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Necessity for a new kind of authority in which workers act and speak in their own name:
Uber Drivers Make Headway in Control over their Lives and Working Conditions
The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill 2019-2021 (the CHIS Bill, otherwise known as the "Spycops" Bill) is on the brink of receiving Royal Assent and becoming law after the final debate, agreeing the House of Lords' latest amendments, took place in the Commons on February 24. The Bill had been introduced in the House of Commons on September 24, 2020.
The Solicitor-General, Michael Ellis, in introducing the debate, went all out to claim that the CHIS Bill was a necessity in order to give statutory footing to undercover agents participating in criminal activity. It is certainly repugnant that the government has rejected excluding heinous crimes from being unlawful, using the twin, but contradictory, arguments that to do so is unnecessary as their prohibition is covered by the Human Rights Act, but at the same time these terrible crimes may have to be committed - in order to prevent the unmasking of the agents - as necessary to bring "terrorists" and others to justice. On the face of it, this flies in the face of reason. The Bill specifically authorises criminal activity including murder, rape, torture, perverting the course of justice and all other crimes defined by civil society committed by undercover police agents and other intelligence services. This clearly also covers provocateur activity. Authorisations will be known as cr iminal conduct authorisations (CCAs).
But there is something deeper at work here. It exposes the reality that for the state of the ruling class, setting its agents and assassins in motion, the "rule of law" is nothing other than the rule of police powers. The force of law is given to the police powers, and that is that. It is not that the Bill "goes too far". Powers are being enacted without limit, and are being reinforced by arguments that this is in the national interest. But who decides? In fact, that "rule of law" is the mode of operation of the British state, committing acts of racism, assassination, terrorism, and then claiming that undercover and political policing is necessary by blaming the people for such acts. In other words, these arbitrary powers, which the state squirms to portray as legal, must be considered not as exceptional and needing to be codified, but making what is supposed to be covert into overt policy, despite all the ongoing attempts of the people's forces to oppose, subvert and condemn it.
This Bill is going hand in hand with the passage through Parliament of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, at present at the Committee stage in the House of Lords, which gives immunity from prosecution to British soldiers for crimes including torture and genocide. That Bill would also protect the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State from legal claims to damages.
These two Bills together confirm that police powers are not just a matter of particular police forces, but refer to the arbitrary powers of the executive and the judiciary in the spheres of war and peace, crime and punishment and any other matters they see fit to decide to pursue. It cannot be claimed that these Bills are for the people's security or the protection of rights. In reality, they are designed to wipe out or keep in check the adversaries of the person of state, defended by sword and crook. It can be argued that one reason the powers-that-be are so determined that there should be no writing of history but their own writing, and at the very least advocate a so-called balance within historical accounts, is that they are desperate that the people at large should not draw the conclusions regarding the present from the historical facts of crimes against humanity, genocide, crimes of famine and starvation, torture, assassinations, massacres, rape and savagery against the colon ised peoples as well as the people of Britain themselves when they failed to toe the line of the ruling class.
The crimes committed against the Irish people are a case in point, where the most brutal attempts to quell the heroic struggle for Irish independence from British rule and annexation have been committed. The demands for justice for the crimes of British colonialism in Africa and elsewhere are still resounding.
The state organises and itself commits acts of terrorism, acts of aggression and intervention, sometimes overt, sometimes covert, all in the name of the rule of law and of a rule-based international order. In summary, these police powers are not just a case of bad behaviour and undercover agents abusing their powers and overstepping the mark. It is the case that Britain has a long history of using secret police to commit all manner of crimes to defend whoever is in power at the time. The Mitting Inquiry, for example, has the remit of investigating such crimes from the time of the Vietnam War and since. The CHIS Bill, along with the Overseas Operations Bill, are moves to ensure that the state forces of undercover agents, the armed forces - including what is being touted as operations somewhere between war and peace - and the police are given increased licence to act with impunity.
At the same time, the police powers are also the powers behind the throne, the means by which the state attempts to maintain its rule against the movements of the working class and people for their rights, security and ultimately the achievement of their own decision-making power.
After a legal battle fought by Uber taxi drivers through the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) and the GMB since 2015, the Supreme Court passed its final ruling upholding three earlier court decisions that Uber drivers work for the company and are not self-employed. After two previous appeals, Uber has no further right to challenge this decision.
