Carlos Rodríguez, vice-president of Taxi Project 2.0, a think tank in favour of the taxi sector in Spain and against Uberisation, writes for the Gig Economy Project about his battles at regional, national and European level, and why fighting alongside riders remains a top priority.
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When we decided to create Taxi Project it was clear to us that our objective was to fight for the rights of taxi workers at the highest levels of the main institutions. We know that it is there where companies such as Uber, Cabify, Bolt and Free Now have been pushing for years with their power, money and influence to be able to monopolise all passenger transport and subject both taxi drivers and users to their impositions, overriding rules and rights.
For years, despite suffering harassment from these companies, taxi drivers have been able to go ahead and win in the courts. The first was in 2017 when Élite Taxi Barcelona managed to get the CJEU to declare the “Uber Pop” service to be illegal. We also denounced Uber’s tax evasion to the Economic Crimes Prosecutor’s Office of the Audiencia Nacional (National High Court) in 2020.
Subsequently, Uber tried to change the laws together with Cabify and with the help of the CNMC (an independent public body in charge of preventing companies from abusing consumers) to force a liberalisation of taxis and VTCs. The aim was to eliminate any limitation provided for in the law to prevent an invasion of VTC vehicles in cities. We appealed to the Supreme Court, which again ruled in favour of the taxi drivers.
In 2020, both Cabify, Bolt and Uber itself, after suffering a significant drop in services caused by the pandemic, focused their efforts on working with taxis as well as VTC vehicles. This new strategy encountered strong opposition in Barcelona where their presence is minimal, as most Catalan taxi drivers have refused to work with Uber. In response to this, Uber denounced Elite Taxi and Taxi Project to the CNMC for considering that we were boycotting them, as our leaders publicly stated their opposition to working for them.
At the moment the CNMC, despite being dependent on the Spanish state, is presided over by Uber’s former lawyer who lost the case against Elite Taxi in the ECJ. The CNMC has also been singled out in the Uber Files because the Silicon Valley giant considered that it was one of the public institutions favourable to their business model and could facilitate their entry into Spain.
The ACCO, the CNMC’s delegation in Catalonia, has ordered Elite Taxi to pay a fine of 123,000 euros for this supposed ‘boycott’. Elite Taxi and Taxi Project consider that this is an attack on freedom of expression and that Uber is using the CNMC to annul our unions because we are a nuisance to them and they know that our weak point is the economic factor.
In 2023, the CJEU ruled again, stating that the limitations established by Spanish law on VTC vehicles, which had been ratified by the Supreme Court, were not in line with European law. In response, in June of this year the Spanish government drafted a new law limiting VTCs, which has already been denounced in Brussels by the main employers’ associations in the sector that work for Uber, Cabify and Bolt.
Finally, in the Community of Madrid the government of Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the PP (conservative right) has modified the transport laws to benefit Uber. We have filed an appeal of unconstitutionality against Ayuso’s government.
To summarise, we have open fronts in Europe, in the Spanish institutions and even in the autonomous communities. Despite being faced with all of this, we are also aware that we cannot limit our struggle to the taxis. We are organising ourselves with the rest of the workers who are suffering the consequences of this dehumanising business model, based on precariousness and loss of rights and with the sole aim of continuing to fatten the profit accounts of these companies and their investors.
Riders and taxi drivers are collectively affected by the uberisation of the economy, which is why we are uniting to put a stop to the policies of all these companies, because we know that Uber, Glovo, Cabify and Bolt’s desire to take over taxis and food delivery is not going to stop there. What we taxi drivers have suffered can in the future be suffered by any other group of workers.
For this reason, given the responsibility of riders and taxis to stop the abuses of these platforms, the TAS Observatory was created just over a year ago by Riders x Derechos, Élite Taxi Barcelona and Taxi Project 2.0.
The TAS Observatory has issued a lawsuit against Glovo for forming a cartel, and we have filed two criminal complaints against Uber Eats and Glovo itself.
The ‘Rider Law’ that came into force on 12 August 2021, approved by the Minister of Labour Yolanda Diaz, which obliged delivery companies to hire workers in order to put an end to the false self-employed model, led to Deliveroo leaving Spain. There has been more than 200 million euros in fines for Glovo, because despite the fact that in 2020 the Supreme Court ruled that there is an employment relationship between the workers and Glovo, the company continues to use the bogus self-employed model, for which the Glovo and Uber Eats’ executives are now even risking prison sentences.
In this case we accuse the Silicon Valley giant and the Spanish multinational of the crimes of tax and social security fraud, as well as the criminality of the continued use of false self-employed workers since 2017, thus violating the Rider Law.
We continue to move forward with all these objectives in mind and with the conviction that unity is strength. It has been very complicated because first of all, we are workers, we do not receive a salary for our trade union activity.
The actions we take to defend ourselves against the attacks of all these giants are done by wasting time that we should be spending on our work, our families and our rest. But that is the advantage that this neoliberal system thinks it is playing with, to keep us busy working so that we don’t have time to organise. And if it is complicated to organise a single collective as fragmented as the taxi industry, it is quite a feat to be able to unite with the riders.
But with a lot of hard work we are succeeding. In a short period of time we have gone from resisting the onslaught of giants, that seemed to be able to go over the heads of governments, to being able to organise ourselves and push them back. Knowing how to attack and what is the most suitable moment, and above all, demanding and claiming what is right in the courts, before public institutions and in the public eye.
This is only the beginning. As we have stated on many occasions, they will not make us back down and we will continue to face any company, institution or person who is attacking the rights of any comrade.