Uber drivers of the world, work together!
Uber drivers of the world, work together!
Internationalists should know that modern capitalism depends more and more on transnational supply chains and migrant workers. Notes from Below explains why.
In the last weeks of 2018, there was a problem in a warehouse in West London. Parts for the British Virgin Islands had not arrived. The gilets jaunes (yellow vests) stopped the van carrying the parts from a factory in Spain to London, via France, and the parts missed their flight.
The powerful ‘yellow vests’ movement against Emmanuel Macron’s government has two ways of protesting: rioting and blockades. There was so much blocking of roundabouts across France that it stopped transport from moving. This example shows the weakness of our global economy’s supply chains. More and more, workers are starting to use that weakness to help with their fight.
Strikes and blockades
Since the financial crisis of 2008, the Italian unions Si Cobas and ADL Cobas have used strikes and blockades to build worker power in distribution centres. Distribution centres are the heart of the Italian economy.
In 2017 Aldo Milani, the leader of the Si Cobas union, was arrested and went to prison on wrong corruption charges. And so transport workers went on strike and held a big demonstration outside the prison. Three days later, when some of the national supply chain was stopped, he was freed from prison. Italian transport workers used the weakness of modern capitalism for class power that can free a worker from prison.
This is not the first time workers have used the weakness of the transport system. In the early 20th century, the internationalist union Industrial Workers of the World organized farm workers in the US by taking over the country’s trains. They won big wage increases for workers. In the UK, the London dock strike of 1899 started the new unions and years of working-class action.
This new action in warehouses is taking place when capitalism’s transport weakness is bigger than before. About 20 million shipping containers make 200 million journeys per year, with workers working together across borders. When they unload these containers, tens of thousands of low-paid, exploited workers often put the contents into big warehouses on the edge of towns. Many companies have low stock levels, and need the precise delivery of goods to continue work. For the companies there can’t be mistakes.
Even for Amazon, there are now problems. In Italy, Germany, and Spain, in the last few years, workers in Amazon have gone on strike together. But the fight is bigger than the warehouses. Internet shopping and the ‘gig economy’ need to deliver goods and provide services in very precise places at very precise times. The last mile of the supply chain is now more and more important for companies such as the food delivery app Deliveroo or taxi service app Uber. This last mile is also now where there is a fight for wages and conditions.
When the gig economy became important, many explained how isolating its work could be. In most countries, workers for apps like Deliveroo and Uber are not legally employees, but self-employed. As a result, they have very few or no rights such as the minimum wage, sick pay, holiday pay, union representation, and secure employment. Some say this kind of online capitalism will mean work without unions. But workers are showing this idea is wrong. They are forming not the usual kind of unions but they are finding ways to work together and fight. In food delivery, text-chats on mobile phones have started transnational strike action. For example, there were violent protests by workers in China. And there are protests by workers against their employers in at least seven countries.
Protests against online companies are now very common. Before Uber, it was difficult to imagine taxi drivers in San Francisco, London, Bangalore, and Johannesburg with the same interests. But online capitalism means that these drivers now have the same employer. Or the same enemy.
Migrant workers are leaders in these protests - Somali workers at Amazon in Minnesota, North African workers in transport in Italy, Zimbabwean Uber drivers in South Africa, Bengali, Eastern European, and Brazilian workers at Deliveroo in London, or the many other migrant worker groups. European politicians often say that migrant workers bring down the wages of ‘native’ workers. In transport and the ‘last mile’ of online capitalism, the truth is the opposite – migrant workers are leading the fight for the working class.
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(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)