To state that Uber drivers work for Uber is stating the obvious in the eyes of most people. However, Uber taxis are part of the "gig economy" being foisted upon many workers at present, which is developing under large gig monopolies like Uber, Deliveroo and others, with the aim of disrupting the most basic employment arrangements to the detriment of all. Gig workers are not afforded their rights and conditions under normal contracts, and can be employed or not employed at the drop of a hat. They do not have the usual, established arrangements of sick pay, breaks or holiday entitlement afforded to workers on standard contracts.
The fraudulent claim of companies like Uber is that they merely operate as booking agencies for independent contractors. But their disruption to employment relations and the labour market does nothing to change the fundamental social relation that exists between workers and those who buy their capacity to work. The reality is that they employ workers on a massive scale, exercise total control over working conditions and seize vast amounts of profit from the new value their workers produce.
Uber does not provide cars to drivers: the driver provides the car and maintains it. The owner must be listed as an insured driver on the vehicle's private insurance policy. Uber drivers are responsible for covering the cost of petrol and ensuring the comfort and safety of the passengers. It is a highly lucrative and profitable industry as the normal overheads associated with traditional taxis and minicabs do not exist for the controlling company, these having been passed to the drivers.
Uber drivers are subject to zero-hour terms, and the rate of pay itself is poor. Further, the company applies pressure for total flexibility from the drivers it employs, whose working routine is under the automated control of its software platform. Arguing that drivers are self-employed, Uber has been insistent that they should only be considered working when driving passengers, not during the whole period of time when logged onto the app, meaning that driver waiting time is unpaid. It is a significant victory that successive courts, and now the Supreme Court, have thrown out this argument. The ruling also means that the workers are entitled to back pay and compensation.
The decision of the court provides legal leverage to the drivers' demand for greater control over their conditions of work and their lives, in opposition to the aims of the monopolies that employ them, and is therefore a political victory for all workers in the gig economy.
Uber was first taken to an employment tribunal by drivers Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar in 2015, centred on establishing a legal precedent that Uber drivers are employed by Uber, and as such are entitled to rights such as the minimum wage and holiday pay. Aslam and Farrar went on to found United Private Hire Drivers, now the ADCU, registered as an official union in July last year . The tribunal ruled in the drivers' favour in 2016, after which Uber launched a number of appeals culminating in the Supreme Court ruling.
"I think it's a massive achievement in the way that we were able to stand up against a giant," said Mr Aslam. "We didn't give up and we were consistent - no matter what we went through emotionally or physically or financially, we stood our ground."
GMB national officer Mick Rix called it a "historic win", saying: "The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of three previous courts, backing up what GMB has said all along; Uber drivers are workers and entitled to breaks, holiday pay and minimum wage. Uber must now stop wasting time and money pursuing lost legal causes and do what's right by the drivers who prop up its empire. GMB will now consult with our Uber driver members over their forthcoming compensation claim."
Uber is a global monopoly operating in over 10,000 cities in 69 countries, employing 4 million drivers and 22,000 other staff, delivering 7 billion trips and taking $65 billion in gross bookings in 2019 . As well as taxis, Uber deals in food delivery via its subsidiaries Uber Eats, Postmates and Zomato.
Such global oligarchs are using software platforms to target transport and delivery in particular. The potential of scientific advances is to favour the interests of society, increasing efficiency and reducing impact on the environment through the improvements in planning that it could allow. Instead, these oligarchs use technology to disrupt markets with the aim of private expansion of their control over the economy in competition with both their rivals and existing, traditional forms of transport and delivery.
These oligarchs have built up a giant gig economy as a means to abdicate responsibility for the wellbeing of those they employ and for the provision of the materials and conditions of their work. They aim to sidestep the established labour market, avoiding wage standards by defining away their workers as self-employed, as well as the market for their product, in this case rides, setting prices without restriction. They seek to exploit all loopholes to which their business model gives rise in order to avoid taxes and obscure from any public authority the added-value they expropriate. Further, their refusal to recognise workers as workers translates into a refusal to recognise their workers' union rights and rights to make collective agreements.
The assertion that workers employed under the app management model are not actually workers at all but self-employed aims to deny the social relation they stand in with those who hire them. Within this relation are issues of control over terms of employment and working conditions, and under this management model, the level of control is near total.
