Taxi drivers need to take control back of Uber, says economist

A global economist has called for taxi drivers to unite against Uber and form a workers’ collective. Ann Pettifor, analyst of the global financial system and director of...

A global economist has called for taxi drivers to unite against Uber and form a workers’ collective.

Ann Pettifor, analyst of the global financial system and director of Prime Economics, said that workers should be in control of platforms such as Uber and Airbnb, especially since they own the working capital of the business.

“This is an ideal opportunity for us to be arguing for more worker co-operatives,” said Ms Pettifor at the Co-operative Congress in Wakefield. “The really fascinating thing about Uber, about Airbnb and about these other sectors is that actually the capital of those businesses is owned by the workers.

Why should Uber operate in this way? Why do taxi drivers not come together and form a collective?

“So the drivers of the cars own the car, they have bought the car, they have invested in it, they maintain it, they invest in its maintenance, they insure it.”

Ms Pettifor added: “They pay for all of that and then they pay something for the app. They are then allowed by Uber in California, in Silicon Valley, to retain some of their allowance but why on earth should Uber be such a company? Why should it operate in this way? Why do taxi drivers not come together and form a collective?”

Congress 2016: Developing a national co-operative development strategy

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In a speech to delegates, Ms Pettifor said it’s hard for workers to come together, especially in big cities. So she also called on local legislators to intervene. “I think it is quite possible for our cities to set up a rule where only worker-operated taxi drivers will be allowed to operate in the city,” she said.

“There are lots of regulations around it and there ought to be a lot of regulation around taxi driving. We know from the way women are treated in taxis and so on and so forth, there already is a fair amount of regulation, why not have more? Why not have cities insist that only worker-owned driving organisations can operate in their city?”

Delegates at Congress, this year held at Unity Works in Wakefield [photo: Co-operatives UK]
Delegates at Congress, this year held at Unity Works in Wakefield [photo: Co-operatives UK]
With this intervention, Ms Pettifor said taxi drivers can change the relationship with Uber. “They don’t have drivers who are employees,” she said. “They have business partners. Well let’s change the partnership. Why don’t the drivers organise themselves collectively in a co-op and then negotiate directly with the software providers?”They are very happy to pay for the software, that is what these guys in Silicon Valley are making, but they are not making the car or investing the capital, the workers are.”

Ms Pettifor added that the same applied to those people who rent out properties through Airbnb: “ I invest in my home, I take out the mortgage, I keep it maintained, I clean it up and I am paying an immense share of what I am earning to a company in Silicon Valley. Why don’t we reorganise?”

In a world where capitalism is “off shore”, Ms Pettifor said countries, or regions such as the EU, need to bring back and control the movement of capital across borders.

An industrial strategy also needs to discuss where the economy should be in future, according to Ms Pettifor, which includes how to organise collectively.

Ms Pettifor added that co-operation is part of the answer. “I think the value of co-operation and the value of what you do is extraordinary,” she added.

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