Gig Economy Project – Why Uber drivers in the App Drivers & Couriers Union logged-off for Gaza

The Gig Economy Project speaks Abdurzaq Hadi, Uber driver and BAME officer for the ADCU, about why the union is among the leading voices of the British trade union movement opposing Israel’s siege of Gaza.

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Abdurzaq Hadi (on the left) at the Palestine solidarity demonstration in London, 21 October

FOR Abdurzaq Hadi, witnessing Israel’s brutal siege of Gaza for the last two and a half weeks has brought back painful memories.

“I am from Somalia, and I was a young boy in Mogadishu [Somalia’s capital city) when the civil war broke,” Hadi tells the Gig Economy Project. “I remember when areas were being bombed by militias and the government. Just hearing those bombs was terrifying for me.

“Can you imagine now how it is for children in Gaza, being bombed constantly?”

Hadi is BAME officer for the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) in the UK. He believes around 80% of ridehail drivers in London are “from war-torn parts of the world”, and so watching day after day of destruction hits home.

But there is another reason Hadi feels the pain of Gaza particularly acutely, one fewer of his ADCU comrades can relate to.

“I watched a documentary about a father in Gaza who had a child with leukaemia. The father was saying that he went to the Rafah Crossing because he needed to get his son treatment for leukaemia, and he was turned back. He kept trying and kept getting turned back,” Hadi says.

“A few months later, after watching this documentary, my son got leukaemia here in London. And I could not forget that documentary, I was imagining all the time that father and what happened to him and his son: did he make it? 

“My son has the luxury of going to the best institute in London, Great Ormond Street hospital, and this guy couldn’t even get his son out of Gaza. That touched me, and that’s why I led that protest on Saturday [21 October].

“And believe me, if this had been the other way round, if it was the Palestinians occupying the Israelis, I would protest for them.”

The demonstration Hadi refers to is the enormous Palestine solidarity march in London, which police estimate to have been 100,000 people, while the organisers say it was 300,000. The ADCU organised a “mass log-off” to coincide with the demonstration, encouraging customers not to use the ridehail platforms during the hours of the protest and drivers to join the march. 

The ADCU have also published a statement condemning violence “against all innocent people in Israel and Gaza”, opposing Israel’s “collective punishment” of the people of Gaza, and calling for an “end to the occupation and an end to apartheid”. This position is based on a motion passed at the union’s AGM last November. 

How have drivers responded to this campaigning, an issue some distance from the bread and butter questions of better pay and conditions?

“The majority of the drivers have been really positive,” Hadi, who has been driving for Uber for nine years, says. “A few people have questioned why we are getting involved in this, but the vast majority have said they want to support Palestine, and a lot of drivers joined the march on Saturday.”

The ADCU has probably been the most vocal of all UK unions in its opposition to Israel’s carpet bombing.

“Historically, unions have always organised against injustice and in solidarity with workers who are struggling in wars,” Hadi says. “Can you imagine what it’s like for a taxi driver right now in Gaza?

“I think the trade union movement in general could be doing more, that’s for sure.”

In wake of the Israeli bombardment, Palestinian trade unions have called on unions across the world to “end all forms of complicity with Israel’s crimes”. Most obviously, that includes the sale of the bombs and other weapons which are massacring Palestinians in Gaza today, but the UK’s Trades Union Congress passed a motion last year “condemning” the decline in the UK arms manufacturing industry, calling for “immediate increases in defence spending”. Israel is a major purchaser of UK-built weapons. 

“I understand the argument about creating jobs, but bombs should not be built which are sold to countries which are bombing civilians,” Hadi says.

“It’s okay to have weapons for defensive purposes, but the TUC should have a motion saying that we don’t support arms being sold to countries like Israel. We know the brutality of the IDF.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer’s unflinching support for Israel has led many Muslim members of the party, including elected officials, to leave. Hardi, who is Muslim, is not surprised. 

“Labour has been letting Muslim members down long before now,” he says. “They really haven’t addressed the Islamophobia in the Labour party.”

As BAME officer, Hadi is used to talking to drivers in the union about their experiences of racism, and he says he is worried about Islamophobia rising in wake of this latest flare-up in the Middle East, but remains positive.

“The good thing about Saturday’s demonstration was that I saw a lot of young people, and a lot of them are not Muslim. This makes a difference, because it’s not just a movement of Muslims, its people from all walks of life. That gave me confidence.”

One of the fears that drivers have is to show solidarity while at work. A Tube driver in London has been suspended for chanting in support of Palestine, and Hadi worries that even wearing a Palestine badge while driving for Uber could lead to problems. 

“If a driver wears it, a complaint could be sent to Uber and a driver could lose their job,” he says.

That is in stark contrast to the Silicon Valley giant’s active support for Ukraine. ADCU have pointed out that while Uber and Bolt organised in-app donations to support the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, the platforms have not so far done the same when it comes to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“It’s institutional racism and it doesn’t surprise me,” Hadi says. “The Palestinians are not blond with blue eyes, are they? If they were, it would be different.

“If a company is going to adopt such a thing, they need to be fair and do it worldwide, regardless of where it happens.”

Uber and Bolt were asked for a response to Hadi’s criticism, but did not respond.

ADCU’s solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza has been backed up by the international organisation they are part of, the International Alliance of App-Based Transport Workers, which called on “all governments…to stop arming the IDF and Netanyahu’s cruelty”. 

Gig workers’ and their unions are expressing worker internationalism when it really matters.

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