Uber’s Distasteful Growth

We are incessantly confiscating ourselves into a world of unavoidable, sun-blaring big data. Our landscape, the environment, even outer space — all are inspirations of our very sci-fi existence; here clouds echo first of data centers proliferating far beyond the real clouds’ pouring; here our world wishes to lose touch with indolence, that moving forward and disrupting any inconsistency, is the key. After all, the ultimate fight remains against death; it’s a fight for remembrance through perennial interruption — against an otherwise ephemeral legacy. Only if our sci-fi existence came with an app for immortality!

But to counteract this impossibility, or impatience, there are advances of lesser proportionality, that nonetheless promise to seize us as many opportunities — in saving us extra time, or money, which would have otherwise gone wasted. Such is touted as the significance of Uber, a juggernaut that has crafted itself to be a forefront leader in pursuit of worldwide corporate domination, estimated to accrue a revenue of 10 billion dollars by the end of this year. If our online experience is already swayed by big data that behave as puppeteers, Uber snarls: Why not, too, do similar to our physical domains?

It is not quite ironic then, that Uber’s conference room on San Francisco’s Market Street is named  ‘War Room.’

To demonstrate how Uber is staking our future in exchange for its burgeoning, monopolistic services, it becomes imperative to deconstruct the neoliberal, hence, discriminatory, racist and patriarchal structure of this corporation, which threatens progression of our livelihoods.

Uber was launched in 2010, the year our world began jettisoning blackberries for smartphones. The vision awoken by the latter persists strong, most notably sufficed for “instant gratification”. To understand this phenomenon, we could begin with my reference to immortality above.

Today, the vision of a truly speeded Earth wanders as a mirage, meandering with possibilities beside us. From logistics that clock products and services across this world, to unprecedented, and often nefarious, advancements in smart infrastructure and science, and most notably, the connectivity of our world through social media — our lives are already at a fight against death. When this palpable existence seems larger than life, especially to those with resources and connections to the opulent Valley, then any amount of time saved in having one picked up, almost instantaneously, by a simple tap of the button seems as a magical idea, if not solely glorious. To transport people as quickly as possible, by the driver’s own vehicle, brings to mind a paradigm where humans currently substitute for the robots not yet deployed as contractors.

Uber has become such a success, that in every way, it reflects West’s imperialistic practices, which, most notably, have played significant role in constructing a platform for the corporation’s breakthrough. A glittering digital map delineating Uber’s establishment across the globe is akin to a similar map pointing at all the United State’s military bases. The peculiarity with Uber remains, however: the corporation also spreads its hegemony at home, especially around its own headquarters in San Francisco, which according to The Brookings Institution, is one of the most unequal cities in the United States today.

At the tap of a button, the Uber driver is at the command of its customer, ready to transport an individual or a clique to their destination.  The software from its very core connects absolute strangers as commercial associates. And when we factor in the fluctuating fare rates Uber controls very often, or the commission the corporation takes, using its drivers as independent contractors responsible for their own wear and tear, then the very old, assaultive and objectifying practice of procuring, or more colloquially and relatively, of pimping, comes to mind.

Prostitution is at the behest of every patriarchal society. When bodies are objectified as commodities to provide pleasure, either sexual, or in Uber’s case — to that of “instant gratification” which, too, aligns along a sexual verse — exploitation flourishes for a very basic reason: that anyone can be used for being a human being. This exploitation, in fact, is what has morphed Uber into a success. As of today, Uber’s relationship with its drivers is so reliant, that the former cannot function without its workforce, a workforce whose basic rights have been dissembled by Uber the pimp, or Uber the trafficker. It is quite sad; those that rule the world do so by ruling over our bodies. Unsurprisingly, some of C.E.O Kalanick’s biggest enemies, besides his competition, are the regulators — the system reformers.

By the end of 2013, Uber announced an outside financing of $2.5 billion dollars to provide 200,00 of its drivers low interest loans on new cars, under a contract that they must be committed to UberX until the loan is fully paid off. Much stringent and enforced as this sounds, it is not quite different from corporations of other sectors, most prominently those working out of the retail and agriculture department, which have plundered and looted both the lands and sanctity of its workers, on whose shoulders their foundations have been built. Again, the contract correlates backs to Uber’s structure as the procurer, wishing the large, peripheral labor to remain marginalized and invisible.

Uber — along with its competitor, Lyft — is fighting its drivers’ class action lawsuits these days. The case is against Uber’s policy of using drivers as independent contractors, a practice that has allowed Uber to not only forgo elevating minimum wage and providing reimbursements to its large workforce, but also the many charges brought against the corporation of assaults and rapes that occurred in their drivers’ cars. This battle could be truly game changing. If Uber were to succumb to its drivers’ charges, there could be a possibility for the corporation to bring a little extra to the tables of its drivers, at least in the United States.

Before this case went to floor; however, Uber announced on March 10, its partnership with United Nations in employing about 1 million women around the world by 2020. While the outcome of the current lawsuit against Uber is still unprecedented, it is worthwhile to ponder, why exactly was such an announcement made right before?

While this partnership does claim opportunity for variegated riders to feel safe and secure along women drivers, and for the latter an access to jobs, Uber seems to be playing a vile game of corporate PR. By using women as shields against Uber’s defamation, the corporation does more harm than good for the already marginalized.

Not only would these women be employed to work on a timetable of pay uncertainty, they would not be given royalty for furthering the veneer of Uber’s public image, free of cost. This announcement could also affect the ruling of the current lawsuit brought against Uber toward a leniency, further assisting in objectifying more women against their our own plight for freedom and justice.

Committing more women to Uber workforce, much desirable as it sounds, also comes with the possibility of regimes worldwide loosening regulations for the corporation. This could signal a government’s cooperation toward Uber in exploiting women of lesser-developed countries, especially those desperately seeking work, only to be subsequently moved around as invisible labor. In India, where lawmakers already blame women for inciting rapes, I can foresee this promise of employing women at Uber encouraging a current ban on the corporation to be revoked, making it quite possible for both the corporation and the republic to forgo responsibilities of any future incidents, justifying that those largely employed are women. This is perhaps another example of the exploitative scenario by which Uber is engineering a dualistic approach in strengthening its image.

The entire dynamics of Uber is a warning for the masses to be critical and wary of what and how the huge tech companies hold the ability to deeply transform our social structures. Policies such as holding someone for years to a job by luring them through low car loans, or promising more women jobs for their atrocious work culture, tend to portray the efficiency promised by tech companies such as Uber in a negative light. In exchange for such efficiency, those at the bottom of the pyramid become impelled to accumulate wealth for those of the highest grid.

Rachneet Sethi is an independent writer based out of Los Angeles, CA. She may be reached at her email: rachneetsethi13@gmail.com . Read other articles by Rachneet.