Serious question: Are we, as a collective of local communities across this country, willing to support the drivers who will be impacted by an Uber boycott?
There is no denying that Uber’s proximity to President Donald Trump — that is, the appointment of company CEO Travis Kalanick to Donald Trump’s business advisory council, combined with its decision to keep its ride-hailing services up and running during the mass demonstrations against the #MuslimBan at multiple U.S. airports — are two motivating factors behind the surge of frustration that led many users to #DeleteUber.
At a moment when concerned citizens and activists from all walks of American life are searching for avenues to oppose the punitive regime of Donald Trump and show solidarity with the groups that his administration has targeted, boycotting a profitable mega-business that appears to be in league with The Orange Menace seems to be a no-brainer. (I say “appears,” because Kalanick did tweet his disapproval of the travel ban, but didn’t pledge to help finance legal counsel for detained refugees until after the controversy spiraled out of control.)
But is it?
At first glance, yes. As a matter of fact, hell yes!
Uber reportedly cashed in on a taxi-cab stoppage, organized by The New York City Taxi Workers Alliance, that was a response to the attempts of John F. Kennedy Airport personnel to uphold an executive order signed into law by President Trump banning the entry of immigrants/refugees from Muslim-majority countries, such as Syria, Iran, Somalia, Libya and others.
Stepping in to fill the void left by taxi services, Uber shuttled passengers to JFK, many of them protesters on their way to demonstrate at the airport terminals where incoming refugees were being detained.
While Uber representatives tried to offset the negative press by shifting the media’s focus to the suspensions they placed on their usual policy of surging prices when ride-hail demands are high, the company’s client base still felt alienated and vowed to delete the app and desist from using its services altogether in the future.
Adding salt to the wound, riders who formerly poured their business into Uber announced that they would be switching to industry competitor, Lyft — which, in a textbook PR move, appeared to take advantage of the deluge befalling its rival by donating $1 million dollars to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to help everyone detained at the airports.
(I don’t mean to throw shade on Lyft, but the timing of this rather generous financial contribution is much too suspicious to go unsaid.)
Lets be very clear: It matters that Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, sits on one of Trump’s advisory councils. It’s right to place anyone within Trump’s inner orbit under an intense microscope, especially given the kinds of ego-driven and incompetent appointments he has made to some very influential cabinet positions. Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos and Steve Bannon, just to name a few, come immediately to mind.
When done right, hitting corporations in the wallet when they don’t prioritize the American people is effective. It can potentially grab the attention of the 1 percent who would not otherwise be compelled or incentivized to negotiate and correct their behavior.
Nonetheless, what I propose we keep in mind is what this boycott would mean for the people, average folks, who for whatever reasons in life have come to rely on the low costs of Uber’s transportation system.
That’s no small matter, actually. In an economy as tragic and unpredictable as ours, every nickel and dime, every financial investment counts. Finding monetary deals is paramount.
Which is why we cannot dismiss the claim of this report, where the author writes that hailing an Uber is not only cheaper than taking a taxi, but it’s also relatively more cost effective than using Lyft. (Again, not trying to throw shade on Lyft. Just speaking facts.)
We must also keep in mind how a boycott would impact the thousands of drivers employed by Uber, many of them immigrants, who depend on the company for its income to support their families.
If anyone would feel the pinch of this mass action, it’s these folks. Thus, if we’re serious about withdrawing financial support from corporations whose business ethics do not align with the higher values that we hold as a republic, then we must take the immediate concerns of the workers on the low rung of an industrial hierarchy seriously.
Compounding the problem of protecting Uber drivers during a boycott are the precarious terms of their employment. Lacking status as employees or a worker’s union, drivers are employed as “independent contractors.” Uber entices potential drivers by dangling before them the slogan that promises that drivers are “their own boss.” Of course, there’s a caveat: drivers or independent contractors lack the protections, security and capital that Uber executives possess that would enable them to take risks.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Uber’s executive and management team will survive an economic gut punch of this magnitude. In fact, it’s highly likely that Mr. Kalanick has made important financial investments in other markets that he can tap into to weather any storm.
Pointing out these things is not meant to dissuade you from boycotting, at all. On the contrary. If we’re serious — I mean, really, really serious — about this boycott, then it’s going to take a community to make it happen.
One of the best examples I can think of to cap off this opinion is taken from a famous boycott that I’ve already referenced a few paragraphs ago.
During the 1950s, the black citizens of Montgomery, Alabama, especially female domestic workers, were heavily dependent on the Montgomery public transit system. Combined with their husbands’ low wages, the earnings these women brought home provided the level of financial stability they needed to, at a minimum, survive the segregated south. Black workers had to get to work — and boycott leaders, like Martin Luther King, Jr., understood that.
When the community decided to ditch patronizing the buses in response to the mistreatment of Rosa Parks, one of the first and major tasks of the newly-created Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was to set up a carpool. Everyone in the community got involved. Everyone gave what they could. Black people who didn’t use the bus offered their services. As a result, almost a year later, Montgomery’s black community was able to celebrate one of the first huge victories of the civil rights movement and had desegregated their city’s public transportation system.
Without the participation of the larger black community, the black citizens of Montgomery might well have lost that fight against the white business community.
None of this is black and white. If I’ve been trying to communicate anything at all, it’s asking the following question: Do we really understand what it takes to start and sustain a boycott against an American capitalist corporation? And, if so, are we willing to do it?
Because a boycott is more that just momentarily or permanently cutting ties with a business firm. It’s more than just withholding your hard-earned money from the upper echelon of corporations.
Boycotting a capitalist business means that a community must truly unite to pool together all its resources to ensure that everyone survives this kind of economic retribution intact.
Can we do that?