The Uber strike is just the start, if unions learn how to mobilize millennials

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The Uber action and McStrike suggest young people are increasingly seeing the benefits of fighting for their rights.

A a semi-regular Uber user, I listened to calls by drivers on Tuesday not to cross a digital picket line during their 24-hour strike – the latest attempt to unionise the gig economy. Members of United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD), a branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, are campaigning for a higher rate per mile, an end to what they claim are unfair deactivations, and a reduction in the commission that they have to pay. Drivers staged rallies outside Uber offices in London, Birmingham and Nottingham, and many logged off the app and stayed home.

uber logo

I support the Uber drivers on principle, but I also have a personal affection for the service. During a period of illness, Uber drivers kept me out and about. If you are ill, disabled or a woman on her own late at night in a dodgy part of town, an Uber can mean freedom. Over this time, I spent weeks talking to the drivers, about their jobs, their lives and their politics (many were Jeremy Corbyn supporters). Though often horribly demonised by black-cab drivers – one of whom handed me a card that said I would be raped if I used Uber – they are, like you and me, just people trying to make a decent living. Some have escaped untold horror, such as the man who dropped me at Euston station in central London one December morning and told of the drone attack he had witnessed. Others are born in Britain and simply prefer it to the monotony of the daily office grind.

Most people I know who use Uber, generally in their 20s and 30s, feel the same affection. What’s needed is some way of channelling that affection into support. Most people I spoke to on Tuesday about the strike were unaware that it was happening. Recruiting and galvanising younger adults – whether as members or supportive customers – was always going to be a challenge for unions. Most of us have never known the pressures of the physical picket line. A sense of collective industrial struggle is more challenging to convey in the maelstrom of social media, a clarion call so often drowned out by all the chatter. Digital nomadism and the gig economy mean that communities exist more and more online. People are more atomised. It’s a world away from the strikes of the past; there isn’t often someone a couple

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