Uber, it seems, just cannot win outside the capital markets, where the networked-transportation company has raised billions of dollars. Uber’s latest and greatest defeat has occurred in France, where it seems to have succeeded in turning almost everybody in the nation against it, including the government.
Uber hater number one is French President Francois Hollande, who has gone out of his way to attack the app-based solution. The President effectively declared war upon Uber in a meeting with reporters in Brussels on June 26, 2015, Time reported.
“UberPop should be dissolved and declared illegal, and the seizure of vehicles must be enforced,” Hollande said. UberPop is the French equivalent of UberX. The French government, like many jurisdictions in the U.S., has cracked down on it because it allows taxi drivers to operate without insurance. “The sooner these rulings are made, the simpler the situation will be, especially for taxis.”
Chaos in the Streets
Hollande is not the only French official waging war on Uber; CNN reported that France’s top cop, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, has asked the Paris Police Authority for a decree banning Uber. Such a decree would allow gendarmes to seize vehicles from Uber drivers and presumably jail them.
Hollande and Bernard Cazeneuve’s actions against Uber are mild compared to those of French taxi drivers. News reports indicate that cab drivers blocked intersections and even went after some Uber cars with metal bats. One of those caught in the chaos was rocker Courtney Love, who took a very dim view of her experiences in France.
“They’ve ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage,” Love tweeted. “They’re beating the cars with metal bats. This is France?? I’m safer in Baghdad.”
Some Uber drivers were giving passengers they picked up at French airports baseball bats, CNN reported. Signs with messages like “Death to Uber” and “Uber Go Home” were seen on some taxis.
A few Uber cars were even burned in the streets as taxi drivers protested what they called “economic terrorism,” The New York Times reported. One reason why taxi operators are so angry is that they have to purchase an expensive professional chauffeur’s license, while UberPop drivers do not.
Another problem is that Uber is technically illegal in France, but the government has refused to enforce that law until courts rule on the service’s legality. Uber has been completely banned in some European countries, including Spain and Germany.
Chaos in France Points to Stark Future for Gig Economy
The violence in France raises some serious questions about the gig economy and the spread of its law-of-the-jungle brand of capitalism into new markets. Yes, solutions like Uber can create opportunities by allowing more people to participate in the market, but they also ignite civil unrest by threatening cushy middle-class jobs, like taxi driving, in some cities.
One interesting development here is the French taxi drivers’ highly effective use of old-fashioned real world tactics against Uber, including strikes, blocking streets and violence. Events in France show that digitally-based companies have no real defense against such methods, which is a disturbing revelation.
The threat of violence has been effective; it has spurred government action. Not surprisingly, the politicians are trying to buy labor peace by taking the route that will cost them the least number of votes: shutting down Uber. Faced with a choice between TV images of French police shooting or using batons on taxi drivers or pulling the plug on an unpopular American company, Hollande chose the course of least resistance.
There is a strong possibility the Uber protests could be the harbinger of labor violence and civil unrest in the 21st century. Instead of generating prosperity, the appearance of disruptive new technologies like Uber will trigger resistance and violence, particularly from uneducated or unsophisticated people that lack the knowledge or money to take advantage of them.
Will the Uber War Spread to America?
The Uber War is far from over in France, and it could soon spread to America. Lyft and other networked transportation vehicles could be plying the streets of Sin City by Labor Day, The Las Vegas Review Journal reported.
The Nevada Transportation Authority is reportedly drafting new rules that would enable solutions like Sidecar and Uber to operate legally in the Silver State by the end of summer. Last year Uber fled the state after police started confiscating its drivers’ vehicles at the request of the Authority.
One has to wonder if Nevada taxi drivers or cab companies will adopt the “French Solution” to Uber—use a combination of thuggery, civil disobedience and political pressure to run it out of town. My guess is that it is only a matter of time before some group of taxi drivers in the U.S. or Canada takes that route. One potential solution that is rooted in American “labor movement traditions” would be to pay gang members to beat up Uber drivers or smash their cars.
It will be interesting to see how authorities respond. Events like the Ferguson riots over the summer show that most U.S. police forces are neither equipped nor trained to deal with riots like their counterparts in France. The response of a lot of American cops to rampaging mobs would be to get out the shotgun or, worse, the M-16 and open fire.
Americans are also much less tolerant of such violence than the French. They demand the National Guard when mobs take to the streets, and governors often listen.
Instead of a new world of opportunity, the so-called “gig economy” could bring us the kind of labor violence Americans haven’t seen since late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, pitched battles between the National Guard, corporate mercenaries and strikers were a common occurrence, and the Regular Army sometimes had to be deployed to quell the unrest.
The worst such event, Colorado’s Ludlow Massacre, resulted in the deaths of 19 to 26 people, including some children. The massacre was part of a series of violent clashes known as the Colorado Coalfield War, which began as a strike by coal miners but escalated into a shooting war between unionists and the National Guard, in which 75 people died. It ended only when President Woodrow Wilson declared martial law and sent in the Army to disarm both strikers and strike breakers.
The brave new world of Social Darwinism and hucksterism Uber is creating does not look like a very nice place. Instead, it looks more and more like the harsh capitalism of the 19th century. One has to wonder how long such disruptions will be tolerated and how many leaders will follow Hollande’s lead and simply ban such disruptive technologies in an attempt to restore peace.