A REPORT in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper brought home the deadly reality experienced by workers in the gig economy that now dominates British capitalism.
53-year-old Don Lane, who suffered from severe diabetes and worked for DPD parcel delivery firm, collapsed and died after being forced to miss appointments with a specialist treating his illness.
DPD, which made over £100 million profit after tax in 2016, delivers parcels for companies including Amazon, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.
All its delivery workers are treated as self-employed and not entitled to holiday or sick pay.
This self-employed status does not prevent the firm from ‘fining’ its delivery staff if they take a day off sick or to attend for a medical appointment and are unable to cover their delivery round.
According to Lane’s wife, he was fined £150 in July last year for taking a day off to attend his specialist appointment despite notifying the company months in advance.
It was this fear of the constant threat of fines that led him to miss appointments, cancelations that resulted in the renal department stopping treatment for him.
In a statement DPD, which employs 5,000 ‘self-employed’ couriers, said that its drivers, ‘do not have to provide the service personally, and drivers have the option of providing a substitute driver in the event of sickness. Don was aware of the need to provide a substitute.’
Calling these drivers self-employed is a lie; they are forced to wear company uniforms, drive company vans and are forbidden to work for another company.
DPD, of course, is not alone. Last year it was revealed that Parcelforce, owned by Royal Mail, can charge its self-employed couriers up to £250 a day for taking time off for illness.
Labour MP Frank Field, commenting on this tragic death, said: ‘How can modern Britain allow workers who are dedicated to their job to be driven to an early grave by such appalling exploitation?’ He added: ‘Such mistreatment of workers smacks of sweated labour from the Victorian era.’
The answer is that modern British capitalism is bankrupt, these giant companies today rely for their profits on the kind of exploitation of workers last seen in the Victorian era before trade unions, the time when workers had no rights and the employers were free to exploit their labour mercilessly.
It was the struggle by the working class against these conditions that led directly to the formation of modern trade unionism.
In 1889, dockers in the Port of London came out on mass strike for the first time against the appalling casual labour system that saw them forced to turn up for work every morning in the hope of half a day’s employment, with the majority sent home to starve.
This strike, which won the support of the entire working class and paralysed the country, led to the foundation of the mass unions like the Transport and General Workers Union, the forerunner of today’s Unite union.
130 years later what are the leaders of the trade unions doing about the attempt by a bankrupt capitalist system to turn the clock back to before unions were built?
The answer was provided yesterday by the TUC when it issued an appeal to the Tory government to end the ‘insecure work free-for-all’ and begged the Tories to ban zero-hour contracts and ‘crack down on bogus self-employment.’
Nothing about what the TUC intends to do, no call for action to protect the rights of the millions of workers and youth who face a future of sweated labour.
The fact is that the rights workers won in struggle all those years ago cannot be defended by appeals to the Tories. They must be defended through the TUC calling a general strike to bring down the Tories and advance to a workers government that will expropriate the bosses and bankers and outlaw all forms of exploitation of workers.
Those leaders who refuse to call for action must be removed and replaced with a leadership that is prepared to lead the fight to overthrow a capitalist system that can no longer provide any future for the working class, and go forward to a socialist society.