New York taxi drivers strike against Trump travel ban – Uber strikebreaking attempt backfires

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THE Uber CEO retreated from the White House Business Advisory Group after organised immigrant drivers protested at the ‘Muslim ban’ and #DeleteUber went viral.

New York City taxi drivers are celebrating a resounding victory after the shame-faced Thursday resignation of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick from President Donald Trump’s business advisory group.

The departure comes after the company faced a massive boycott in the form of the #DeleteUber social media campaign urging users to boycott the ride-sharing app. The boycott was the backlash from an Uber attempt to break a one-hour taxi strike by the New York Taxi Workers Association, or NYTWA, in response to Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

The strike, called by NYTWA on January 28, asked the city’s yellow cabs, green cars, black limousines and app-hailed Uber and Lyft drivers to refrain from dispatches to JFK International Airport in protest of what the association considered a discriminatory anti-Muslim travel ban.

The strike received overwhelmingly positive coverage amid outrage versus the ban. Uber then made a move to suspend ‘surge pricing’ – higher fares imposed during times of maximum demand – in a miscalculation seen as an opportunistic scabbing attempt rooted in Kalanick’s collaboration with the White House.

Facing a cascade of deletions, the company went on the defensive, declaring that ‘experience has taught us that change comes from having a seat at the table and speaking up for what is right.’ The statement added that the Uber CEO’s advisory role ‘should not be taken as an endorsement of the new administration’s policy positions.’

Invigorated by the outpouring of solidarity, the NYTWA organised a demonstration on Thursday at Uber’s Long Island City headquarters alongside allied groups and unions to demand that Kalanick pull out of Trump’s business advisory group. On a Facebook event page, the union stated: ‘Now is the time for all those who value justice and equality to join together in holding Uber accountable, not only for its complicity with Trump’s hateful policies but also for impoverishing workers.’

‘I used to work for Uber but I quit. They treated you like an animal. They treat you bad,’ Mohammad Salim, a 20-year cab driver and immigrant from Pakistan who attended the protest, said to news site Vocativ. Trump’s policies are really bad and wrong. We will stand against him and stand united so they can hear our voices.’

Shortly after the protest, the libertarian Kalanick announced his departure from the White House advisory group. However, the damage was already done: the brutal consumer response had already led to 200,000 deleted accounts. Disney CEO Bob Iger pulled out of the group shortly afterwards.

In a statement celebrating the Uber mogul’s retreat, NYTWA organisers noted the coinciding interests of the Trump administration and tech entrepreneurs such as Kalanick.

‘Trump hurts immigrant and Muslim families with his executive orders. Uber, Lyft, and their cohorts hurt immigrant and Muslim workers with their business practices. Neither believe in minimum wage laws or other basic worker protections. That’s the real connection between the titans of the so-called gig economy and Trump,’ the statement said. The statement ended with a call to continue supporting the workers as they fight ‘against both the Muslim ban and Uber’s policies of poverty.’

Uber has faced pressure from taxi workers’ associations and legislators across the globe for its treatment of drivers, who have complained of poor treatment by the company along with unstable scheduling, deteriorating work conditions and diminished cab fares.

Last November, UK Labour MP Frank Field released a blistering report characterising Uber conditions as resembling ‘Victorian-style sweated labour.’ The report noted that the company’s profits are due to the sacrifices of a ‘sizeable group of people who bear the largely unseen human scars of the “gig economy”. ’

The report also expressed a growing fear that without curbing Uber’s practices, growing numbers of workers would find themselves ‘toiling through anxiety and insecurity, for unsafe lengths of time across seven days a week, in return for poverty pay.’

In an interview on Monday with Democracy Now!, NYTWA executive director and co-founder Bhairavi Desai said that the largely Muslim and Sikh immigrant workforce her union represents is ‘deeply fragmented and impoverished’ by Uber’s ‘absolutely atrocious policy in its treatment of the workers,’ making it ‘harder for people to rise up and take collective action.’

Despite the adverse conditions experienced by Uber’s drivers, however, Desai expressed pride New York cabbies’ coordinated job action: ‘This was a real act of courage, you know, particularly to have a workforce that’s predominantly black and brown stand up in this time.’

• AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement in response to a leaked executive order from President Donald Trump’s administration: ‘Credible news outlets now are reporting a potential far-reaching attack on working people everywhere under the guise of religious freedom.

‘The leaked executive order draft constitutes nothing less than a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people, women and workers of minority faiths. From hiring and firing to health benefits to safety and accommodations, this executive order would make life substantially more difficult for millions of workers and their families.

‘We were pleased to learn this week that President Barack Obama’s ban on discrimination by federal contractors would be left in place. But the language being reported threatens to wipe out that measure and more. We strongly oppose this unconstitutional action, and should it ever see the light of day, we will do everything in our power to overturn it.

‘In these difficult times, we also invite those who are being targeted to join the ranks of our unions and secure the single best protection from discrimination available – a collective bargaining agreement.’

• Right to Work Is Wrong for Your Family declares the AFL CIO. Jesse Isbell spent 36 years working at the Bridgestone Tire plant in Oklahoma City. ”The work was hard but rewarding. It afforded me the opportunity to provide for my family, always ensure there was enough food at the table and that my kids were afforded every modest opportunity to grow up in a household that was stable, secure and free from worry.

‘That all changed suddenly in 2006, five years after Oklahoma passed a so-called “right to work” law that was billed by politicians as a job creator. For the 1,400 men and women who worked at the plant, right to work didn’t work as advertised. Not only did the plant close, but the effects of the closing and the chilling effect that right to work has on a state’s economy were felt by everyone.

‘What is right to work anyway? Right to work is a dangerous and divisive bill that politicians use to intervene in the rights of people like you and me to negotiate with our bosses as we see fit. The bill is championed by big companies, the same ones that ship jobs overseas, by taking away our rights to organise and negotiate for fair paychecks and safety standards on the job.

‘These companies argue that this will make states more competitive and attract jobs, but, in reality, that doesn’t happen. So then, what does happen? ‘All evidence, actual facts, from non-partisan sources show that right to work doesn’t create jobs and actually has a negative effect on states’ economies.

‘We saw this in Oklahoma. In the wake of right to work, the number of new companies relocating to our state has decreased by one-third and the number of manufacturing jobs has also fallen by a third. That’s according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

‘That same thing is happening in other right to work states as well, seven of the top 10 states with the highest unemployment are right to work states. Worse, the jobs that stay in right to work states are lower paid. On average, workers in right to work states make about $5,000 less a year than in other states. That means everyone has less money to spend in the community.

‘That’s the thing that supporters of this bill don’t want you to know. This law takes money out of EVERYONE’s pockets. It means that you will be paid less, that you will have less to spend on groceries, in pharmacies, on going out to dinner or to the movies, on your hobbies and home improvement projects.

‘It means that everyone that you personally interact with on a daily basis has less to spend, spends less and then can’t spend on other things…it’s a vicious cycle. Worse, right to work means that our communities will be less safe.

‘Another thing that supporters of right to work don’t tell you is that nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police officers come together collectively to negotiate with politicians over the critical equipment they need to keep our communities safe. Nurses negotiate to ensure there are enough staff working humane hours to respond when our lives are in danger in hospital emergency rooms.

‘Firefighters negotiate for the equipment they need to safely and quickly put out fires.

‘Police officers negotiate for new equipment to respond to violent emergencies. Teachers negotiate over class sizes. All of these critical negotiations by folks who know how to keep our community safe get threatened by the consequences of this bill.

‘Right to work is wrong for us and does not work. At the end of the day, all of the reasons that supporters give for this bill are not only false, but are deceiving us from the real reasons they want to pass these bills?—to pad the profits of large corporations by allowing them to pay us less, work us more and prevent us from doing anything about it.

‘It’s been 16 years since Oklahoma passed right to work and every single one of the promises made by supporters of the bill failed to materialise. In fact, for those of us who lost jobs after, and who were forced to watch our community suffer because of the bill, we are left wondering why anyone in power would let this happen. As with so many other things that have gotten out of control in our country, the only answer seems to be greed.’’