One feature that was exposed during the legal battle is just how much control Uber have over their workers' lives. It was legally recognised that Uber's setting of fares means that these so-called self-employed drivers have no say on what they earn. The only way to earn more is to increase the number of hours worked. Neither have the drivers a say over their contract terms. Uber monitors performance via a star-rating system carrying the threat of termination. Uber also penalises drivers who turn down enough rides, the number again being set by Uber. Importantly, the court recognised drivers' "position of subordination".
Looked at from the point of view of who is in control, Uber and similar monopolies argue that, if it is anyone, it is certainly not them. We are just a booking agency, they claim, putting people who want a ride in touch with others who can provide it! They would have us believe that they are simply enablers, and it is the drivers who are in control. In so doing, they are arguing for their own superfluousness. The issue is, who runs the app, and what happens to the value that the drivers produce in taking people from A to B? Who decides the working conditions of those drivers?
A locally-organised system utilising software such as an app to efficiently organise transport in the service of a particular community could be a big advance on current methods. This is blocked by the control taken over these modern techniques by the big business and the financial oligarchs that are in command.
The legal victory, and the organisation it took to achieve it, is a double win. Not only does it set a precedent that reflects the reality that gig workers are employed workers, but it is also a critical step in the direction of these workers organising themselves in defence of their rights and claims on the value they create. Ultimately, the need is to organise a new direction for the economy. The victory raises the question of who has control over their working conditions, and who decides how and with what aim their work should be organised.
The win has been called historic, with profound implications for the whole gig economy. These implications can only be realised by a public authority that is willing and able to ensure that the gig monopolies comply with them, that the ruling is not avoided or simply ignored or declared to apply in a limited way or to only a few gig workers. It is up to workers to constitute this new kind of authority in which they act and speak in their own name.
1. According to the ADCU, it organised the first national strike (#UStrike) against Uber in 2018. More recently, it initiated the founding of the International Alliance of App Based Transport Workers (IAATW) after a conference held in Oxford in January 2020, the first ever such gathering of app-based transport workers, involving drivers from over 23 countries.
See https://www.adcu.org.uk and |https://iaatw.org.
2. Uber, 2020 Proxy Statement and Notice of Annual Meeting of Stockholders
On February 11, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, set out in a speech in Parliament  the government's White Paper on "the future of health and care", entitled "Integration and Innovation: Working together to improve health and social care for all" . That the legislation is more about the future of health and care rather than "integration", "innovation" and "working together" was revealed by public health specialists Allyson Pollock and Peter Roderick in a BMJ blog post on the same day . They pointed out that these proposals were "the wrong proposals at the wrong time" and "far from reversing the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, as has been widely reported", the proposals "consolidate the paradigm that the 2012 act strengthened and which the government has favoured during the Covid-19 pandemic". In other words, this paradigm is the wrong direction towards a privatised system of health and social care being rolled out on the back of the present health crisis.
Matt Hancock claimed that the legislation is about "integration within the NHS" to remove some of the "cumbersome boundaries to collaboration", although he referred not just to the NHS and local government bodies but to what he called "wider delivery partners". These, of course, are private corporations, which the government is keen to include more and more in the health and social care system.
It will also be remembered that during the pandemic the government has got used to handing out contracts worth vast sums of money to wealthy individuals and corporations without "cumbersome boundaries to collaboration". In fact, only last week a court ruled that Matt Hancock had acted unlawfully  when his department did not reveal details of contracts it had signed during the Covid-19 pandemic. This says a lot about the "cumbersome boundaries" that the government wants to remove in this legislation on the NHS.
The announcement by the government followed a hurried so-called consultation by NHS England from November 26, 2020, finishing on January 8, when most people, including those in the NHS and local authorities, were focused on the coronavirus crisis. The document on which that consultation was based, "Integrated Care: next steps to build strong and effective integrated care systems across England", detailed their vision for "a more effective and responsive care system across England". Pre-empting the White Paper, and without any legislation in place, they stated: "This document sets out how NHS organisations, local councils, front-line professionals and others [our emphasis] will join forces in an integrated care system (ICS) in every part of England from April 2021." Actually, the ICS, for example, is already up and running in the north east and Cumbria with the Chief Executive and Board members appointed, even without statutory powers to commission services.
