The Gig Economy Project
The Gig Economy ProjectSep 01, 2023
Marx, piece wages & the gig economy: Interview w/ Dr Matthew Cole
The gig economy is often talked about as ‘the future of work’, but if we look at history we find that its wage model - paying per output, rather than per hour - actually goes back hundreds of years.
In the 19th century, this was called ‘piece wages’, paying literally for each piece of material produced. Philosopher and economist Karl Marx wrote a critique of piece wages in one of the most influential economic texts of all time, Capital.
For Marx, piece wages are, like time-wages, a form of capitalist exploitation of the worker’s labour. The difference is that piece wages created a greater sense of individuality and competitiveness among workers, and therefore was a useful tool to motivate workers to work longer hours, more intensely and to lower their average wage.
Can Marx’s critique of piece wages give us insight into the gig economy today?
To discuss this and more, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator Ben Wray, who recently wrote about Marx and the gig economy in GEP's newsletter, is joined by Doctor Matthew Cole, who is a Lecturer in Technology, Work and Employment at the University of Sussex in the UK. Matt is an Associate Fellow of the Fairwork Project (which examines platform work) and the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre. He’s also a committed socialist and trade unionist.
01:45: Piece wages from Marx’s time to today
15:18: Piece wages and the illusion of independence
20:39: Piece wages and migrant workers
24:06: Wage theft and the gig economy
30:18: Is platformisation a new epoch of capitalism?
38:26: The UK Labour Party, the gig economy and employment status
Has Austria's collective bargaining system tamed the food delivery platforms? Interview with Robert Walasinski
When food delivery platforms land in a country, they arrive into pre-existing labour market and industrial relations norms. In some countries, those norms can be relatively conducive to the business model which these platforms want to impose, while in others it can make things more complicated for the platforms.
Austria is a case of the latter. In Austria collective bargaining remains at the heart of industrial relations, including in the private sector, with almost all workers covered by a collective agreement, even if they are not in a union. Works Councils exist which give workers some degree of insight and influence over corporate decision-making. While trade unions are not as strong as they once were, they are much more firmly rooted in the economy than in most European countries.
How has the food delivery sector fitted into this picture in Austria? What success have unions had in curbing the excesses of food delivery platforms? And what can unions and riders in other countries learn from union organising in Austrian food delivery?
To discuss all this and more, the Gig Economy Project spoke to Robert Walasinski, project manager of the Riders Collective, which is part of the International Department of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB).
01:50: Have food delivery platforms disrupted Austria’s social partnership model of industrial relations?
22:18: Union organising in Austria’s food delivery sector
31:15: Wolt’s entry into the Austrian market
34:50: The importance of gig worker organising internationally
The urban dimension in food delivery struggle: The story of the Riders Union Bologna
How does the urban space and urban politics shape the relationship between food delivery platforms and their riders? In an article published in Social Europe at the end of June, Maurilio Pirone explores this question through the experience of the Riders Union in Bologna, which he was a founding member of.
The Riders Union was an inspiring example of workers’ self-organisation. Beginning with strikes and blockades in Bologna, the riders quickly realised they had to build alliances with riders in other cities and take their demands to politicians in Rome.
Pirone is now a junior researcher in the Inca project at the University of Bologna, and a member of the ‘Into the Black Box’ collective. In this podcast, the Gig Economy Project speaks to Pirone about:
01:36: The story of the Riders Union in Bologna
18:59: The urban dimension in food delivery struggles
36:08: The contemporary dynamics in the Italian platform economy and Italian politics
‘The alligators’: How Croatia legitimised the role of sub-contractors in the platform economy - Interview w/ Sunčica Brnardić
Sub-contracting in the platform economy is an increasingly pertinent issue in numerous countries across Europe, but no more so than in Croatia. In the south-east European nation, 80% of platform workers operate through sub-contractors, which are known locally as ‘aggregators’.
The aggregator system has been widely condemned by unions and workers in Croatia due to the shady, and sometimes illegal, practices of the managers, The fact that they also take around 10% of the workers’ wage, despite offering very few services to the worker, has led many workers to describe them as ‘the alligators’.
In December, the Croatian Government passed legislation which formalised the role of aggregators in Croatia’s platform economy. The law is due to come into force in January 2024. The Croatian Government has also advocated for the role of intermediary companies at EU level, in the context of the Platform Work Directive, which remains under debate among member-states at the Council of the EU.
To discuss all of this and more, the Gig Economy Project spoke to Sunčica Brnardić, Executive Secretary for Labour and Social Law at the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (SSSH/UATUC). Brnardić has been lobbying the Croatian Government to amend the law so that the platforms are the direct employers, not the aggregators. In this podcast, we discuss:
1:41: The Croatian platform economy
06:28: What is the aggregator system in Croatia?
15:20: Croatia’s new platform work law
22:50: Sub-contracting and the EU Platform Work Directive
26:11: Wolt, sub-contracting and strikes in Zagreb
34:05: Key challenges for union organising in the gig economy
Gendered digital labour: Interview with Al James
The online, desk-based gig economy, sometimes known as cloudwork or crowdwork, has been growing rapidly in recent years. Everything from transcriptions to legal services can be bought by clients on digital labour platforms like freelancer.com from gig workers anywhere in the world.
