SOAS University of London

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

The Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies Annual Lecture

The 2018 Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies Annual Lecture will take place in the SWLT from 6-8pm on the 28 February.

Uber-liberalism: migrant workers, the ‘gig’ economy, and the politics of solidarity in ‘Brexit’ Britain

Dr Parvathi Raman (SOAS)

When Transport for London stripped Uber of its license in September 2017, due to a ‘lack of corporate responsibility', there was a widespread feeling amongst the British left that the company had got what it deserved; Unsurprisingly, a liberal and left wing political constituency who had advocated boycotting Uber saw it as a major victory. Uber has come to stand for everything that represents the worst excesses of neoliberal capital; a ruthless tech firm with almost unlimited power, able to circumvent state legislation; a driver of a morally bankrupt economic order where employees are not employees, and workers are not workers; the ultimate example of the unbridled market, shorn of regulation, geared only towards profit, and stripped bare of any social responsibility;   

The London Taxi Drivers Union also saw the decision as a major victory, as Uber has long been regarded as introducing unfair competitive advantage, pricing other cab operators out of the market. They have fought long and hard to push Uber off London’s streets, citing the threat to passenger safety, particularly female passenger safety, as a prime consideration. Other unions such as Unite also welcomed the decision, some talking openly of the problem of ‘scab labour’ and the need to ‘defend’ British workers’ jobs. The call to ‘Save Our Black Cabs’ became emblematic of a wider desire to return to greater job security based on a nationalistic worker’s protectionism.

Amidst left celebrations of this set back for Uber, far less attention has been paid to the 40,000 overwhelmingly male migrant Uber drivers, who stand to lose their livelihoods as a result of TFL’s decision. Many now face at the very least, an uncertain future, hardship, or even financial ruin. In this talk, drawing on interviews conducted with taxi, mini cab and Uber drivers over a number of years, I place Uber’s migrant workers within the wider context of the changing landscape of race, the labour market and the left in postwar Britain, before discussing what a ‘politics of solidarity’ might look like in the era of ‘Brexit’.  

The event is free and open to the public.

Show previous events in this series