This direction outlined now in the White Paper will abolish local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and set up regional Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) as part of the "long term NHS plan" and allegedly learning the "lessons of the pandemic". This is intended to become law in April 2022. This would give much more power for corporate decisions to be made away from local areas in favour of private consultancies and health corporations, at a time when the government has been drastically cutting the budgets of NHS Trusts over many years. This has led to forced financial mergers, the closure of hospital beds en masse at local hospital acute and mental health services, as well as losses of community services. It has also been a deliberate path of continuing to force the NHS to contract out ever more services to private hospitals at huge financial cost.
The White Paper says that "we will put pragmatism at the heart of the system," claiming they are "Enabling the NHS and local authorities to arrange healthcare services to meet current and future challenges by ensuring that public and taxpayer value - and joined up care - are first and foremost." This will require "changes to both competition law as it was applied to the NHS in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and the system of procurement applied to the NHS by that legislation" (our emphasis).
It should be said that to put pragmatism at the heart of the system is to put the same corrupt decisions supposedly aimed at "getting things done" in business and public affairs that the government has been using over the pandemic, decisions that serve private interests and are not based on public authority and the necessity to keep our health and other services publicly provided and accountable to the communities and people they serve in the short and long term.
Speaking about the competition law and system of procurement, Pollock and Roderick point out: "The core elements of the disastrous Lansley reforms remain in place: no duty on the government to provide key services throughout England to everybody; entitlement to services dependent on membership, now of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), in the future of 'Integrated Care System (ICS) NHS bodies,' though abolition of CCGs is implied, not expressed; commercial contracts and the purchaser-provider split still the basis for delivering services; foundation trusts still able to receive 49% of their income from outside the NHS; and public health functions and communicable disease control remain outside the NHS." They point out: "Decisions on reconfiguration and funding will be provider driven and at scale, implementing 'proposals developed by clinical and operational networks' rather than based on the needs of local communities. This market paradigm is very different from area-based auth orities with responsibility for planning, and administering local services to meet local needs. Integrated Care Systems will be able 'to delegate significantly to place level and to provider collaboratives,' including the use of 'fully-fledged integrated care provider [ICP] contractual models.' Place levels are not defined. Provider collaboratives are not defined either, but are self-determined, with no required local connection and clearly open to multinational private companies and monopoly power."
The authors say that, according to NHS England, "A statutory 'ICS NHS body' ... will receive a 'single pot budget' which will merge the budgets for general practice with acute and other services. It will 'take on' the CCG and some NHS England commissioning functions. Its board will include representatives of NHS trusts, local authorities and general practice 'and others determined locally.' General practices taken over by US corporations would be included. No controls are proposed over whom the other board members may be. They could therefore include, for example, private hospital groups, nursing home chains and the 67 companies awarded a £10 billion contract last November for NHS inpatient, day case, pathology and imaging services, urgent elective care, cancer treatment, and diagnostic services."
The White Paper is also almost silent on how the alignment of health and social care services and funding of health and social care will take place. In the 1990s, the Conservative and Labour governments respectively separated and continued the separation of the funding between "health" care and "social" care. It introduced charges and "means testing" for "social" care. This one measure was used to privatise the elderly care-home sector and social care and the closure of NHS elderly care wards and hospitals. The White Paper's only reference to this is that the government will "also bring forward changes in social care, public health and mental health" and that the government also remains "committed to the sustainable improvement of adult social care" and will "bring forward proposals this year".
Whilst the White Paper remains vague on so many of these vital questions in maintaining a universal system of health and social care, it is very clear on the powers of the government to intervene in the NHS for those interests it represents. The White Paper says that the legislation "will merge NHS England and NHS Improvement", it will be placed on a "statutory footing" and will be designated as "NHS England". This will be complemented by "enhanced powers of direction for the government" over the newly merged body.
Whereas the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 had legislated to remove the explicit duty of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to provide a comprehensive health service and instead only "promote" this service, the White Paper proposes this duty be restored in that "the Secretary of State will be empowered to set the direction for the NHS and intervene where necessary". It is clear what this direction is! And the Health Secretary will be responsible, but unaccountable for their irresponsibility! The government expects that the new legislation will be designed as a new model of handing out contracts to the private sector without any "cumbersome" regulatory systems of procurement and market bureaucracy. This is the model that they now want and, though the game is the same as it was before, now the government wants to be more hands-on in handing out the contracts.
