May 13, 2019
Uber and Lyft drivers organized a day of strikes in 10 cities in the U.S. on May 8. Drivers in a few other countries, such as Britain and Australia, also walked out. The participation was generally low, however, varying between a few dozen in most of the cities and a few hundred, for example in San Francisco.
The low participation rate is not a surprise, given the difficulty of reaching out to a work force in which drivers work on their own and make their own schedule; and given the fact that we have not seen a mass mobilization of workers in any industry for a long time. But this fact does not diminish the importance of the issues the drivers are trying to raise.
Uber and Lyft hire drivers as “independent contractors,” which means drivers have to pay for their cars, as well as insurance, maintenance and gas. But the money Uber and Lyft pay drivers – 60 cents per mile in Los Angeles, for example – is simply not enough to meet all these expenses and to live on. So one of the main demands of the drivers is to be recognized as employees by the companies.
This is a big problem faced by the entire working class today. In the 10 years between 2006 and 2016, 94 percent of the new jobs were filled by workers who were on-call, worked for contracting companies or temp agencies, or were hired as independent contractors. Experts estimate that one third of all workers, and half of young workers, in the U.S. have such jobs today. And for many of these workers, this kind of job is their primary source of income.
It’s one way the capitalist class increases the level of exploitation of the working class, resulting in huge profits for big companies and a lowering of the living standard of the working class. Workers can turn the tide only through a mass mobilization, in which Uber and Lyft drivers can find their rightful place.