Today is election day. We’re paying special attention to whether Proposition 22 in California passes or not. Polls show that the vote on the ballot measure, which Patrick Redford of Defector describes as an effort by gig companies to “etch the permanent exploitation of their contract workforce into the law,” will be close, with a quarter of voters still undecided. Redford writes that the effort by Uber, Lyft, and their peers shows that the gig giants are not modern technological innovators, but old fashioned “parasites, mostly, whose entire value hinges on how thoroughly they can manage to monopolize industries before regulations catch up to them.” The hundreds of millions spent by the companies to avoid complying with basic employment law shows that the modern economy relies heavily on human labor, and oppressed labor at that, to operate.
And the cost of Uber’s cynical campaign to avoid employment law is being carried by workers and their families. A California Uber driver, Khaled Zayyid, worked upwards of 80 hours a week drivers for the rideshare behemoth. As the pandemic persisted, he went back to work in June, after bills started piling up. After telling stories of riders not wearing masks, he contracted COVID-19 and died in July. If he were a statutory employee, his family would be eligible for up to $320,000 from the state-administered workers compensation program. But Uber, of course, continues to misclassify its workers as independent contractors, and so Mr. Zayyid’s family gets nothing from the program our society has set up to protect workers who get injured, sick, or killed on the job. Instead, Uber offers its workers a meager company-administered fund that only covers a driver 14 days of financial help, and does nothing for the families left behind when a driver dies from COVID-19 contracted working for Uber. If Prop 22 passes, Uber will keep getting away with this.
There are, of course, many other elections today, and the future of our democracy may hang in the balance. The President is refusing to accept the legitimacy of the election, sending signals that he will declare victory well before all votes are counted, and encouraging his supporters to use violence, or the threat of it, against the opposition. Stopping the rise of fascism in this country is likely to require an enormous mobilization of the American people. And, even in its historically diminished state, the labor movement is showing signs that it may be ready to lead. As Kim Kelly writes for The Baffler, multiple local labor councils have called for a general strike to ensure a peaceful transition of power and to counter, in the words of the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation (WMALF), Trump’s “neo-fascist tactics.” Last night, eight major Chicago unions issued a joint statement saying they “are prepared to engage in mass non-violent protest—up to and including a general strike of all working people, if necessary—to protect and defend our democratic rights.”
Lydia Wood, an organizer with WMALF, summed up the state of play in a statement to Kelly: “Labor is realizing we are in a fight for our lives. The response of the U.S. government and our institutions to Covid-19 has been such an abject failure, and people are angry. Our elected leaders aren’t doing nearly enough to protect the public, establish and enforce workplace safety, expand social services, fight evictions, and support working families. It’s become clear to many that we need a new plan, and I think people are more open to taking a more direct-action approach. Organized labor has the skill set and the base, so we really should take a lead on this work.”