In memoriam: Ethan Bradley

Ethan Bradley, a courier, trade-unionist and aspiring journalist who has died aged 28 after a cycling accident, was a dedicated fighter for the rights of precarious workers.

His work investigating low pay at Deliveroo with the Bureau was shortlisted for the British Journalism Awards’ innovation category and he held several positions at the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), most recently being elected chair of the union’s couriers and logistics branch.

Despite working full-time as a food delivery courier, Ethan found time to volunteer doing deliveries for pharmacies during the pandemic and to help fellow riders, not only in York, where he lived, but also across the country.

“One thing that shone out about Ethan was his passion and dedication to fighting the cause and putting his all into helping people like him – precarious workers, those with insecure employment and generally anyone who needed help and support. He would give the shirt off his back if someone needed it,” said Fran Scaife, a former fellow courier who worked with Ethan on the Bureau’s Deliveroo project.

In 2020 he was part of a rider boycott of the Five Guys restaurant chain over the excessive waiting times that riders faced when picking up orders. As the boycott dragged on, the number of riders on the picket line withered, but Ethan was always there.

I met Ethan working for the IWGB at the height of the pandemic. He had been given a fine by a police community support officer for entering York city centre to make a delivery, part of a wider pattern at the time. He wanted to make sure his experience could be used to help change what he considered to be unfair penalties that could be as much as a day’s wages.

He already had a sharp instinct for what made a good news story and managed to get a video of the officer, who was not wearing a mask or gloves, confronting him. The video led to the story being covered throughout the local and national media, including by the BBC. A fortnight later, North Yorkshire police withdrew the fine.

“He wasn’t afraid of it and he wasn’t afraid to stand up to it. He spoke truth to power, even if the power came from a multimillion-pound company or some jobsworth PCSO,” said Alex Marshall, president of the IWGB.

Ethan regularly spoke to the press and wrote about the difficulties faced by couriers and the need for them to take collective action.

In a comment piece published earlier this year, he wrote: “As long as I’ve been working for them, Deliveroo’s sign off on their emails and rider support line has been ‘Ride safe’. This has long been regarded as laughable in the eyes of riders. But in 2021, this phrase has never rung more hollow.”

It was that natural instinct for news combined with total fearlessness that meant I got in touch with Ethan when the Bureau asked for pitches as part of the Is Work Working project. His proposal resulted in the Deliveroo investigation, which found that riders were earning as little as £2 an hour.

Ethan worked tirelessly on the investigation, from conducting heart-breaking interviews with other riders, to ensuring that we gathered as much data as we could. He spent much of the weekend before publication calling every rider he knew to make sure they shared their invoices with the Bureau. York ended up being the city where we had the most rider data after London.

We stayed in contact following this project and in the weeks before he died we had been talking about what he could do to get more involved in journalism. There is no doubt in my mind that, given the opportunity, he would have become an exceptional journalist.

But in the short time he had, Ethan had already proved himself to be an inspiring organiser, and leaves behind a legacy of couriers who he had helped to develop into union activists.

Jake Thomas, the secretary of the IWGB couriers branch, who Ethan was mentoring, said he had a way of listening to people that linked their private struggles to broader organising efforts. “He would spend a stupid amount of time just phone-banking and calling members, even just to say hello. Everyone had spoken to him at least once,” he said.

“It was incredible to see how much of his time he had dedicated to all of us. He wasn't earning any money, it was out of kindness and because he genuinely believed in it.”