Gig Economy, You, and Me

There are lots of on-line comments about the gig economy. WhatIs says, “A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40% of American workers would be independent contractors.” There are higher and lower estimates here and there, depending on how they define the jobs that have no benefits, no rights, no dignity, and no guarantee that employment will last more than one day. It’s maybe one step above serfdom.

We’d have to be stupid to ignore the gig economy

But every article I saw said that the gig economy is growing and will keep on growing. The reasons they give are so inadequate that they almost constitute untruths: they attribute the growing gig economy to the changing nature of work. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening.

More and more people are working part-time, split shift, “independent contractor,” no-future jobs because that’s what the employers want. It’s what they have always wanted, but they never had such power over the government as they have now. The gig economy is growing because employers do not want workers with guaranteed jobs, workers with health care, workers with any kind of rights at all. In several levels of government, but especially in state legislatures, they are moving to reduce all of us into the gig economy.

Uber Drivers Rally

Last Saturday, a woman walked into the KNON studios and said “Hi, I’m Edith.” We greeted her and I tried to find out why she wanted to be on the “Workers Beat” talk show. She said she was a driver, so I assumed she was from the Amalgamated Transit Union and there to talk about management’s privatization scheme. They want to let Dallas’ disabled people get transported by Uber and Lyft temporary drivers instead of the professionals from ATU.

About 20 minutes into the program, Edith started talking about Uber management, and I finally realized that she was the woman I had exchanged e-mails with during the previous week. She wants to organize Uber and Lyft drivers. She had some compelling reasons.

Uber has recently cut the percentage of fares that the drivers get, Edith said. Worse than that, they manipulate the hiring process so that newer drivers get more fares. That way the newer drivers will be more likely to stay with Uber until their other options have disappeared. Then they’re stuck.

I’m for organizing all workers, no exceptions, so we got right into the problems and solutions. Edith said there would be a demonstration at Dallas City Hall today.

After the program, I posted an “event” on Facebook for the Uber/Lyft rally. At noon today, I hurried down there. Nobody else showed up, not even Edith. She told me by email that she had gotten discouraged because nobody else would commit to come. I told Edith that the proof of a good activist in the period we live in is not how successful they are, but whether or not they give up. So we’re going to try again on the 2nd Monday next month, or at least I hope so.

What Do We Learn?

First of all, a job with absolutely no guarantees can change at management’s whim. That’s why management likes them so much. Thousands of out-of-work government employees are, right now, applying to go to work for Uber or Lyft. It may seem like a good option, or perhaps the only option, but it will change when management wants it changed, and they never willingly change things for the betterment of the employees.

Gig jobs will just get worse as more people depend on them.

Second of all, gig workers are extremely difficult to organize. It’s one of those impossible things that has to happen. That’s why Edith couldn’t get anybody to the rally. It’s also why the established unions aren’t trying very hard to organize gig workers.

But it has to happen because the gig economy will keep on growing as long as bosses are running “our” government. One might pretend to be “objective” and say it doesn’t have to happen because there are other alternatives like fascism. That’s not an alternative, it’s a disaster!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

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