Caroline Königs

orillas, message in a bottle, Uber, Lieferando – the convenience business is advancing through a large number of start-ups in more and more precarious professions … and does not improve anything. This is also the case with the Lieferando predecessors Deliveroo and Foodora. The analysis Riders unite! Tells of the working conditions and struggles . by Robin de Greef.

The food delivery service Deliveroo was founded in 2013 and Foodora in 2014. Both companies promised fast delivery of high quality dishes from restaurants that do not have their own delivery service. The delivery fee was only 2.50 euros. In a three-year competition for monopoly position in Germany, both companies advertised with young, environmentally conscious couriers: inside, smiling, riding their clean bicycles through the sun. But as is so often the case with a delivery fee that is too low, the reality was different.

Especially at Deliveroo, precarious working conditions prevailed due to the form of employment of the self-employed. Deliveroo paid neither social security nor accident insurance. In both companies, the riders had to provide their own bicycles and smartphones and for too long had to completely cover the maintenance costs. Especially in the summer there were too few orders for too many employees who, thanks to the structures of the narrow platforms, could be hired in large numbers with little effort for the companies. For example, Deliveroo riders paid a catastrophic hourly wage by paying for the number of items delivered when the order situation was low: “Then unfortunately I only have three jobs in four hours, so with a big tip, if I’m lucky, I earn 20 euros in four hours.[1]
What de Greef’s book appropriately elaborates is the question whether the couriers are employed as solo freelancers at Deliversoo: the riders were integrated into the operational context through app-based management. Furthermore, the ability to make their own decisions was limited for a long time, as the rider was only shown the route to be traveled after the order was accepted. In France and Spain there were first precedents with similarly operating companies in which a pseudo self-employment was established in court.

The book arose from a bachelor thesis at the University of Göttingen. Even in his scientific work, de Greef took a biased approach with a publicly oriented sociology in order to open up a dialogue between researchers and those being researched. This approach makes the book accessible to everyone: everyone. Fortunately, the terminus-based digression section on scientific research approaches has been shortened in book form. However, what should be emphasized as very informative and successful due to the scientific type of text are the analyzes of precariousness and start-up structures. De Greef presents the exploitative methods of food delivery services as the tip of the iceberg of a neoliberal labor market policy combined with the exploitation of new technological structures:[2]
If you still think of creative, personable sole proprietorships when it comes to start-ups, you will at the latest with Riders unite! taught better. The author describes the development of typical new companies from the risk capital phase to the struggle for monopoly position according to the motto “growth before profit” to the sudden disappearance or going public in the event of successful competition. “These are transnational corporations and investors who are massively promoting the expansion of precarious jobs in the hope of profitable new value creation opportunities.” [3]

© The bookmaker
In the summers of 2016 and 2017, the industrial action of riders in Europe raged the most. Petitions were signed, demos were organized on bikes and junk bicycles were dumped in front of the offices of Deliveroo and Foodora. The FAU Berlin, Leipzig and the NGG (Union of Food-Pleasure-Restaurants) supported the protests. Here the book appropriately analyzes the structures that can lead to labor disputes: Before

Especially in summer, when the order situation was low, riders often met in parks. The organization through messenger groups also contributed a good part to bringing the workers together. De Greef’s analysis, which lives up to its claim to be practical reading for employees and unions, discusses at this point what could have gone better. In winter, when people are less interested in working outdoors in uncomfortable temperatures, a higher market power could have been used. In addition, the book asks the question of better cooperation and supplementation between the FAU with methods of direct action and the NGG with experience in collective bargaining.

In the summer of 2019, Deliveroo withdrew completely from the German market. Half a year earlier, Foodora was bought by the Dutch Takeaway group and incorporated into their company Lieferando. What did the industrial action bring? De Greef suspects that the better working conditions at Lieferando in Germany can be traced back to the summer protests. In addition, the Transnational Courier Federation and the CoopCycle were founded. The latter is a federation with the goal of social, fair food delivery services, which provides the CoopCycle app free of charge. A great glimmer of hope when you think about de Greef’s future prognosis: Since Deliveroo, like Foodora back then and now Lieferando, is heavily dependent on Amazon as their meta-platform and this multicompany invested 575 million dollars in Deliveroo in 2019, the question of alternatives in the food delivery service sector is more important than ever if we don’t all want to be made up of Amazon in the figurative sense one day. Hence isRiders unite! as an analysis of the gig economy structures more explosive than ever.

Riders unite! Labor disputes in food delivery services in the gig economy – The Berlin example is available from Die Buchmacherei