Cloudwork has been touted as a gender-inclusive form of labour which eliminates gender biases and gives women the freedom to live the working lives that suits them. Upwork promotes its platform as being “for a new generation of women” who can build “careers that lead to both financial and personal freedom”. Academic studies have talked up cloudwork’s potential to “help women sidestep traditional barriers”.
Al James, professor of Economic Geography at Newcastle University, has a more critical view of the gendered aspects of digital labour. For the last half-decade he has been interviewing female online gig workers in the UK to find out why they do online gig work and what their experience of it has been. He summarises many of his findings on his research project website, Gendered Digital Labour.
In this podcast, the Gig Economy Project speaks to James about his recently published paper, “Women in the gig economy: Feminising ‘digital labour’”.
01:00: What motivates James’ research?
03:47: What do female online gig workers have in common?
10:28: The discourse about female online gig work versus the reality
22:53: Female exploitation and abuse on online digital labour platforms
34:13: Platform care work
42:33: Lack of feminist perspectives in academic research on the platform economy
(Picture by Jennie Temple. See more of Jennie's art at the Gendered Digital Labour site (research funded by the British Academy).)
Algorithms, Work and the European Directive - Interview with James Farrar and Sergi Cutillas
The Platform Work Directive has reached a crucial stage. The European Parliament’s Employment Committee has backed a text led by the parliament’s Rapporteur, Elisabetta Gualmini, which would strengthen the provisions for workers in the initial draft published by the European Commission in December 2021. A vote will take place in January of the whole Parliament on the Gualmini text.
Meanwhile, the Council of the EU failed to come to an agreement on its proposed changes, after the Czech Presidency of the Council sought to push the Directive in a pro-platform lobby direction. When the Council eventually does come to a decision, the Parliament and the Council may have to work out how to reconcile two texts moving in opposite directions.
Thus, there may still be an opportunity for workers’ to influence the final outcome of a Directive that will have a profound impact on platform workers’ rights in Europe and beyond. In that context, the recent intervention into the debate over the Directive by UK-based Worker Info Exchange (WIE) and Spanish-based The Observatory of Work, Algorithms & Society (TAS) is significant.
"Workers’ Recommendations on the Draft EU Platform Work Directive” was published by WIE and TAS earlier this month. The report is the most comprehensive proposal for how the Directive should be improved to come from worker organisations in Europe so far.
To discuss the report, and the work of WIE and TAS more broadly, the Gig Economy Project spoke to its authors. James Farrar is the founder and director of WIE, as well as General Secretary of the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU), which led the historic defeat of Uber at the UK Supreme Court last year. Sergi Cutillas is an economist and researcher, who is a member of TAS and has conducted research for taxi union Elité Taxi Barcelona.
In this podcast, we discuss:
01.30: How did the collaboration between WIE and TAS come about?
08:10: A presumption of employment for platform workers?
20:21: Algorithmic management and the need for a ‘human model’ in the platform work directive
38:52: The roots of WIE and TAS, and next steps
Data power in the gig economy: Interview with data expert Jessica Pidoux
They call data the oil of the 21st century. Without it, the digital economy as we know it would grind to a halt. And just like oil, unrefined data is pretty useless - it’s what you do with the data that makes it valuable.
What is done with data, and who has power over it, is what preoccupies Jessica Pidoux, director of the NGO PersonalData.IO and a lecturer in the sociology of data at SciencesPo university in Paris.
Pidoux has studied the algorithms of match-dating apps like Tinder, finding they re-produce sexist and patriarchal practices. And she has also applied her data techniques to the gig economy, working, along with her colleagues at Hestia Labs, with an Uber driver in Geneva, Switzerland, to analyse his data at work and understand what information the platforms are keeping to themselves, as we wrote about on the Gig Economy Project (GEP) earlier this week.
Speaking at an event in the European Parliament in September on alternatives to Uberisation, Pidoux said: “Workers can take back this data power.”
In this podcast, GEP speaks to Pidoux to find out more about her critique of data power in the platform economy, what she thinks the alternative is and how she is helping workers build their data power. We discuss:
01:02: Why does data matter and what’s the problem with the status quo?
03:33: The case of Cabify and the Catalan Minister of Transport
07:03: What’s the alternative to a platform-dominated data economy?
09:24: An Uber driver in Geneva’s pursuit of his data
19:20: The Rider’s Law and trade unions accessing the data
22:30: Pidoux’s academic work and Tinder investigation
28:35: How PersonalData.Io can help you access your data
Sweden’s election, the Nordic model and the gig economy - interview w/ GigWatch’s Felix Söderberg & Jacob Lundberg
Sweden goes to the polls on 11 September, in an election that comes in the midst of Europe’s twin economic and geopolitical crisis, with the war in Ukraine rumbling on and inflation surging across the continent.
