Bernadette Logue and Doreen McGrath
volume 37
issue 3
June 2016

Giant fish made of Uber cars. Credit: Gordon Frazier / FS

New “gig” economy poses same old fight

Neoliberalism is out! The new “gig” economy is in! Just look at Uber. The person driving you to the airport isn’t a cabbie — you’re just sharing a ride for money. Uber claims “partner” drivers can make up to $90,000 annually. Driving for Uber one reporter found it might be possible by driving 27 hours a day!

Commissions that drivers must pay to Uber soared just as the company slashed fares, forcing drivers to work more for less. There is no overtime pay for these “independent contractors,” who must own their own newer model cars and pay for insurance, gas, repairs, etc. Uber controls rates and work conditions.

There is nothing new in the gig model. It’s piecework. A worker is paid for each piece made or service performed. A century ago, sweatshop owners claimed that piecework encouraged hard, honest work. Those old captains of industry were lying, as are the new capitalist “gigocrats.”

Drivers quickly caught on to this scam and started organizing. Working with the community and Teamsters Local 117, Seattle mobile app drivers won the right to organize a union. In New York, San Francisco, Chicago, L.A. and many other cities drivers are organizing and protesting their conditions. And they are countering the companies’ PR machine with their own stories on the Web.

Eyewitness report from Chicago teachers’ strike

On April 1, this writer spent the day rallying and marching in Chicago on a one-day strike. Led by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), working with students, parents and community members, the day of action targeted both Chicago’s Democratic mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Illinois’ Republican governor Bruce Rauner.

Emmanuel continues to close schools in poor neighborhoods, attack teachers’ pensions and more. CTU and Emmanuel are currently in contract negotiations. Rauner recently stopped sending money to Illinois public universities and vetoed legislation to fund low-income (MAP) grants for students. Faculty, staff and students are facing layoffs and cancelled classes.

In the city that didn’t let Donald Trump leave his hotel, community groups are fighting police brutality, low wages and attacks on immigrants.

CTU got behind these issues too. Starting at 8:00 a.m., pickets went up at 500 schools. At midday, more protesters gathered at hard-hit universities and colleges for rallies and teach-ins. From there, people moved via trains, cars and buses into the downtown core of Chicago, The Loop, for a huge rally.

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union expressed their solidarity by giving free rides to rally-goers.

A spirited crowd of 30,000 people listened as speakers again took up the issues of the city. The rally was capped by marching through The Loop with everyone chanting and singing. Honking horns and cheers came from passing Chicagolanders. The rousing day showed the depth of discontent with the boss-controlled system that is trying to destroy public education.

Mandatory arbitration guts workers’ rights

The Sixth and Seventh Amendments of the Bill of Rights, guaranteeing a public trial by jury, are being wiped out by wealthy corporations. In a landmark case, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory arbitration clauses trump class action lawsuits.

The 2011 decision flew under the radar, but it is having a devastatingly huge impact on labor. No matter how blatantly a company discriminates, or how high the numbers of injuries on a job site, workers have no legal recourse. As with so many other cases, the Supreme Court has again told the U.S. working class that “justice” belongs to the bosses.

Since the decision came out, mandatory arbitration clauses are popping up everywhere. Labor union contracts and a century’s worth of job safety laws are being swiped away by these clauses hidden in job applications.

Wage theft and on-the-job accident cases are often decided in a secret court by a private arbitrator hired by the company. Workers aren’t even entitled to know how the arbitrator makes a decision and there’s no right to appeal.

In this system of privatized justice, where all the rules favor the boss, the vast majority of cases brought to arbitration result in a favorable verdict for the employer and a loss for the individual worker.

Also see: Labor Weather Report

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