Issue 48: Desconexión mundial

17 May 2019

On Wednesday May 8, hundreds of drivers, workers and other demonstrators shut off Uber for hours in several cities around the world. The action was coordinated by drivers who have been organizing for livable wages and greater voice and agency in their work. Last night we got to talk to one of the drivers who helped make it happen; the below is a transcript of the stories and reflections he’s wanted to share in the aftermath of last week’s action. Halfway through our conversation when I heard him address a restaurant worker and heard the car blinker resume when he got back in, I realized he had been driving between restaurants for Uber eats deliveries—he said that he mostly drives passengers but has to do some food delivery too to get through the maze of requirements Uber sets for drivers to earn a “bonus”.

Photo from the Uber protest on May 8

As long as I’ve been driving for Uber and even before drivers have been protesting.

Uber has never tried to reach out to drivers ever before. After last Wednesday’s action, they for the first time have reached out to us.

On Wednesday we successfully got the app shut off in several cities in the US like SF, NY, LA, Chicago, and some international cities in the UK,  Australia, Germany, India.

Uber has always done everything they can do to make drivers isolated; to keep it so that drivers can’t reach out to each other, we can’t communicate with each other. We have broken through that; our organizing has built an unbreakable network with drivers all over the country and now that we have that it feels like we have huge impact.

Wednesday felt amazing. Market Street is one of the biggest and busiest streets in San Francisco and we shut it down. Even having the police out helping and blocking off the street for us felt good—they told us how they feel the struggle too. Uber drivers are not the only workers affected by Uber and this economy of inequality in San Francisco. As part of our organizing and protests in the last years I’ve met so many of the orgs trying to fight inequality in San Francisco. The Wall Street Journal said that in San Francisco there’s more than 60 billionaires today; the estimates of people who are going to get rich from all the IPOs this year is more than 500 people will be made millionaires. The more people in San Francisco get rich, the harder it gets for the rest of us to live in the city.

The city needs all these workers; the rich people are not going to run the hospitals or restaurants. These rich people have been denying their responsibility for the city, they only care about becoming more rich and having more money for themselves—meanwhile most of us have to work two and three jobs to survive in San Francisco. All the workers in the Bay Area are suffering and struggling with all this inequality that is affecting every one of them. I have several friends who are teachers and some of them actually have to drive for Uber just so they can cover the rest of their expenses. All this inequality has to be stopped so every one can be able to live freely.

The Uber CEO has kept saying they are losing money. So how come last year his salary was something around $50 million and he purchased a $17 million mansion? They’ve taken money from whoever will give it to them; they don’t care who the investors are. One of their biggest investors is Jeff Bezos who is only motivated by becoming more and more rich; another of the biggest shareholders is the crown prince of Saudi Arabia who is a sadistic savage responsible for the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and also the war on Yemen in which so many kids and women have been killed—the same war that is responsible for the vast number of Yemeni refugees here in the US who are Uber drivers! The majority of the drivers in San Francisco are from Yemen; they are frustrated, angry and mad that Uber acts like they are for us while at the same time letting the rich man who is killing their families fund their lavish lifestyles!

Uber keeps saying they are the pioneers of this “future-of-work” business model; in reality they are just replicating the exploitation that the trucking industry mastered 30-40 years ago. They made every truck driver independent contractors; everyone buys their own trucks and looks for their own trips. Uber stole that idea and just created an app for it. Uber and Lyft say they are tech companies but the service they provide is transportation; they claim to be tech companies so they can avoid all the laws that regulate the transportation industry, and they’ve paid millions to accomplish that and ensure they can do whatever they want with us. 

Since Wednesday’s action I have been talking with my friends who drive and who have been working for Uber for a long time; a lot of them don’t think changes will happen for a long time, but I disagree. The Supreme Court in California decided last year that we are actually misclassified and Uber has paid so much money to have us mis-classified this way when we should actually be employees. And last week France and Switzerland passed the exact same thing—that drivers should be employees based on the control the companies have over them and Germany is on the verge to take that decision too.

The forthcoming bills AB 5 and 17 will force all these gig economy companies to make everyone as employees not independent contractors. This is the reason Uber is moving right now to reach out to us and make a deal real quick before the law is changed. They saw that we became organized, that we can hurt them just by shutting off the app. Reporters said a few months ago that when the Uber server was hacked and it was down for almost 3 hours nationwide they lost more than $300 million. We can do a lot of damage and we are ready to do it again if they don’t treat drivers with respect or dignity.

And they are not treating us with respect or dignity. They tout Uber as a great part-time gig for extra income, they say “it’s not for full time work”. And yet they demand drivers drive 72-80 hours a week! No matter how we are classified, in the end we are workers, and we are human beings, and we deserve respect and dignity. We shouldn’t have to drive 80 hours a week just to survive. _

We are moved by the heroism of the drivers who are managing to survive this San Francisco; and by the actions they’ve taken to make change. One TWC volunteer shares their experience of being in the streets on Wednesday:

A little before noon, I arrived to see lots of reporters and some curious bystanders waiting expectantly in front of the entrance to Uber HQ. I found a bunch of fellow tech workers from TWC, some from DSA, some from nearby companies. It was a mish-mash of drivers, press, techies, and activists. Uber and Lyft drivers drove past in their cars, honking in support.

