Nothing’s Sweet About The BAE And Uber Job Losses. But Is There A Silver Lining?

Nothing’s Sweet About The BAE And Uber Job Losses. But Is There A Silver Lining?

This month we have been forewarned of two major waves of redundancies being carried out in the coming months. Two major employers, BAE Systems and Uber (which doesn’t deserve the umlaut), succumbed to external factors before the imminent redundancies were revealed; competition and regulation, respectively. However, these abstract triggers will account for a very noticeable 42,000 unemployed people by the end of the year.

But how did this come about? Do we feel indifferent towards these redundancies considering the nature of their work, and the reputation both companies have? Or should we look at this as a great loss on the personal and economic level?

BAE Systems, not so much a provider of your eternal cyber boo, but rather a British-based arms manufacturer, announced this month a deep cut in its British staff. Under a new chief exec, and following a dip in its Eurofighter Typhoon exports in the face of higher demand from alternative French jets, BAE Systems sought to trim the fat from an already leaner British battalion of workers.

Indeed, of the 83,100 total workers located in the US, Australia and Saudi Arabia, among other allied states, BAE System’s bulk of employees are to be found in the UK. 34,600 employees currently work here, and even then, that’s 1,150 less since 2015.

For the pacifist left-wingers amongst you, I’m sure you’d be happy to see these jobs go. Then again, if you’ve ever been affected by a redundancy of a breadwinning family member, I think you’d hesitate before espousing a moral lecture on the arms industry. And also bear in mind that when the UK’s largest union, Unite, believes the job cuts will ‘devastate communities across the UK who rely on these skilled jobs and the hope of a decent future they give to future generations’, you suddenly reconsider the importance of this component to our economy that other seemingly left-leaning countries like Sweden and Germany equally support.

Because what we would prefer to have in our country is a sovereign industry, be it in defence or otherwise, which can be held accountable and negotiated with, subject to our laws, and able to take a beating on the stock exchange for unpopular gestures – as BAE Systems is experiencing. The Uber situation, however, is a whole other ballgame.

The private taxi-cum-delivery multinational needs no introduction. It’s the faceless, vapid app you thumb before leaving for Beaver Works or Canal Mills. Its delivery of service is just as shocking as the price that appears on your phone once the bloke’s sped through the red lights ahead of you. This is the phantom firm that London has fortunately barred from its roads.

The reasons for the discontinuation of any Uber operational licence are plentiful, but those specific to London were starkly influential. Transport for London (TfL) cited on the one hand the so-called ‘Greyball’ software, which allows Uber employees to turn off their GPS locations and go under the radar of local authorities. This is something even the US is investigating – the home of corporate disregard. So, considering this highly suspect feature of an Uber employee’s phone application, coupled with the news of Uber not formally disclosing three sexual and violent incidents taking place in London Uber cabs so far this year, you would have to be general manager of Uber London, Tom Elvidge, to oppose TfL’s ruling.

For what the revoking of Uber’s licence demonstrates is a middle finger to abysmal corporate social responsibility. Uber’s institutional irreverence has brought it to its knees in London, with the short-sighted, reactionary CEO, Dara Khosrowshai, jetting over to London to beg for TfL’s revocation against the phoney firm. But it will undoubtedly be falling on deaf ears, since London mayor, Sadiq Khan, endorsed the TfL regulatory decision.

However, this has triggered an overtly politicised debate, even with the Maybot having a pop at the ruling, calling it ‘disproportionate’ and predicting it will have ‘damaged lives’.

So, we can see a politicisation of these two waves of redundancy. But in the age of Brexit and the UK’s economic contraction, can we afford such a large cull of the labour force in London?

We need to regard the ruling on Uber and the looming unemployed as the fate of all those employed in the zero-hours gig economy. Uber, like Deliveroo, does not provide sustainable, compassionate, dignified jobs to British workers.

There is no humility or interest in the wellbeing for the labourers. Little-to-no training is provided, but an Uber driver is tacitly expected to fork out for a hybrid Toyota Yaris to catch the customer’s eye. There are no safety net provisions, since, as one Uber driver shared, there is a two pound weekly fee for sickness cover. And finally, the mere fact that Uber does not guarantee the minimum wage, let alone the living wage, further undermines what’s left of the firm’s legitimacy.

In comparison to Uber staff, the prerequisite demands for workers at businesses such as BAE Systems encourage a well-equipped workforce to have the necessary skills to quickly transition to other industries. There is little chance that many of the unemployed of BAE Systems will find it difficult to skip onto the increasingly popular renewables’ bandwagon, likewise fit into the UK’s leading aerospace industries.

Uber drivers beware: there is no quick fix in the gig economy. This industry allures the vulnerable with the pipe dream of prosperity. But the remorselessly rapacious business structure of Uber is nothing we should come to accept as a compromise between a zero-hour contract, a non-living-waged job, or a job on a 1% pay freeze.

The left must learn to be tough on illegitimate jobs, for are we not the supporters of social democracy and of our right to live and work in a dignified manner? What I say to Uber employees is this: the treatment may be rough, but a more sustainable, more compassionate, more dignified economic structure is now closer than before.

 

George Baines

 

(Image courtesy of Fortune)