Only a few weeks previously management had unilaterally introduced changes in work practices. This had left a sour taste in a few mouths but little could be done as management had dealt with the workers on an individual basis.
The militant couriers decided to act collectively when agitating for the pay rise as one to one bargaining with an employer always leaves the worker negotiating from a position of weakness. How can it be otherwise when your livelihood is at the mercy of the other party? Collective action protects against that to a large extent, particularly when a spirit of solidarity animates it.
Cyclone, as usual, tried to wear down the resolve of the couriers by dragging the process out for weeks and issuing bullshit proposals to counter the workers' demands.
It would have been easy to let the matter drop as it's a physically demanding job. However, the agitators persevered and put in the hours after work for two months talking to fellow workers, seeking their support and participation in the struggle.
Faced with united employee opposition the management gave way completely, perhaps realising that resisting such a modest pay-rise was effectively serving to unionise the workforce.
This was the second year in a row that Cyclone was hit by an uppity workforce. A notable feature of both campaigns was the democratic manner in which the workers acted; simple things like having open meetings, free votes, a rotating negotiating team (so that people could gain experience as well as to prevent the emergence of leaders) contributed to this.
However, due to the high turnover of staff, the benefit of this experience was lessened as the more active workers had left during the year. Unfortunately that situation is already repeating itself with this year's militants leaving or likely to in the next few months and so a young workforce will be left to reinvent the wheel again.
This has the effect of preventing campaigns from moving beyond seeking modest pay-increases to getting sick-pay, holiday pay, insurance, abolition of piece rates and PAYE status (never mind self-management!) all of which are absent in the industry.
Attempts are currently being made to set up a more lasting organisation for pushbike couriers (DBMA) but whether it can survive as more than a social network now the current crop of militants are departing remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, the Cyclone couriers' success was a heartening one; people with absolutely no experience in industrial confrontation won for themselves a less unreasonable wage. They demonstrated the potential of direct action by a workforce to achieve improvements in their working conditions.
James O'Brian & Antóin Mac Aodhagáin
Dublin Bike Messengers Association
Communications Workers Union
This edition is No74 published in Feb 2003