“Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much higher consideration.”
This past 3rd of November the interest of capitalist class wasn’t just assured a win in the presidential election, but it also took a big win in California with the passing of Proposition 22. Proposition 22 was a ballot proposal to maintain the gig economy workers of companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates, etc. under the status of ‘Independent Contractors’. A vote ‘yes’ would mean that the workers in these sectors would remain categorized as independent contractors, a vote ‘no’ would force these app-based gig companies to provide “basic protections to their workers”. After outspending the opposition 12 to 1 by pouring more than 200 million on the ballot initiative, gig economy companies like Uber, Lyft, and more, won.
The opposition to the bill was led by various labor organization, but at the head of it was the California Labor Federation (CLF). CLF understood that the passing of this bill meant boosting profits for these gig companies by “denying their drivers’ right to a minimum wage, paid sick leave and safety protections.”
Companies like Lyft advertised that the passing of prop 22 meant that workers in these industries would maintain their ‘flexibility’, and fearmongered by stating that up to 90% of drivers could lose their jobs if the bill did not go through. They also mentioned that a vote yes would give drivers “more benefits”, of course, without mentioning that the extra ‘benefits’ they would get are still nowhere near what they would be required to give them if they were considered as workers and not independent contractors. To urge a ‘yes’ vote, these companies went as far as showing videos of single moms saying they wouldn't be able to figure out how to make extra money for their family if the bill didn’t pass. This massive influx of advertisement money was what caused a vote that was polling in at 38% six weeks before its election, to rise 19 points and win.
While these gig economy app based companies have grown to be worth billions of dollars, the employees whose labor their growth has depended on have been partaking in worldwide protest because of their poverty wages. Taking this into consideration, and the fact that only 38% was in favor of the bill just six weeks before the vote, it is fair to say that the bill passed because more than $200 million was spent propagandizing people in favor of it. A nice exemplar of how our American Democracy works.
The core of the $200 million that was spent was aimed at convincing folks that this was the route that would prove to be the most beneficial for workers. Although not all working families fell for this, the outcome demonstrates quite a few did. The wealth of the owning class proved to be a sufficient engine for the ideologically coercing of workers into consenting against their own interests. What we have here is not the usual schematics of a working class who participates in electoral processes whereby both candidates represent the interest of their enemies; but a working class that when confronted with a clear dichotomous decision of advancing or regressing their interest as a class, was conditioned enough to overwhelmingly vote against their own interest.
These ideological tactics of coercing workers into consenting against their own interest are not new. In the days of child labor, the arguments for its maintenance usually presented the same form of cynical concern for workers and their families, stating that families would be unable to survive without the children contributing, and using analogies of child labor at the farm to naturalize and thus legitimate the continuation of such bruteness as having kids under 10 years old lose limbs or die working 10-12 hours a day for miserable wages.
In terms of relations of power between labor and capital, the neoliberal capitalism we see today is perhaps closer to the conditions in the time of Mother Jones, than it was after the second world war. Although child labor is not around, the hard-fought victories by unions and communists for workers are constantly attacked and defeated. The last four decades of neoliberal capitalism has been a continuous disempowerment of workers through the cutting of benefits, stagnating of wages, and repression of unionization efforts. The gig economy takes this even further, through an employer’s complete removal of responsibility for workers. By categorizing workers as ‘independent contractors’, the ‘flexibility’ they continuously speak of is one that is only for them. Flexibility for the capitalist entails the removal of responsibilities for his workers, and subsequently, increasing profits for him. But for the worker - regardless of how much the capitalist’s propaganda says they are now ‘flexible’ and ‘free’ – flexibility means insecurity, less pay, and less benefits. Like in sex, flexibility for the worker here only means he can get screwed more efficiently.
The passing of this bill in California entails that it will probably be the first domino in many to come. Soon, our working class will face an instability that has not been seen in the last two centuries. The question we must ask ourselves is not just 'what are we doing to prevent this?'; for this question takes a necessarily defensive approach. If we are only defending, although we might win some battles and lose others, those wins are not steps forward, but the prevention of backward steps. This puts us in a pickle between maintaining our position or taking steps backwards. Unlike in sports, were defense is the best form of offense, in the struggles of labor and capital offense is the best form of defense. We must be ready to counter the barbarities that neoliberal capitalism is taking us towards. This is something that cannot be down if our efforts are limited to protecting previous gains, we must be ready to affirm a socialist tomorrow. Our situation is at a crossroad, now more than ever does Luxemburg’s famous dictum ring true, it’s either “socialism or barbarism”.
 “What is Prop 22, the Uber/Lyft Ballot Measure?,” California Labor Federation, https://calaborfed.org/no-on-prop-22-faq/
 Sarah Jones, “Uber and Lyft’s Proposition 22 Win Is a Warning Shot to Democrats,” Intelligencer, last modified November 4, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/11/uber-lyfts-proposition-22-was-a-warning-shot-to-democrats.html#:~:text=In%20the%20weeks%20leading%20up%20to%20November%203%2C,of%20the%20measure%20regularly%20featured%20people%20of%20color.
 “What is Prop 22, the Uber/Lyft Ballot Measure?,” California Labor Federation,
 “What is Prop 22 | California Drivers | Vote YES on Prop 22 | Rideshare | Benefits | Lyft,” Lyft, October 8, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7QJLgdQaf4
 Suhauna Hussain, Johana Bhuiyan, Ryan Menezes, “Prop. 22: Here's how your L.A. neighborhood voted on the gig worker measure,” Yahoo!Finance, last modified November 13, 2020, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/uber-lyft-persuaded-california-vote-140036656.html
 Keith Griffith, “Uber drivers around the world go on strike to protest 'poverty wages' as the company prepares to go public at a valuation of $91billion” Daily Mail, last modified May 8, 2019, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7006975/Uber-drivers-world-strike-protest-low-wages.html
 Bill Kauffman, “The Child Labor Amendment Debate of the 1920's” The Journal of Libertarian Studies, last modified January 29, 2018, https://mises.org/library/child-labor-amendment-debate-1920s-0
 Mother Jones, “Civilization in Southern Mills” Industrial Workers of the World Historical Archives, March 1901, https://archive.iww.org/history/library/MotherJones/civilization_in_southern_mills/
About the Author:
My name is Carlos and I am a Cuban-American Marxist. I graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Loras College and am currently a graduate student and Teachers Assistant in Philosophy at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. My area of specialization is Marxist Philosophy. My current research interest is in the history of American radical thought, and examining how philosophy can play a revolutionary role . I also run the philosophy YouTube channel Tu Esquina Filosofica and organized for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020.