the Despatronados delivery co-op.
The initiative has come out of the Movement of Anti-Fascist Deliverers, an organisation which was formed in the wake of tough conditions around delivery services during the pandemic, calling for the apps which rule their lives to be reformed taking into account the reality of accidents and equipment failure without blocking people from earning entirely. Another major demand is that companies simply recognise and fulfil the need for couriers to eat lunch, rather than shrugging it off under the line that their staff are “entrepreneurs.”
With a sudden growth in the industry, working conditions in the city have been marked by extreme insecurity and exploitation. Couriers are forced into taking on exhausting working hours with low income and no insurance, whether in the event of an accident, illness or anything else which might make it impossible to work. During the pandemic itself little to no protective equipment was ever issued and Rappi, an Uber-like app service had gone one step further, starting to “rank” its workers according to the late night or weekend hours they were prepared to work and give the plum jobs in rich neighbourhoods out accordingly.
Despite the worsening situation, initially organisers saw serious difficulties in persuading vehicle drivers to listen, before finding that cyclists were far more willing to consider militant action. On June 5th a protest, called by the anti-fascist courier group but aimed at the broader industry, was held outside São Paulo’s Museum of Art followed by a Breque dos App (Stop The App) nationwide strike on July 1st. Their activities have forced the big three app firms, iFood, Uber and Rappi, to announce funds for workers who have been struck down with Covid but most of the major complaints about how couriers are being treated remain.
If the lives of couriers and couriers are hard work and low wages, the companies which hire them are among the world’s most successful. Income for these increasingly hegemonic firms has increased significantly during the pandemic period, as delivery orders increased dramatically. Medical goods specialist World Courier, for example, owned by drugs giant AmerisourceBergen, saw its year-on-year profits balloon 9.5% in the last quarter to $1.4 billion.
Such increases were not accompanied by an increase in tariffs and working conditions for couriers and couriers however. In fact according to a study by the the University of Campinas, almost 70% or couriers have seen a wage decline. For this reason, the Anti-Fascist Couriers in Rio have proposed the cooperative for the self-management of labour, as resistance against exploitation.
The co-op is starting small, with ten people on the team, but intends to grow as an alternative self-managed challenger to the big firms’ deep pockets.