These days (and in this economy), we’re more likely to hear justifications for crossing a picket line that are born of necessity, but also of the ascendance of neoliberal, me-first ideology. “I have to take care of myself,” people will argue. “No one else is going to do it for me.”
Yet the promise of the labor movement, summed up in the old Industrial Workers of the World slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all,” is that we will, in fact, take care of each other. It is in that spirit that the taxi workers struck, and in that spirit that protesters struck back at Uber. And indeed, according to the Taxi Workers’ statement, Uber drivers were among those who struck Saturday night, and the union stressed its representation of Uber and Lyft drivers as well as those who drive traditional cabs.
Critics of the #DeleteUber call noted that many of those who were deleting the app were replacing it with Lyft, an app with a very similar business model to Uber that has faced similar lawsuits over its labor practices. Yet the move was prompted not simply because Kalanick joined Trump’s business advisory council, arguing to his employees, “We’ll partner with anyone in the world as long they’re about making transportation in cities better, creating job opportunities, making it easier to get around, getting pollution out of the air and traffic off the streets.” It was prompted by a labor action. It was a revival of the idea that a strike is to be honored, that scabbing is something to be reviled.
Uber drivers, it should be noted, have no control over the fares they receive. (This fact is central to the lawsuits that have claimed Uber drivers are employees, not independent contractors.) They did not make the decision to lower fares nor to donate money to the legal defense fund for drivers affected by Trump’s order that Kalanick promised after the outrage made itself felt; just as Lyft drivers had no say in the $1 million donation the company made to the ACLU. Their very lack of power is key to the business model of the “sharing economy,” which, as journalist Rebecca Burns notes, is less a tech-age innovation than a throwback to the days before unions built power, when working with your own materials and getting paid by the piece was common. Indeed, another statement from the Taxi Workers Alliance argued, “Uber’s greed and disregard for social values was evident before the company’s CEO Travis Kalanick became an adviser to Donald Trump. And Uber drivers along with other professional drivers bear the brunt of that greed.”
Worth noting that Kalanick has now left the Trump advisory board he was on after realizing that collaborating with a fascist is not something consumers are going to accept.