Tag Archives: uber

Taking Back the Wheel: On Labor’s Future

How do we understand the future of labor? Will it be one of total automation and increasingly precarious workers? Perhaps if Uber has anything to say about it. SLU’s Kafui Attoh has co-authored an article with Declan Cullen and Kathryn Wells in Dissent that tackles some of these thorny questions called “Taking Back the Wheel.” Here’s an excerpt:

Uber argues that its biggest boon to “driver partners” is to present them with independence, flexibility, and more-than-competitive compensation. In this argument the on-demand economy ushers in a bright new future and an ostensibly new labor category: the flexible worker. In a twist on Marx’s utopian dream, such a worker can, Frank Pasquale pithily comments, “knit Etsy scarves in the morning, drive Uber cars in the afternoon, and write Facebook comments at night, flexibly shifting between jobs and leisure at will.”

Of course, the neoliberal utopia of a sharing economy operated by highly contingent workers has been shaken by a multitude of analyses telling a markedly different story. These studies, including ours, emphasize precaritysurveillancecontrollow earnings, and insecure conditions. If the Uber model is the future of work, they tell us, that future looks bleak.

Behind all these debates lurks a deeper premise: that the future of work is actually no work at all. 

But according to Attoh and his co-authors, that future isn’t inevitable:

We should resist this logic of inevitability and see platform capitalism for what it is: a means to mobilize a reserve labor army, overcome barriers to accumulation, and fight declining rates of profit. We are not yet on the road to Uberworld. There’s still time for us to wrest back control, not just of the future, but also of the present.

How might we do that? Read the article here for an accounting of the stakes and possibilities — and learn why Uber is less in control of the future than we might be made to think.

Photo by Maurizio Pesce via flickr (CC-BY)

Uber, the “Metropocalypse,” and Economic Inequality in D.C.

This post originally appeared at Working-Class Perspectives.

By Katie Wells, Kafui Attoh, and Declan Cullen

Public transit infrastructure in Washington, D.C. is crumbling. Metro and bus services have been cut. Fares have gone up. And, safety remains a problem. After 40 years of deferred maintenance, poor management, and the lack of decent, long-term funding, the Metro system needs $1.4 billion worth of repairs, and it must close a $290 million budget gap just to continue basic operations. Some call this the “metropocalypse.”

Private taxi services haven’t been much better. It’s often hard to get a cab, especially for people of color or people who live outside of the wealthy, White areas of the city. Racial prejudice among the mostly immigrant taxi drivers means that Black residents are regularly refused service.

In light of these transit problems, Uber might seem like an obvious win for D.C. Ridesharing services are cheap for riders, require no significant public investment, and limit some of the discrimination that has made getting a taxi so difficult for so many people. Our research shows otherwise. Indeed, Uber could undermine the very thing city officials are working hard to address: economic inequality. Continue reading Uber, the “Metropocalypse,” and Economic Inequality in D.C.

Photos: Workers, Technology & Uber: A Student-Organized Panel

By Stacey Payton

As the ‘sharing economy’ grows, so does the level of precarious work, which shifts the risks and burden to the worker, but none of the benefits. The digital tools used in these emerging economies are paving the way for future automation. Will this lead to the eventual erasure of the worker?

Each year, the Murphy Institute hosts a student-organized forum, held at Murphy during the spring semester and arranged by the Urban Studies and Labor Studies departments. The purpose of the forum is to give students an opportunity to apply the lessons being taught in our curriculum to our everyday lives.

This year, our team of students decided to focus on how changes in technology are having direct effects on worker, specifically drivers of the car service Uber. We sought to explore the ways this company is taking advantage of workers and the very communities it claims to be servicing.

The forum, called Reworking Labor: The Case of Uber and the Gig Economy, was held on April 4, 2016 and attended by over 90 faculty, classmates and community members. We’re extremely grateful to our all-star panel for challenging our ideas and expanding our understanding of the current landscape. Many thanks to:


Stacey Payton is a current student in the MA in Labor Studies program at the Murphy Institute.

EVENT: Reworking Labor: The Case of Uber and the Gig Economy (4/6)

A Student-Organized Forum


This forum will examine the transformation of work at Uber, a leader in the burgeoning “gig economy.” Advocates of this new model argue that the “gig economy” offers flexibility and allows for much greater worker autonomy. And, in the case of Uber, they contend that the company has provided jobs and taxi service to the outer boroughs and to underserved communities. Yet, how is this new model affecting the system of worker rights and employer responsibilities? How does the new technology associated with this model dictate wages and working conditions? Uber and its ilk merit special scrutiny in light of their potential role in rewriting legal and legislative precedents in other workplaces and industries.

Speakers Include:

  • James Parrott, Deputy Director and Chief Economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute
  • Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance
  • Katie Unger, former Deputy Commissioner of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, consultant, writer and longtime New York labor activist.

Photo by Rob Nguyen via flickr (CC-BY-SA)

Prof. Kafui Attoh Investigates the On-Demand Mobile Service Sector

Dr. Kafui Attoh, Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at the Murphy Institute, has been awarded a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. His project is called Economic Inequality in the Driver’s Seat: Household Budgets in the On-Demand Mobile Services Sector, and it aims to get a snapshot of what work in the On-Demand Mobile Service Sector looks like — and what it means for how on-demand workers navigate the broader economy.

To get that snapshot, Prof. Attoh, along with collaborator Katie Wells, will examine contingent and part-time on-demand work in mobile transportation, hospitality, home services, delivery and logistics services, such as Uber, Seamless, Taskrabbit, and AirBnB.

Professor Attoh explains that “the project starts from the presumption that the growth of the on-demand mobile service sector…raises both important and timely questions for researchers concerned with the future of employment. Our study examines the household balance sheets of contingent workers employed by Uber Transportation, one of the fastest growing on-demand mobile services. By looking at the household balance sheets of Uber drivers, we will be able to examine the financial costs, benefits, and challenges facing this new type of worker, as well as the burdens and benefits such work creates for these workers’ households. This project poses two questions:

“How does contingent part-time work for Uber affect the stability and health of household finances and the allocation of household responsibilities, and what does the emergence of the on-demand mobile services sector mean for understanding inequitable growth in the U.S.?

From Sharing Economy to Shared Ownership

Want to go deeper on the world of sharing, cooperativism, and an internet economy that works for all of us? Head to the New School November 13-14th for Platform Cooperativism: a coming out party for the cooperative internet, co-sponsored by the Murphy Institute. Register here.

In a new article over at FastCoexist (“The People’s Uber: Why The Sharing Economy Must Share Ownership“), Nathan Schneider and Trebor Scholz lament the current state of the sharing economy:

For all the things that companies like Airbnb and TaskRabbit allow us to share with each other […] ownership and governance are not on offer. This is what the democratic promise of the Internet has come to: a democracy of access, of “collaborative consumption,” but not of control, real accountability, or ownership.

It’s a story that’s all too familiar for exploited workers subject to the micro-monitoring, low wages, and new forms of precarity that have opened up with the sharing economy. Yet, while Silicon Valley hails the new “freedoms” afforded by an internet that allows anyone to monetize any of their latent resources — time, bedrooms, cars and more — many workers are suffering from the gigification that has left them without benefits, stable wages, or any sort of certainty. From this, it’s easy for the future of work to look grim indeed.

Scholz and Schneider, however, take a bold step, opening up a new set of imaginative possibilities: What if, instead of being exploited by the “on-demand” economy, workers ran that economy themselves? Continue reading From Sharing Economy to Shared Ownership