This is an all-round wrong direction towards a privatised system of health and social care being rolled out on the back of the present health crisis. What is needed is a new direction where public authorities based on health staff and on people in the communities they serve are empowered to directly speak about their needs and participate in making the decisions. A human-centred system providing a universal and publicly provided health and social care system at the highest level which is free to all is the requirement of the times.
1. "The future of health and care", Matt Hancock, Oral Statement to Parliament, February 11, 2021
2. "Integration and Innovation: Working together to improve health and social care for all", Policy Paper, February 11, 2021
3. "A new bill to reform the NHS in England: the wrong proposals at the wrong time", Peter Roderick, principal research associate, Newcastle University, and Allyson M. Pollock, professor of public health, Newcastle University, February 11, 2021
4. In his ruling, Mr Justice Chamberlain said: "There is now no dispute that, in a substantial number of cases, the secretary of state breached his legal obligation to publish contract award notices within 30 days of the award of contracts."
Unite the union is demanding that Crossrail takes immediate action to ensure that workers are not denied basic employment rights. The problem on the troubled public sector rail project in London involves the use of electricians at the hugely delayed Bond Street station who are being given the bogus classification of "self-employed".
Under the rules governing the building of Crossrail, there is a requirement that workers are directly employed (standard PAYE) and paid per the relevant national construction agreement. Unite has been informed by Crossrail that it has "not abandoned any commitments and will absolutely not allow exploitation of any kind".
However, at the Bond Street station, where the principal contractor is Engie which has replaced the Costain/Skanska joint venture after it failed to complete the station, a number of directly employed electricians engaged by sub-contractor NCCL were recently made redundant, while those who were bogusly self-employed continued working at the station.
Due to the rules on direct employment in place on the project, the work will have been tendered on that basis. By using bogusly self-employed workers, companies avoid paying employers national insurance contributions which are 13.5 per cent of earnings and furthermore do not pay holiday pay or sick pay, dramatically increasing their profits. As a consequence workers are denied all employment rights.
Unite has attempted to resolve its concerns with Engie's senior management without success. It is now pursuing the matter with Crossrail and will raise its concerns directly with London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: "Unite has had reassurances from Crossrail that the rules on direct employment remain in place. It is now essential that Crossrail takes decisive action to ensure its rules are upheld and this misuse of taxpayers' money is immediately ended.
"Rules on directly employing workers are essential in construction as it creates a level playing field and prevents works being exploited, ensuring they receive basic employment rights such as holiday pay.
"It is highly disturbing that the direct employment rules appear to be being ignored and it is essential to ascertain if any company on Crossrail is boosting its profits by not employing workers correctly.
"Taxpayers will be alarmed that it appears that work is being tendered on the basis of direct employment but workers are being recruited on cheaper inferior terms. This must be fully investigated.
"Unite has contacted Sadiq Khan directly. The London Mayor is ultimately responsible for the Crossrail project and should be highly concerned that such practices are occurring on his watch."
(Tim Lezard, Union News)
British Gas engineers began four days of further strike action from Friday, February 26, to Monday, March 1, their 23rd to 26th strike days, as parent company Centrica announced adjusted operating profits of almost £700 million. Preliminary results for the year ending December 2020  show that Centrica recorded £699 million in adjusted operating profits, and a £52 million statutory profit compared to an £849 million loss in the previous 12 months. This is according to the company's own accounts. Around 7,000 British Gas engineers are demanding that the company withdraw its plan to sack them all and rehire them on worse terms and conditions. Their demand is: "No to Fire and Re-Hire!"
Talks between GMB and British Gas have taken place at ACAS, but GMB says the company's refusal to withdraw its fire-and-rehire plan remains the main obstacle to a potential resolution. The Field staff bargaining group rejected the fire and rehire cuts in December and has already taken part in day of strike action.
GMB national secretary Justin Bowden said on Friday: "Last summer, when British Gas decided on fire and rehire pay cuts for gas engineers, it was already a profitable company - as yesterday's results confirm. So there is no need to hurt workers, customers and shareholders. Refusing to take fire and rehire off the table is the main obstacle to a settlement at ACAS.
"Strike days 23 to 26 will go ahead at British Gas from today and GMB's executive has determined action could continue to mid-April in this deadlocked dispute. After 22 days of strikes, more than 230,000 homes are in a backlog for repairs and 300,000 planned annual service visits have been axed. The company is misleading the media that it is catching up after 24 hours."
(Tim Lezard, Union News)
For further details and analysis of the strike, see
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