Uber warned its drivers in China last Friday to stay away from mass protests against the ride-sharing service in the interest of “social order,” and threatened to fire any driver caught lingering near a protest scene, the Wall Street Journal reports. The company said it intended to enforce the order by tracking drivers’ GPS records to catch anyone who might disobey.
As “ride-sharing” services start to catch on in China, drivers for Uber and its larger competitor, Didi Kuaidi, are finding themselves in conflict with traditional taxi who aren’t happy about the competition. In Hangzhou last week, Uber drivers confronted taxi drivers protesting in the streets against the onslaught of the app economy, the Journal reported.
A Bloomberg report describes cab drivers in six Chinese cities striking in protest of private ride-sharing services back in January, even blocking traffic and surrounding drivers for the app-based services.
According to Uber, one driver who was part of “an incident” at Friday’s protest is cooperating with authorities. The company says it’s telling others to stay away in order to “maintain social order.” But China’s ride-sharing drivers are restless after an official conducted a “sting” against Didi Kuaidi last week, hailing a driver and then impounding his car. Other Didi drivers surrounded the car, with the official still inside, and demanded their colleague be released.
This is exactly the sort of freedom of assembly that Uber is coming out against, likely because political pressure from taxi companies already threatens the company’s presence in China. Any disruption would be an excuse to shut Uber out, squandering a billion-dollar investment. Authorities visited Uber offices in two cities just last month, the Journal noted.
That’s not exactly a pro-labor, pro-human-rights position to take, nor is it in line with what Uber has done in the U.S., where it’s happy to have supporters campaign to bring its services to new cities. (Quartz cites a current effort in the Hamptons by way of example.)
But don’t accuse Uber of being inconsistent: forcing its drivers to “maintain social order” and keep silent about their grievances is absolutely in step with the company’s founding philosophy of putting profits and “disruption” over people.