Uber Drivers Mount Nationwide Protest


Uber drivers nationwide protested the ride-hailing firm seeking higher pay and a tip-option the weekend of Oct. 16-18. Drivers urged customers to refrain from using the app-based business that allows private car owners to drive paying customers, a market that taxis had dominated.

“We always welcome feedback from driver-partners,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement before the weekend protest. “Each week, tens of thousands of drivers across the US begin using the Uber app to make money on their own time, to reach their own goals.”

One writer had a different take on the Uber driver protests.

“After having their pay slashed multiple times by Uber, drivers are protesting for better wages,” said Steven Hill, author of Raw Deal: How the ‘Uber Economy’ and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers (St. Martin’s Press, October 20, 2015) in an email. “That should hardly be surprising. They also want a minimum fare because the streets are getting so clogged with Uber drivers that short rides leave the car stuck in traffic and so short rides are unprofitable.”

Did someone say supply and demand?

Uber had 160,000 drivers in the US in December 2014, according to company figures. The drivers work not as company employees, but as independent contractors.

Jay, a part-time Uber driver in Houston, Texas, since July 2015, didn’t participate in the recent labor action there. He described “a handful of strikers” in the city.

Reached by phone, Jay declined to use his last name for fear of company retaliation, e.g., disconnecting him from the mobile app that links Uber drivers and riders. Without that digital connection, drivers can’t earn income.

David Ryan, a part-time Uber driver in Los Angeles, Orange County, the SF Bay Area and Sacramento, Calif., since April 2015, also didn’t take part in the strike, he said via email. “There was very little talk among passengers or the local media,” according to Ryan.

Uber drivers picketed the company’s headquarters in San Francisco, Calif., where the ride-hailing service launched, to kick off the weekend protest. In addition, the “Uber Freedom” Facebook page listed driver protests in Raleigh, N.C.; Denver, Colo.; and Dallas, Texas.

Historically, labor’s capacity to withhold its services has been a way to bargain for better working conditions and compensation. However, self-directed efforts of Uber drivers to improve their working lives face considerable challenges, economically speaking.

The U-6 measure of underemployment was 10% in September 2015, versus 11.4% the previous September, according to the federal Labor Department. The U-6 measures the unemployed, underemployed and discouraged, e.g., those who no longer seek paid work.

The latter group are uncounted in the U-3 unemployment numbers that grab headlines: 5.1% in September 2015 compared with 5.9% in September 2014.

The short story here is that companies can and do hold pay below what their workers seek when there are more job-seekers than jobs. It is a matter of supply and demand, not insurmountable, but nonetheless formidable.

Strength in numbers counts, and can create its own momentum on the ground and in the public’s mind in the conflict between labor and capital. Uber might have won this battle, but the final page of the conflict between the $51 billion company and its dissident workers is unwritten.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2015


Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652