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The Uber leak exposes its global war on workers

The “Uber Files” leak reveals the power of the company’s multimillion-dollar lobbying effort — and how it worked with governments around the world to undercut workers’ rights.
 
by Paris Marx 

Part 2 - Uber Sold Us a Lie

In the early years of the 2010s, Uber was ascendant and much of the media couldn’t get enough of it. The company was showered with positive press that ignored the already obvious ways it was harming workers and communities for its own benefit. That allowed Kalanick to make a whole range of bold claims that made Uber sound not only like it was going to be great for us, but that technology was delivering a better future.

As I outline in Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation, Uber was supposed to reduce car ownership, cut traffic congestion, make mobility more accessible for underserved communities, allow its drivers to make a good living, and be complimentary toward transit services — or so Kalanick claimed. It only took a few years for all the big promises to be revealed as overly ambitious at best or outright lies at worst.

Uber’s real impact has been to make life worse for virtually everyone it touches. A series of studies have found that the company made traffic worse in major cities, did little to affect car ownership, took passengers away from transit services, and increased trip emissions. Meanwhile, it decimated the conditions of existing taxi workers and squeezed its own drivers (who mainly hailed from marginalized communities) to disproportionately serve affluent young people living in cities.

The big promises and uncritical coverage served as a cover for the company’s real project: to deregulate the taxi industry, chip away at the rights of workers, and increase corporate control over how people get around. In short, it succeeded where a 1990s campaign funded by the Koch brothers had failed. The real benefits accrued not to the public whose streets were flooded with unregulated taxis or workers whose livelihoods evaporated, but to Uber’s early investors who were still able to cash out when the company went public and to other companies dubbed “Uber for X” that were able to spread its piecework labor model to other sectors.

The Uber Files flesh out the details of how the company was able to become what it is today, building on years of journalism revealing everything from rampant sexism to its creation of tools like Greyball to throw off regulators and law enforcement. The company’s story is outlined in detail in Mike Isaac’s Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber. Yet the company would have us believe that all changed after Kalanick left the building.

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