With wages stagnant and costs of living skyrocketing, many Americans are looking for ways to earn extra money just to get by. Uber advertises that you can “be your own boss” and “get your side hustle on” by driving with them. Yet these advertisements are deceptive: like most low-wage jobs, driving for Uber is highly exploitative. Most drivers work full-time and receive few to no benefits.
Under the guise of “sharing,” Uber dumps the costs of operation onto the workers while pocketing the profits. Unlike a taxi company, Uber owns no cars; instead, drivers must provide their own car and insurance, while assuming responsibility for risks like accidents.
Uber uses app-based technology to boost profits at the expense of low-wage workers and communities. Many Uber drivers have voiced their frustration with constant wage fluctuations and the lack of adequate reimbursement for costs like gas or maintenance (NPR, 6/8/17). Uber drivers are suing to be reclassified as employees instead of “independent contractors” (UberLawsuit.com). Meanwhile, Uber has grossed $20 billion in the first two quarters of 2017 (Bloomberg, 4/14/2017).
Uber’s notorious cutthroat corporate culture, seen by some as a model for new technology companies, has thrown back workplace protections and rights. Uber has faced numerous scandals and lawsuits, including the firing of twenty corporate employees and the CEO yelling at a driver for complaining about falling fares (The Guardian, 3/1/2017). When Uber expands into a new area, they often break countless laws and push legal gray areas into their favor. Many cities have public friction with Uber because of their willingness to disobey municipal laws that hinder their profits (CNBC, 9/2/2016).
Uber perfectly exemplifies the contradictions of the current capitalist system. Instead of developments in technology helping the working class, they are used to boost profits for the ruling class. And instead of creating fun and fulfilling jobs, driving for Uber entails low wages, long shifts, and a work environment dominated by cutthroat corporate culture and exploitation.
Due to their ease of use, app-based car services are popular all over the world. We should fight to use this technology to improve the lives of drivers and riders rather than Uber’s insatiable drive for profits. With rising anger at Uber’s endless list of scandals, Uber drivers should seize this opportunity to organize and unionize! With the tools of organized labor, like strike actions and boycotts, Uber drivers could gain real benefits, a living wage, compensation for gas and maintenance, and paid time off. Some Uber and Lyft drivers have already begun organizing with the App-Based Drivers Association.
Beyond this, we need to bring corporations like Uber and Lyft into public ownership under democratic workers’ control. This could free up billions of dollars of wealth to invest in an expanded, free, and integrated public transit system while creating millions of well-paid jobs. That and much more is what a real sharing economy could produce.