Gillis is the financial secretary of United Steelworkers Local 8751, the Boston School Bus Drivers Union.
Tens of millions of workers in the U.S. — over 90 percent in the private sector — have no union. Under current anti-worker laws, our siblings who drive for Uber/Lyft aren’t even considered workers and are ineligible for meager unemployment insurance payments. Drivers and other gig workers are being told that some small fraction of them might be eligible for a token check sometime at the end of April — which wouldn’t cover half a month’s rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Boston.
In Massachusetts, Local 8751 has joined Uber and Lyft drivers organizing as @DriveBIDG (the Boston Independent Drivers’ Guild), @RideshareDriversUnite and @RidersDriversUnited to demand gig drivers be recognized as workers, with rights to guaranteed pay from their billionaire app employers and survival benefits from local governments.
Drivers are discussing creative rolling actions and have launched the petition, “Massachusetts: Demand Coronavirus Relief for Uber and Lyft Drivers!” at ttps://drivers-united.org/a/massachusetts-drivers-coronavirus-relief.
BIDG became a leading voice in the Sanders movement. The thousands of multinational, multi-age, multigender drivers have seen their gig pay hammered in recent months while Wall Street lavished billions on app owners during initial public offerings of stock. These owners can and do “deactivate” drivers at whim, silencing dissent at the click of a “terminate” icon.
Legally considered “independent contractors” who must pay for their own health insurance, employer Social Security taxes, vehicles, maintenance, insurance, gas and tolls, etc., gig drivers loved the socialist-identified Sanders movement demands for Medicare for All, gig worker and union rights, and freedom from crushing student, medical and consumer debt. They enthusiastically packed Sanders rallies, cheering calls for a “revolution.”
Drivers are thoroughly discussing the attempted crushing of their movement by the Democratic and Republican parties and their paid-for media. Drivers have decided it’s a good time to continue to fight.
‘Power concedes nothing without a demand’
Now is the time to raise demands for workers’ needs, health, sustenance and rights! While our bosses and the racist, fascist-minded, warmongering Wall Street-pandering Trump government have $1 trillion per day to try to stave off total collapse of their international banking system, they don’t have squat to offer the workers.
They are in embarrassing, criminally negligent disarray and disunity and are scrambling, unable to stop the inevitable momentum of the collapse of their global capitalist system of anarchic overproduction for profit and shortages of vital human needs.
With the simultaneous emergency health and economic crises constantly changing the landscape of the class struggle here in the belly of the beast and internationally, bold worker-based demands today, backed by planned, creative, courageous and militant actions tomorrow, are already changing the balance of power in the workplace and in the street.
Our bosses, their governments and police agencies will try to take advantage of the crises to continue their relentless drive to smash our unions and the modest gains that generations have won. Conditions now inspire us to flip the usual ruling-class script and aim straight for workers’ power over our own health and economic well-being.
The lessons taught by one of U.S. history’s greatest labor leaders, Frederick Douglass, for workers of chattel and wage-slavery conditions alike, are as urgent today as in 1857: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”