Uber, under the guidance of David Plouffe, Obama’s former campaign manager, is fighting back. Today’s New York Times has a story that sets out their legal case and suggests one argument might have traction, “that collective bargaining by independent contractors would amount to illegal price-fixing under anti-trust law.”
No irony is voiced in the article, but it should be noted that this was exactly the legal basis for the repression of unions in the nineteenth century–when a legal basis was even sought. Each worker is supposed to be an independent market competitor, right? So if they get together and demand a higher price for their labor, it’s a combination in restraint of trade. Because of this legal history it was necessary to get national legislation to carve out an exemption from anti-trust for labor.
So now here we are again. National labor law is broken; it doesn’t work for the workers it ostensibly covers, much less for the new proletariat in the gig economy. And in an age when a few behemoths dominate most markets and mergers between the companies with the highest market shares are routinely approved, labor may once again face the wrath of the state under the banner of anti-trust.
The technology may be new but the political economy is old and familiar.