Uber Is Offering Scab Rides to Help Break France’s General Strike

Julianne Tveten December 13, 2019

People gather in front of the Saint Charles university ahead of a demonstration to protest against the pension overhauls, in Marseille, southern France, on December 5, 2019 as part of a national general strike. -(Photo by Clement MAHOUDEAU / AFP)

For more than a week, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple have been tak­ing to the streets of France in a gen­er­al strike protest­ing the poten­tial degra­da­tion of the country’s pen­sion sys­tem. One of France’s largest pub­lic-sec­tor strikes in recent his­to­ry, the action has unit­ed a wide array of work­ers, includ­ing air-traf­fic con­trollers, teach­ers and hos­pi­tal staffers.

The coun­try cur­rent­ly has 42 sep­a­rate pen­sion plans for both pri­vate- and pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers, based on occu­pa­tion and region. Under a pro­pos­al from Pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron, these plans would be con­sol­i­dat­ed into a uni­ver­sal points-based” mod­el that would slash pen­sions, par­tic­u­lar­ly for pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers, and raise the retire­ment age for many workers.

As of Decem­ber 5, 82% of rail con­duc­tors were par­tic­i­pat­ing in the work stop­page, with at least 90 per­cent of all region­al rail ser­vices closed. In response, Paris’s bus and metro oper­a­tor, Régie Autonome des Trans­ports Parisiens (RATP), is offer­ing dis­counts on rides with 32 pri­vate trans­porta­tion com­pa­nies — includ­ing Uber’s e‑bike and e‑scooter ver­ti­cal, JUMP and e‑scooter com­pa­ny Lime — in an attempt­ed strike break.

Under the pen­sion pro­pos­al, trans­porta­tion work­ers would face a sub­stan­tial decline in their work ben­e­fits, as well as an acute threat to their men­tal and phys­i­cal health. Accord­ing to news site France 24, metro dri­vers can in the­o­ry, retire at 50.8 years due to the par­tic­u­lar­ly unhealthy envi­ron­ment they are sub­ject­ed to, includ­ing pol­lu­tion and the lack of day­light,” though metro work­ers’ aver­age retire­ment age is 55.5. The offi­cial retire­ment age in France is 62, but the government’s pro­pos­al would raise the retire­ment age by at least two years, accord­ing to a recent speech by Prime Min­is­ter Édouard Philippe.

It is very alarm­ing that a pub­lic trans­porta­tion agency would part­ner with pri­vate com­pa­nies so as to under­mine work­er pow­er,” Mostafa Mak­lad, a U.S.-based dri­ver for Uber, Lyft and Grub­Hub, and orga­niz­er with Gig Work­ers Ris­ing, told In These Times.

Frédéric Ruiz, pres­i­dent of the CFE-CGC union, told France 24 that the move sends a bad sig­nal” to work­ers for the RATP sys­tem, call­ing it a provo­ca­tion.”

This isn’t the first time Uber has sought to sub­vert a sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ment. Fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s 2017 Mus­lim Ban, which restrict­ed trav­el for peo­ple liv­ing in sev­en pre­dom­i­nant­ly Mus­lim coun­tries, pro­test­ers gath­ered at air­ports through­out the Unit­ed States. While the New York Taxi Work­ers Alliance urged its mem­bers to avoid John F. Kennedy Inter­na­tion­al Air­port for one hour, Uber low­ered fares to lure rid­ers dur­ing the demon­stra­tions, prompt­ing wide­spread out­rage. (In the wake of the back­lash, the com­pa­ny offered to sup­port” dri­vers affect­ed by the ban.)

Lime told In These Times, Although the cir­cum­stances are unfor­tu­nate and excep­tion­al, Lime is hon­ored to have been select­ed by RATP to answer the increased demands for mobil­i­ty dur­ing this peri­od. We hope, nonethe­less, for a rapid return to busi­ness as usu­al,’ and we are com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing Parisians through­out the social move­ment period.”

Uber told In These Times, To make it eas­i­er for our rid­ers to get from A to B, we will offer dri­vers incen­tives to help peo­ple move around their cities. We have also part­nered with the Paris Pub­lic Trans­port Oper­a­tor (RATP) and will offer our JUMP e‑bikes in key areas such as pub­lic trans­port hubs, to ensure Parisians have access to reli­able and afford­able transportation.”

RATP’s move reflects the anti-work­er ethos that has defined Macron’s gov­er­nance. In 2017, the French pres­i­dent vowed to ren­der France a coun­try that thinks and moves like a start­up,” com­plete with slack­ened, pro-cor­po­rate labor and tax laws in the inter­est of tech-focused inno­va­tion.” In 2018, as part of that cam­paign, Macron’s admin­is­tra­tion announced plans to pri­va­tize a util­i­ty com­pa­ny and two air­ports, report­ed­ly to pro­vide a fund for entre­pre­neurs and startups.”

This rais­es anoth­er con­cern: The encroach­ment of pri­vate trav­el com­pa­nies upon pub­lic tran­sit sys­tems. Rideshare com­pa­nies have indi­cat­ed ambi­tions to replace pub­lic tran­sit. A 2019 New York Times op-ed not­ed that Uber claimed to find a mas­sive mar­ket oppor­tu­ni­ty” in pub­lic tran­sit; the com­pa­ny stat­ed that a por­tion of our trips can be a sub­sti­tute for pub­lic trans­porta­tion.” Accord­ing­ly, Uber and Lyft have both intro­duced fea­tures encour­ag­ing rid­ers to board cars at ded­i­cat­ed inter­sec­tions—effec­tive­ly rein­vent­ing” the bus sys­tem. The com­pa­nies have also part­nered with munic­i­pal gov­ern­ments in the U.S., Cana­da, Aus­tralia and Eng­land to incen­tivize rideshare, e‑bike, and e‑scooter use in tan­dem with pub­lic transit.

This is just anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty for a big, giant mega­corp like Uber to come in like jack­als and take advan­tage of a volatile sit­u­a­tion,” Tyler Sand­ness, a U.S.-based Lyft dri­ver and orga­niz­er with Rideshare Dri­vers Unit­ed, told In These Times. They’re view­ing it as, This is just anoth­er exam­ple of why pub­lic trans­porta­tion doesn’t work very well. Obvi­ous­ly, we just need to get rid of pub­lic tran­sit and just have Lyft and Uber com­pa­nies, and that will fix every­thing,’ despite the fact that these trans­port work­ers are fight­ing for their rights.”

The trans­port strikes will con­tin­ue indef­i­nite­ly, until the gov­ern­ment comes to its sens­es,” accord­ing to Lau­rent Brun, head of France’s Con­fédéra­tion Générale du Tra­vail (CGT) rail­way union.

In the mean­time, added Mak­lad, work­ers must stand in sol­i­dar­i­ty with the pub­lic trans­port work­ers of Paris, and we must con­tin­ue to demand bet­ter of our pub­lic agen­cies and government.”

Julianne Tveten writes about tech­nol­o­gy, labor, and cul­ture, among oth­er top­ics. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Cap­i­tal & Main, KPFK Paci­fi­ca Radio, and elsewhere.
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