Mass rideshare, delivery, and real estate industries gearing up propaganda campaigns to convince working people to vote against our own interests
A quick warning for working people as we move into this year’s political season in the Bay State: Beware astroturf groups.
Which are what, you ask? Fake grassroots organizations. Often well funded. Never what they seem at first blush. Typically throw-away nonprofits that will vanish as soon as their objectives are accomplished. Claiming mass membership they don’t have. Pretending to be just folks, but merely public relations outfits by other names.
In general, astroturf groups and campaigns are manufactured by major industries to convince working people to vote against our own interests. They pit their huge corporate bankrolls against growing movements for social change that threaten their future profits. Whatever they say, their sole purpose is always and everywhere to help the rich get richer. They know they can’t win fair fights against significant popular mobilizations. So they mimic the language and tactics of said mobilizations and attempt to gaslight enough of their constituencies to blunt their forward progress long enough to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Thus far this year, there are two astroturf efforts to watch in the Commonwealth. One focusing on screwing gig workers and the other focusing on screwing renters.
The first is the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, an astroturf group led by Uber, Lyft, and their special friends DoorDash and Instacart. Companies that literally only exist because they have misclassified their drivers as “independent contractors” from their inception. If they were ever actually forced to admit that those drivers were their employees because they control every aspect of their jobs—most tellingly their pay rate and all communications with their customers—the corporations in question would never have raked in billions in profits while their workforces struggled to make ends meet.
With labor unions and some state attorneys general like Maura Healey pushing them to do just that (and the UK Supreme Court having just recently issued a landmark decision making all 70,000 plus Albion-based drivers employees with regular wages, benefits, and pensions), Uber and Lyft and their ilk have been working overtime to shut such opponents down before they can score more wins.
Last year in California, companies exploiting gig drivers spent $200 million to pass the ballot-measure question Proposition 22 to exempt all of them from Assembly Bill 5—the state law that would have required rideshare and delivery companies to classify their drivers as employees and provide them with a minimum wage and benefits. That’s right, the rideshare and delivery industries have stolen so much money from their drivers over the years that they were able to spend enough to sucker Golden State workers at large—many of whom work lousy precarious jobs for those and myriad other similar companies—to vote against themselves and totally self-own.
Now Uber and friends are taking their show on the road. To states like ours where there’s a possibility of having to pay their workers fair wages and benefits—making it easier for those workers to organize into unions and really nail their bosses’ hides to the proverbial wall. And starting to spend fat wads of cash to replay their California success story.
The second new astroturf group is the Massachusetts Housing Coalition. Created by the same sector of the real estate industry that brought us the destruction of rent control in Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge in 1994—causing the immediate immiseration of tens of thousands of tenants (like me) and starting the landlord feeding frenzy that led directly to the insane rental market of the last quarter century. Made far worse by the pandemic and by politicians ongoing failure to really protect tenants with stopgap reforms like reinstituting rent control prior to finally launching the crash public programs necessary to build the tens of thousands of units of decent social housing that would end our region’s housing crisis (and homelessness) once and for all.
Both of these industry propaganda fronts have already started statewide operations in earnest. Meaning that working people in the Commonwealth have to steel ourselves for lashings of fake populist rhetoric featuring working-class-presenting spokesmodels willing to sell their souls for a fast buck (and sometimes even for free, pathetically) in the service of the greater glory of ever more obscene profits for the one percent.
More detail on this problem in future columns. But when you start seeing dozens of ads across all forms of media from these and other astroturf groups in the weeks to come, do us all a favor and vote for the exact opposite of whatever they want you to vote for. Because those votes will inevitably be for political changes that hurt profits for the CEOs, investors, and landlords backing them the most—resulting in better wages, benefits, job security, and housing security for working people like you and me. No matter what they say to the contrary.
Apparent Horizon—an award-winning political column—is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism’s Pandemic Democracy Project. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2021 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.