Of course #Uber needed to lose their licence by Ciara Doyle
Of course #Uber needed to lose their licence by Ciara Doyle
More about Uber. I see many posts from left leaning friends on Facebook essentially criticising their licence removal with the argument that, yes, they are terrible employers, but a job is a job and better than none so you can’t make those people unemployed. In answer, I want to draw on personal experience.
In 1990, when I was 17, I had the dubious privilege of working for an American multinational called 7Eleven who came to Dublin with a lot of fanfare and opened up nearly 100 local late night convenience shops. It wasn’t the type of shop you normally had as a corner shop in Ireland. They were big, bright, easy and expensive. A few closed at 11 pm, most stayed open all night. You could grab a coffee and a warm hot dog or microwaved burger and have rotten tasting but warm and filling snack at the click of a finger. They had a very ridged way of doing things and didn’t believe in adapting to the local culture at all. In particular this affected their security and they were regularly robbed blind as they based their beliefs entirely on US research which said shoplifting is basically a myth and doesn’t happen or need to be protected against. Meanwhile they were paranoid about armed holdups and had a wildly complicated system on cash being dropped into a safe not the till which made it very hard to make change, and lost a lot of customers. Armed holdups didn’t happen in Dublin. They just didn’t. If there were any illegal guns floating around, they were under the control of the remnants of paramilitary groups who might well have robbed a bank but had no interest in a corner shop where the transactions seldom got larger than a can of coke and packet of crisps. Meanwhile every shop lost thousands of pounds of stock every night when the heroin addicts worked in 2s and 3s and cleaned us out. One to chat to the sole staff member working there, the other to fill gym bags with stock. You could fit an entire fridge display of rashers in one gym bag. Sell the goods door to door around the local flats. 7Eleven fed quite a few heroin addictions for their time in Ireland, but refused to believe it wasn’t staff theft, as that’s what their American research said all shoplifting was.
This approach to ignoring the local requirements extended to their employment policies. To hold a 7Eleven franchise requires a commitment to not employ any trade union members. Not just Irish law, but the Irish constitution itself enshrines the right to union membership. We joined a union. We recruited hard. We had about 70 to 80% union membership. We took our employers to court twice and won twice and still they would not recognise our union.
What happened in the end is hard to say. In one 24 hour period they bought 10 more shops. In senseless locations in some instances. All of them paying over the asking price. We as staff had a belief that the real work of the company was more motivated by raising property prices than actually running local shops, as they always did this, which would lead to sharp increases in the asking price of nearby properties.
The next day, after the purchase of the final 10 premises, the receivers moved in, and staff came to work to find chains across the doors of their workplaces.
What happened then? For me personally, it was a strange and frightening time. Having appeared on RTE news and in the national papers as one of the union activists I was briefly regularly recognised walking down the street and alternately hailed as some kind of national hero for driving out those nasty colonial Americans or seen as a devil who selfishly put all those poor young Irish people out of jobs. Within a few weeks I had a job in a local supermarket. It was a closed shop so I had to change trade union and ended up in conflict with the union and physically thrown out of and banned from their offices for campaigning for union membership for temporary workers who were terribly treated. Union didn’t want them as members. By the end of that year I was just turning 19, pregnant, homeless and unemployed, viewed with deep suspicion as a known trouble maker by both the employers and the unions. No qualifications and no ability to look for employment in any other sector. But like all good challenges, it drove me forward. Today I’m a highly qualified university lecturer and my beautiful son is 25 and the 8th wonder of the world. (In my eyes anyway).
What of everyone else. They all ended up in work. Better work. Spar, Centra and Londis were all kicking about, smaller but trying to rival 7Eleven. They all expanded fast. The premises I worked in briefly became a bank, but a few years later changed hands and became a convenience shop again. From what I can see on google street maps, today its a luxury fish and chip shop. Everywhere in Dublin’s former 7Elevens were almost always becoming Spars, Londis’s or Centras. Irish or German owned companies instead of American ones, doing essentially the identical thing, but in a more adaptive, culturally appropriate and less inflexible and hide-bound by rules manner. Most importantly the staff now had the right to be a member of a union in their new jobs in the take-over companies that replaced the old one. No one just stayed out of work, because people will always want convenience shops, and if a new model of doing things is introduced, people will keep the bits they like, which is exactly what happened with the 7Eleven revolution in Dublin.
17 years after all this went down, I moved to London. Culture shock is a strange thing, and the thing that shocked me most in London was how small and dirty everything in such a big city was. Especially the corner shops and convenience shops. Now I’m a wheelchair user, and when people ask me what I most look forward to when going back to Dublin my first answer is always ‘popping into a corner shop. Any corner shop. And getting a breakfast roll, or a sweet chili chicken wrap, or something nice to eat’. In London I normally have to pass 10 small shops to find one I can get my chair in the door of, and then I probably have to sit in the door way, wailing for a staff member to come and serve me, as my chair wont fit down any aisle, or get near the till. If I want fresh food I can go hump a lamppost, it would be about as successful. If they say they have ‘fresh’ food they lie. They might have a few of those hideous M&S type sandwiches sealed in plastic, pre-made somewhere else (so NOT ‘fresh’) and no choice of ingredients, with this strange London belief that adding prawns to anything makes it ‘posh’. Newsflash, it doesn’t, it makes it disgusting.
Quick trip home to Dublin, and any convenience shop I enter, I can get my wheelchair into, with ease. And up and down each aisle. With ease, with lots of space between me and the shelves. because its big, bright, clean, and has lots of space to move around. Fishbowl windows and lots of light. If I want a sandwich and coffee, I go to the sandwich counter, and pick out the ingredients I want and its made for me, right there, in front of me. Chicken. Peppers. Sweet chili sauce. Wrap. Happy Ciara. Even visiting my parents in small town Ireland, and Valentines little shop in Carlingford just fills my heart with joy. Because its just bigger, cleaner and more open and easier to move around than anything you would encounter in London.
7Eleven came to Ireland. it didn’t respect its local workers or its local culture. It died, but the concepts were taken over, evolved significantly and became something I want to go home for.
So whats going to happen with Uber? Like 7Eleven, it came from the US, insisted on imposing a very hide-bound model without regard for local needs, and doesn’t respect its workforce.
Like 7Eleven, it has some innovation, but not really all that much. Its just about using apps on our smart phones to quickly and easily book a cab. Not really that staggering, if they hadn’t come up with this idea whose time is so ripe, someone else would have. late night convenience shops were also very much of their time.
Like 7Eleven, it attempts to establish a hegemonic position as if it was the only one, and impose its brand name as the name for the generic service, but like 7Eleven, it certainly has its rivals. There’s Adison Lee, there’s MyTaxi, (looking just at the apps I have on my own phone, personally, I’m sure there are more) there’s others doing the exact same thing as Uber, but kept small by Ubers dominance. With Uber gone, of course they are going to expand, and expand rapidly, sucking up the workforce as well as the customers. But with Uber having lost its licence, they will know not to make some of the worst of the mistakes Uber made, and employees and customers will both be better off.
Of course Uber needed to lose their licence, and I’m shocked by those on the left who don’t support this on the basis of ‘but we support jobs’. You are not supporting jobs by supporting exploitation.
Rant over (But I’ll be ranting again about how in particular, Uber provided no wheelchair accessibility and made it harder not easier to be a wheelchair user).
“The real reason we should all be upset about Uber”