Uber have had the shock of their lives. Last week, they heard that their licence would not be renewed by the City of London. Transport for London cited its approach to reporting serious criminal offences, and failing to perform succinct background checks on its drivers, as justification for this.
Unsurprisingly, most people were not happy about this. For some (especially young women), the removal of Uber removes a safety net should they get into bad situations whilst on a night out. For some, this decision is problematic because it put thousands of Londoners out of some form of work. And, for others, it symbolises that we are becoming hostile to business innovation.
It is the opinion of this writer, however, that Uber deserve exactly what came to them.
This is not, however, as a result of a belief in the claim that Uber is a hotbed of sexual violence. These statistics seem to be found on shaky evidence and, whilst there is no denying that there are horrific stories of rape perpetrated by Uber drivers, this writer is not satisfied this points to a nationwide trend. Instead, the shocking statistics are more a result of poor research than anything else.
Rather, the argument against Uber is exceptionally straightforward: Uber exploits its workers in a vain attempt to garner (not very successfully, one may add) a high profit.
Classing its drivers as ‘independent contractors’, Uber ensures that they do not need to give their workers any type of support. No benefits, no necessity to be paid a minimum wage, no guarantee of holiday or sick pay. Whereas profit from an average self-employed worker lands in their bank accounts, the profits of Uber (as pitifully small as they are) land in the bank account of its CEO. When the High Court decided that Uber drivers are employees, and have a legal right to benefits, the company instantly decided to appeal.
This is a classic characteristic of the gig economy: the phrase assigned to a system, whereby permanent businesses contract self-employed workers. In the 2017 Manifesto, Labour wrote that ‘there is also mounting evidence that workers are being forced into self-employment by unscrupulous employers to avoid costs and their duties to workers.’ Unsurprisingly, nothing has changed between then and now.
It is difficult to see why anybody would fight to protect such an ignorant and exploitative system. And yet, up and down the country, capitalists anxiously wring their hands over the concept of all workers being treated respectfully, their contribution to business and the economy being fully acknowledged and rewarded through a share in profit.
To support this system is to support an oppressive control of the worker class. To attack job security, which is what the gig economy does, is to attack the dignity and stability of the individual. As a result of this, the said individual is far less likely to go on strike (or to demand an improvement in their working conditions) because the risk would be far too high.
This is especially true of those who are in debt, either in the form of mortgage or other – very common – household debt. One of the best ways to control a population is the ensure that they are in debt, and Uber’s position of continuing with immoral work practices perpetuates that control even further.
It is abundantly clear, and a statement of fact, that Uber are not quite the friends of workers that they claim. They are friends of money.