Filed under: Critique, Development, Editorials, Labor, Northwest, White Supremacy
Blowing the Uber Man
Over one year ago, the illustrious Seattle City Council passed a law that allowed Uber to operate freely on the streets of Seattle. In case you didn’t know, Uber is a monolithic tech company that employs tens of thousands of people to pick up passengers from bars, hotels, private residences, and anywhere else in the metropolis. Unlike the taxi-cab industry, Uber allows its employees to use their personal vehicles instead of licensed taxis, forbids them employees from receiving tips, requires them to be online and monitored through their smart phone microphone, and pays them around $12.50 an hour. Once the City Council legalized this new “ride-sharing” service, the traditional taxi services of Seattle was drastically disrupted and certain taxi drivers began to lose their jobs. As you can imagine, most of these taxi drivers were black.
Aside from the token resistance of Mike O’Brien, the entire City Council voted to give Uber the proverbial keys to the city and let them run wild with it. Some of the local media outlets documented the negative impacts Uber was having on mostly black and brown taxi drivers, but despite these news segments Uber continued to steamroll over the cab drivers. Many black and brown taxi drivers eventually became Uber drivers, and once enough of them were employed by Uber, they began to form a workers organization and began conversations with the Teamster’s Union. All the while, Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council kept partying like it was 1999, smug and content with all the new money flooding the bank accounts of the bourgeois ruling class. Uber drivers staged a few protests in 2014 and kept organizing, but it would not be until September 2015 that the City Council was suddenly forced to deal with the greedy Uber monster they willingly let into the city.
It is well documented that Uber rips off its drivers and exploits them to the best of its ability. It is also well documented that many of these Uber drivers are not white. In response to these simple facts, City Councilman Mike O’Brien has introduced a bill that would allow Uber drivers to unionize and collectively bargain with their employer. As it is, Uber drivers are not classified as employees but contractors, a designation that prevents them from legally unionizing. While this pro-union bill is easy enough to understand and easy to empathize with, it is doubtful that it will pass in City Council. Some critics are already howling that the bill is illegal and that Uber drivers should be grateful for their precarious wage slavery. It remains to be seen how the City Council will vote or how they will try to exempt themselves from responsibility for allowing all this to happen.
White Supremacy, The Seattle Way
The vote to allow Uber into Seattle was finalized in July, 2014. Since then, it has been a non-stop orgy for Uber & Co.. But if that same Uber vote had occurred in January, 2015, the results would have been quite different. As many of you undoubtedly know, an uprising took place in the United States in response to the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. By the time it was over, it became exceptionally difficult for white liberals to hide their subtle and everyday racism from the public. After the uprising, all white privilege came under intense scrutiny and it was no longer possible to live an oblivious white existence. The happy-fun-time of liberal white Seattle had its mellow harshed by images of totalitarian police violence and an endless stream of dead black people. Even local white celebrity Mackelmore was forced to march on the freeway against the police. Had he not, Mister Mack would have confirmed his role in the white-supremacist power structure of Seattle.
And just as this white hip-hop artist was forced to take a stand and halt interstate traffic, the City Council was forced to change its own ways. At the beginning of August, 2015, the mayor announced that he would shut down all hookah bars within Seattle city limits. Supposedly this was in reaction to gun violence, and supposedly all gun violence emanates out of hookah bars. If this had been any other time in the history of Seattle, the mayor would have had his way, the police and city bureaucrats would have shuttered every hookah bar, and the black owners and employees of these establishments would have lost their livelihoods. But something was different this time around. Instead of letting the city steamroll them into the ground, these people began to organize. They called the proposed shut down what it was: racism. There was no way for the city to deny these charges, especially because they had no justification for shutting down all hookah bars. In every sense of the word, it is racist to shut down a dozen black owned businesses simply because a single person was shot in front of one of them.
It is always a tragedy when someone dies, but this trick has been pulled too many times in the past. During the 1990s and early 2000s, the same logic was used to evict dozens of black families from the Central District. Whenever someone was shot on a street corners it inevitably led to the police raiding and evicting the nearest black households, regardless of whether the occupants were connected to the crime. Now that the national uprising has passed, now that institutional racism has been widely exposed (as if it was ever hidden), this type of scapegoating is far more difficult for white politicians like Murray to pull of. Within a month of announcing the hookah bar shutdown, Murray backtracked on his grand project and stated that no hookah bars would be shut down. However, the city will be checking in on each establishment every so often to look for ways to further harass them. It is not certain that these hookah bars have escaped total destruction, and it is necessary for all concerned parties to be vigilant. Otherwise, we might return to the good old days before the uprising, to the time when the mayor could get away with something like this without any opposition.
You Can Get It If You Really Want
As we have tried to illustrate, it is now far easier to call out the traditional white-supremacy of liberal Seattle. Certain things just won’t fly anymore. But the uprising didn’t fix all our problems. Just because white people can’t hide from their ingrained racism anymore doesn’t mean they wont fall back on it in a moment of reaction. Their everyday-racism has been allowed to exist for so long that unless someone challenges them, nothing will happen. Beyond this, their racism has been backed up by force of arms for decades. In past years, the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff have enforced the ignorant and bigoted orders of the politicians, regardless of the violent and deadly consequences. But this is no longer a viable strategy for those who claim to govern us. The more that the police enforce racist laws, the more these laws will crumble before their eyes. The lesson in all this: don’t stop smashing the state. Hit it until it breaks. Then sweep it away.
Just this last month, the SPD have been putting dozens of cops at the intersection of Rainier and MLK for the purposes of intimidating the Franklin High School students. In addition to this, they have routinely been flooding the Rainier Beach area for identical reasons. It is no coincidence that these police buildups are only occurring in black areas. Oddly enough, while the police were flexing their muscles to the teenagers, the City Council was passing a resolution to no longer support youth incarceration. While its all well and good that the council finally realized how shitty it is to lock teenagers in cages, they are doing nothing to stop the constant harassment of young people by the SPD. It doesn’t feel very good to pass through a gauntlet of suspicious white cops, especially if you are a black high school student walking to the bus stop. But apparently this normal, nothing to get upset about. While the activist groups applaud the City Council for approving a few inconsequential paragraphs against youth incarceration, the SPD are allowed to have free reign over South Seattle.
We encourage you to take matters into your own hands. Print copies of this newspaper and hand it on the street corner. Film yourself talking shit to the SPD and post it on social media networks that the high school kids will see. Encourage young people to chase the cops away, or better yet, set an example and chase them away yourself. Take whatever action you feel is necessary against capitalism and the systemic racism it creates. We have nothing to lose but our chains.