At its height, the crowd was perhaps 200 strong. I’d guess about two dozen tech workers.

After a while, we moved onto the street, blocking Market, but let some buses pass through. The drivers took up the megaphone and told their stories. They were angry. It was beautiful. At some point, a politician (I believe it was SF Supervisor Gordon Mar) showed up and delivered a speech, but he spoke too quietly for many to hear him, and I don’t think people cared.

The protest left some things to be desired. It was an awkward mixture of attendees, different parties that normally didn’t interact with one another.

Still, there was jubilance in the air. The drivers, tech workers, the community—we saw one another, exchanged words, nodded in mutual respect. A brass band arrived and played some fun tunes and my friends and I didn’t expect to feel this way, but it was like lunchtime therapy.

It certainly feels like there’s a shift in the air any time we experience this kind of international show of solidarity, and as one labor scholar wrote in summary, the strike was a triumph on many levels:

No, drivers’ commissions were not raised in response. And no, neither Uber nor Lyft implemented just-cause deactivation or recognized a grassroots worker organization as a legitimate bargaining unit. But as a labor scholar (and former taxi-worker organizer) who has researched the so-called gig economy for more than a decade, I appreciate—almost viscerally—that Wednesday’s strike was a huge, unprecedented victory for service workers in the on-demand platform economy.  Politicians (including presidential candidates), consumers (even those in wealthy Silicon Valley suburbs!), civil rights advocates, labor organizers, and drivers around the world stood together in a coordinated, organized direct action and collectively rejected an economic system built on human exploitation. Even those who did not physically participate in strikes joined on social media (at one point, three different Twitter hashtags related to the global strike were trending in the U.S.) and through in-person conversations. Taken together, millions of people participated in the first-ever international picket and made the difficult recognition that despite its consumer conveniences, the so-called Uberization of the service economy must be defeated._

And a final word from a driver sums up why this economy has to come to an end:

I want people to know how powerless you feel when your income comes from a faceless app and when you open it up one morning, things are just different and you’re earning less money and there’s no boss you can talk to, you weren’t told about it, you just see your income is lower today and you just have to deal with it.

Upcoming Events

Bangalore starts a TWC local!
Saturday, 5/18 4PM at Cubbon Park in Bangalore

ROAR (Revolutionary Organizing Against Racism) Conference
Saturday 5/18 and Sunday 5/19 10AM at Omni Commons in Oakland and CIIS in San Francisco

User, Worker, Owner! Building equitable ownership in tech
Wednesday, 5/22 5:30PM at PlanGrid in San Francisco

Meet & Greet for TWC South Florida
Thursday, 6/13 7PM there’s a TWC at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida
Facebook • Meetup

Film Premier: When Rules Don’t Apply
Thursday, 5/30 6PM at UC Hastings in San Francisco
Facebook • Meetup

The Code of Conduct is in effect at all TWC events.

In The News

Last Monday, over 150 workers at Riot Games walked off the job to protest sexual harassment and call for an end to forced arbitration clauses in their contracts. On Thursday, management released a statement that they would continue with forced arbitration.

Management at Kickstarter has declined to recognize workers who are organizing a union and so the campaign will go to a NLRB election

Facebook is raising its minimum wage for contract workers to $20 an hour in the Bay Area, New York City and Washington, and $18 an hour in Seattle. Content moderators will get more. Those in San Francisco, New York and D.C. will now make at least $22 per hour. Seattle-based moderators will receive a minimum of $20 an hour. In other ‘metro areas’ where content moderators live, like Phoenix, the minimum will be $18 an hour, the company said.” More scrutiny is on the company thanks in part to organizing and awareness building on the part of contracted workers at the company.

25 astute reasons Zuckerberg should be dethroned from his run as boy-founder of Facebook. Please note how few of the 25 misdeeds and missteps are unique to Zuckerberg as a CEO or Facebook as a company.  

The only thing gig economy apps “disrupt” is labor law

You may not have even heard of the most depraved and fastest growing company in the gig economy, Wonolo. Short for Work Now Locally, the company was incubated by Coca-Cola and has hundreds of thousands of contractors standing by for warehouse fulfillment kind of work and is a case study in most precarious and greatest exploitation of workers. 

Uber released a new feature, “Quiet mode”, that lets passengers silence chatty drivers.

Students for the Liberation of All People (SLAP) at Stanford released a zine this week to challenge the ties between immigration enforcement and Silicon Valley recognizing the crucial pipeline supply Stanford students provide racist tech companies.  

Song Of The Week

Tanika Charles - Upside Down

I’m starting with me
I’m starting with me
You are who you are
Work twice as hard
For half the opportunity

I’m not  compromising
I need change
At every scale
In every way