Thursday, September 12, 2019

California's Gig Economy Law and the Crisis of Individualism

California has passed a law that is supposed to require companies like Uber to treat their "contractors" as regular employees and give them better wages and benefits. The law actually arose from an "old economy" case in which a trucking company reclassified its drivers as independent contractors and they saw their pay fall and their benefits disappear. Now it will be much harder to do this.

I am struck that the only solution anyone could imagine to these practices is government action. In the 1930s the drivers would have gone on strike and prevented the companies from hiring replacements by a campaign of picket lines, threats against scabs, and acts of vandalism like slashing truck tires.

This sort of action is so far from the world of Uber drivers that they probably cannot even imagine it. They all work alone. They set their own hours, own and take care of their own vehicles, work in their own way. They see themselves, not as part of a class of people who might help each other, but as lonely men and women struggling to get by in a world where everyone else seems to be against them. A strike of Uber drivers is an impossible notion because at least half the drivers would refuse to participate and the rest could probably never agree on what to do anyway. (There are organizations of rideshare drivers, but only a small percentage of riders are members.)

We are, to a degree rare in human history, alone.

This explains the great importance we attach to government; it is only through politics that we can do anything together.

We see ourselves as powerless before the might of corporations and industries, incapable on our own of changing anything. So we rely on government action. I personally have no problem with this; I think government exists to give organized force to the vision of the people. But I wonder whether this is a good way for people to be.

1 comment:

Shadow said...

Uber has said it won't comply. That was as of a couple of days ago, and I can't remember the source. This will probably get tied up in federal court.