Brawl erupts in Upper Street during Deliveroo driver protest

Upper Street.Picture:Ken Mears

Upper Street.Picture:Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Upper Street came to a standstill on Friday when protesting Deliveroo drivers smashed a van window and scuffled with its driver, who then came at them with a hammer.

Leaflets the drivers were handing out at the protest. Picture: Islington Gazette

Leaflets the drivers were handing out at the protest. Picture: Islington Gazette - Credit: Archant

Police were called at about 1.30pm to reports of a disturbance caused when a group of gig economy drivers, whose demands included a minimum payment of £4 per delivery, staged an “illegal” protest by blockading the road.

Some 20 Deliveroo drivers, members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union, were involved in the moped picket. No one was arrested.

A Deliveroo driver from Hackney, who gave his name as Aiden, told the Gazette: “I know there were drivers that were looking for a fight.

“If they really wanted to protest they wouldn’t have gone to a random road and blocked it up then got confrontational when challenged.

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“The driver smashed the van window for no real reason other than he was backed up by all his mates.”

Of local delivery drivers, he claimed: “A lot of them carry weapons like hammers to smash windows or scatter screws in the roads to break other drivers’ bikes.”

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Footage from the confrontation appears to show the van driver attempting to drive through the demo before a moped rider smashes his window. The van driver leaves his cab to remonstrate and is set upon by the protesters, ending up being kicked before returning to his vehicle. He then gets out a moment later with a hammer and squares up to the riders, although no further violence ensues.

IWW provided an account from an unnamed driver who was at the protest. They said: “The van driver set off the confrontation by driving his vehicle into the mopeds. When the couriers tried to explain the reason of their protests, he responded by shouting and insulting them before ramming his van into two moped riders.”

Witness Hugh Grover, 54, said: “Effectively a group of motorbikes arrived, whistling whistles, stopping all the traffic on Upper Street, demonstrating with loud speakers and talking about the rights of workers.

“It wasn’t a legally accepted demonstration. I asked if they had permission from the police and council – they didn’t.

“A builder in a white van was trying to get through because he needed to get to work. The next thing I knew a motorbike was laid on the floor in front of the vehicle so it couldn’t proceed.”

Hugh, who runs estate agent Hugh Grover Associates, added: “The van was pushing gently forward and just wanted to get past, not in an aggressive way.

“Then one of the people on motorbikes went around the side of the van and smashed the window – I couldn’t see whether or not there was a hammer [in his hand].

“Understandably the driver came out and tried to find this guy – and was frogmarched by other people on the demonstration, who started getting involved.

“[The driver] jumped in his van and came back with a mallet and went to find the guy who smashed his window.”

He said the whole incident lasted between 15 and 20 minutes.

“I started working in Upper Street in 1986,” said Hugh. “I have seen worse. “But I also found it very annoying they wanted to hold up the traffic.”

He said it’s fine to protest but wrong to do so in the name of workers while stopping others from getting to their jobs.

Akemi Kawano, 54, who’s run the neighbouring Zen Mondo restaurant for the past four years, said: “I heard beeping and drivers were running everywhere. It was mad, a noisy nuisance disturbing other businesses.”

A Met Police spokesperson said: “Officers spoke with the driver of a van, which had a side window broken. The van driver did not wish to make any criminal allegations.”

A Deliveroo spokesperson said: “Deliveroo condemns this behaviour by these individuals, which is utterly unrepresentative of hardworking riders, who were out on Friday bringing people their meals.

“The activists who organised and stoked this protest must take responsibility for this appalling incident.

“We have already identified one rider involved, have ended their contract and have passed the matter onto the police.”

An online statement, an International Workers of the World spokesperson said: “The IWW stands in solidarity with the couriers and their right to defend themselves against violence.

“The daily reality of delivery couriers involves dealing with dangerous drivers, moped thieves, immigration police and of course delivery companies that do not care for the safety of their couriers.

“These drivers lack access to services that can resolve these threats for them and therefore have to rely on mutual support and self-defence to maintain their security and livelihoods.

“We condemn Deliveroo’s shameful statement on what happened yesterday. Rather than defending its drivers who were attacked by a van and men armed with deadly weapons, the company has placed the blame on its hardworking and underpaid couriers whilst also claiming that the unions supporting the striking drivers bear responsibility for what happened.”

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