On Friday September 22nd, Transport for London announced that it would not be renewing Uber’s licence to operate in the capital due to the company not being a ‘fit and proper’ travel operator.
There is already a petition set up online by Uber and a statement on their Facebook page that reads:
‘If you want to continue using the Uber app in London — and defend the livelihoods of 40,000 licensed drivers — please sign this petition urging the Mayor to think again’.
There have so far been mixed reactions as this move by Transport for London is, to a degree, inconvenient to the majority of customers that make use of the low-fare taxi service.
Uber is a very appealing idea to consumers; just as flying cheaply with Ryanair is. Anywhere in London you can go on your phone, see the driver’s name, face, rating, and then how many minutes away from you they are. A few clicks, you’re in a Toyota Prius and on your way. Yet looking past this, Uber represents how modern capitalism operates. A multinational company moves in and monopolises to the detriment of the local economy, ignoring regulations and leaving workers in the industry with little choice but to join them or leave. As has been the result with Uber, there is now an excess supply of Uber drivers which causes the company’s excessive losses, driving down fares and wages.
On the website of the (now burning) ‘poster child of the gig economy’, it reads that Uber are ‘helping drivers meet their career and financial goals’, driving down drink-driving incidents and helping ‘revitalize local economies. In London, nearly a third of driver-partners live in areas where unemployment rates are highest’.
This view of unemployment fits the prevailing austerity narrative of our age, that zero-hours contracts make unemployment figures look better. Just as Deliveroo workers hang at meeting points in cities, and just as workers would wait in docks and outside factories during the depression (and still do), the case of Uber is evidence of the gig economy reaching its limits. Our economy needs cheap labour to produce profits for those at the top, so let’s take this outrage at Uber and critique how and why our economy produces such scathing inequality.
I got chatting to a guy in a bar recently, this guy happened to be a part-time Uber driver so we got talking about it. He seemed to quite like it, citing how (due to his partner working at the bar we were in) he could just go and work for a couple of hours here and there whenever he liked in conjunction with his daytime job. This is the side of the Uber story that makes it seem like a fantastic idea. Compare this to the experiences of full-time drivers like Khalil, with two kids and from Dagenham, who told the Guardian how he was only earning ‘around £5 per hour after paying his expenses, below the national minimum wage’ and after the announcement ‘cashed out his Uber account in case there are problems receiving payment in the coming days’.
With the promise of driverless cars (an idea they apparently stole off another tech start-up) Uber, ‘a shining beacon of what the creativity of capitalism can achieve, a business to be respected, not one that debases the entire tech sector’ has already altered the way we travel through our cities. But regardless of how innovative it is it needs to treat workers well. The frequent cases of sexual harassment, of sexism and of harassing rival companies, these need to stop too and are symptoms of an economy where masculinity and competition are encouraged far too much.
‘Uber has made us like slaves and I am happy if they are gone’
Khurram Shahzad, an Uber driver who had to close his own cab firm due to the arrival of the car-hire empire, speaks out.
‘Now at least if Uber is not in the market then prices will stabilise. Uber has put too many drivers on the road. Uber has made me like a beggar’.
Workers cannot be beggars. This is an unhealthy economy. Uber is an unsustainable model and is replacing local transport with a one-size corporate culture. It cuts workers’ rates because it runs at a loss, showing that Uber is capitalism in its purest form … .