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John Bell

March 18, 2016

If Bill Gates and Ayn Rand had a baby they would have named it Uber. I think Uber is the most ruthless form of capitalist exploitation on offer today.

I don’t want to hear how convenient, modern or hip it is. I don’t care if you had a bad experience in a cab once. I don’t care if you think this makes me the equivalent of Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at a cloud. If you tap the Uber app you are supporting the agenda that wants to see the deregulation and privatization of every aspect of our economy. It is an agenda that will use any dirty tricks to crush competition and drive wages and working conditions as low as they can go. Uber is the Walmart of transportation.

In spite of any criticisms I may have of the taxi industry, I fully support cab drivers everywhere in their fight to defend their livelihoods. I support regulation of transportation as a public service.

Uber makes my blood boil, not just because the corporate shits that own it are raking in billions for doing nothing, but because so many people who should know better just shrug off their complicity.

The people who run Uber are assholes. That isn’t just my opinion; that was just one twitter response when Uber in Sydney, Australia, used to pretext of a hostage taking in a downtown cafe to raise its rates to a minimum of $100 to take people out of the city core. Uber tried to justify jacking up the rates: “We are all concerned with events (in Sydney). Fares have increased to encourage more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area.” As writer and Uber-critic Richard Eskrow wrote: “Lesson #1 about Uber is, therefore, that in its view there is no heroism, only self-interest. This is Ayn Rand’s brutal, irrational and primitive philosophy in its purest form: altruism is evil, and self-interest is the only true heroism.”

Uber price fixing wasn’t unique to Sydney. During Hurricane Sandy in New York, the ride service at least doubled its prices, prompting a huge backlash. Recently, when Toronto’s subway system suffered a major shutdown, Uber responded by increasing fares to five time the normal rate.

Travis Kalanick, Uber’s founder is a vociferous Ayn Rand fanboy, and apostle for “pure” capitalism. Uber has virtually no overhead, so it is able to use its billions of dollars of revenue to fight any municipality or agency that attempts to regulate it—you know, oppressive measures like making drivers pass a rudimentary background check, have proper insurance, obey laws regarding fair treatment for people with disabilities.

If a community does not give in, Uber goes bare knuckle.  As Paul Carr writes: “Kalanick is a proud adherent to the Cult of Disruption: the faddish Silicon Valley concept which essentially boils down to ‘let us do whatever we want, otherwise we'll bully you on the Internet until you do.’ To proponents of Disruption, the free market is king, and regulation is always the enemy.” Right out of the Atlas Shrugged playbook.

What the hell is Uber, really. It is not (its lawyers argue) a transportation company. Nor is it a tech firm: the technology it uses was actually developed by the US government. In Toronto, when the City council sought an injunction to force Uber drivers to be subject to the same regulations and rules as taxis, Uber’s lawyers argued that it was simply an information network that put riders in touch with drivers, all for a small fee. So, they argue, any attempt to force them to regulate is a violation of their Charter rights to “free expression.”

In the US, Uber faces multiple lawsuits brought by customers with disabilities, when drivers refused rides in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Uber is fighting all out to make itself exempt from such regulations because, again, it is not a transportation service.

It isn’t an employer either, according to its army of lawyers (I can neither confirm nor deny that Uber’s law firm of choice is Wolfram and Hart). Drivers are not employees, they are “partners”. So it is interesting that Uber recently slashed the rates its New York “partners” can charge. That move prompted drivers to organize a mass protest and one-day strike.


In Seattle, the city council has enacted a bylaw allowing Uber drivers to organize for collective bargaining. Drivers there have formed an association with the Teamsters union, to improve conditions for both Uber drivers and traditional taxi operators. True to form, Uber is fighting back in the courts.

More and more of the opposition is being led by Uber’s own drivers. They find themselves stuck between the militant opposition of taxi drivers and the exploitation and arbitrary behaviour of their don’t-call-us-employers. A phrase from Marx’s Communist Manifesto comes to mind: What the bourgeoisie, therefore produces above all, is its own grave-diggers.

What affronts me most about Uber and other web-based corporations that follow the same model, is their hypocritical appropriation of the word “sharing.” Uber does not arrange “ride sharing,” it brokers a commercial arrangement.

These Ayn Randist parasites maintain a view of human nature which is the antithesis of sharing, one based entirely on greed and self-interest. I believe that humanity evolves and develops through cooperation and sharing of ideas and efforts. Capitalism short circuits that nature and perverts our social collaboration. That’s called alienation.

Our hope lies in the fact that people know that the status quo is wrong, it feels wrong, it makes them behave in ways they know are wrong. Workers organize to fight back, from the textile workers literally chained to their looms at the dawn of the industrial revolution to the Uber drivers figuratively chained to their cars today. Within that struggle is the seed, the promise of a real sharing economy for the future.

Join the conference Ideas for Real Change: Marxism 2016, including the session “What is capitalism in crisis,” “How do we get real change,” and “What do we mean by socialism.” Register today and join/share on facebook.

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