What could the election mean for Sweden’s gig economy? Sweden has been traditionally associated with strong trade unions and a collaborative relationship with management, in what is called the Swedish model (or ‘the Nordic model’). But the country has been slow in responding to the emergence of the gig economy, and has been the only EU member-state to object to the EU platform work directive, which is currently going through the legislative process.
A new report by GigWatch, a non-profit initiative to examine the reality of the gig economy in Sweden, looks at the attitude of Sweden’s main political parties towards the gig economy, and analyses the prospects for regulatory change following the election.
To discuss the report, the Gig Economy Project spoke to Felix Söderberg and Jacob Lundberg, trade-union activists and members of GigWatch. We discuss:
01:06: An overview of the gig economy in Sweden
04:20: GigWatch’s research on Sweden’s political parties’ attitudes towards the gig economy
10:04: The EU Platform work directive and the Swedish model - resistance to change
23:10: Gig worker organising and trade unions in Sweden
30:32: The gig economy in Sweden after the election
Why Uber has failed and what's next - interview with Paris Marx
The Uber Files revelations have let a thousand questions bloom about this Silicon Valley company that has broken all the rules, accumulated massive power over cities across the globe, but has never achieved a profit, and has so far failed in many of its stated ambitions to transform the transport sector for good.
To begin to piece together some answers, the Gig Economy Project spoke to Paris Marx, host of the popular ‘Tech Won’t Save Us’ podcast and author of new book ‘Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation’, published by Verso in July.
In this podcast, we discuss:
01:04: Key takeaways from the Uber Files and the reaction to it
12:15: Silicon Valley’s vision for transport and why it has failed
26:55: What changes should we make to the transport system?
34:28: What next for Uber?
'Life is a game': Laura Carrer and Luca Quagliato discuss their film on being a rider in the city
What is it really like to be a rider in the city? Laura Carrer, freelance journalist on tech and its implications for digital and human rights, and Luca Quagliato, freelance video maker and photographer who previously worked as a rider, explore this theme in an upcoming documentary, which will include footage of riders explaining their reality across Europe and an animation depicting the experience of being a rider.
The film will be released early next year on IRPI Media, an Italian investigation news room which has published a series of investigations on platform work in Italy in it’s ‘Life is a Game’ series.
In this podcast, Ben Wray, co-ordinator of the Gig Economy Project, met with the two Milanese in Berlin, one of five European cities where they have been filming riders.
01:08: Why food delivery?
04:58: The reality of food delivery in Italy
12:08: What they learnt from speaking to riders all across Europe
16:22: The animation part of the documentary, gamification and the role of riders in the city
25:57: How can people see the documentary?
Work and resistance in Germany's platform economy - Interview with Oğuz Alyanak
Germany is Europe’s largest economy, and it’s also a key site for Europe’s digital labour platforms, both as a major market and a source of venture capital funding for start-up’s in the gig economy.
Berlin, in particular, is the second most popular city in Europe for venture capital funding, and is the home of Delivery Hero, one of the world’s largest food delivery platforms, and Gorillas, the first European tech start-up to become a ‘Unicorn’ - achieve a valuation over €1 billion - within a year.
And where there is digital labour platforms, there is platform workers. Over the past 18 months, Berlin has been one of the hotbeds of platform worker resistance in Europe, most notably at Gorillas, where workers have dared to shutdown warehouses at a moment’s notice to fight for better working conditions, and established the first Worker’s Council at a food delivery platform.
Oğuz Alyanak, a cultural anthropologist at the Technical University of Berlin, has been following all of this through his work as a post-doctorate with Fair Work, the academic-action project which rates digital labour platforms based on how fair there working conditions are. Alyanak was one of the authors of the German Fair Work platform ratings report in March, and has also been actively involved in the movement of food and grocery delivery workers in the city, attending demonstrations and picket lines.
The Gig Economy Project caught up with Alyanak in Berlin to get his thoughts on the movement in Berlin and the platform economy in Germany more broadly. In this podcast, we discuss:
01:30: The Berlin food and grocery delivery workers movement
17:12: The recent jobs cuts in the sector
23:30: What’s distinct about Germany’s platform economy?
28:16: The problem of sub-contracting in the platform economy
33:50: The platform economy beyond transport delivery
‘We are still fighting against Macron, only now at the European level’: Interview with Edouard Bernasse of the Collective of Autonomous Platform Delivery Workers (CLAP)
France has been the beating heart of many of the great labour disputes of the past, and now it is at the centre of the debate over the future of work in Europe’s digital economy.
Last week, the French Parliament passed a ‘social dialogue law’, which President Emmanuel Macron’s government says will provide a basis for ‘independent’ gig workers to negotiate with the food delivery and ride-hail platforms they work for. Opponents on the left have described the law as “the institutionalisation of Uberisation”.
Meanwhile, Macron has just taken up the rotating Presidency of the EU Council as it considers the EU Commission’s ‘Platform Work Directive’, which proposed a presumption of employment for platform workers. Macron - widely considered to be an ally of the digital platforms - may use his influence on the council to amend the Directive.
Finally, the French Presidential elections are just a few months away, which could have a big impact on what happens next in France’s gig economy.
Edouard Bernasse is co-founder and secretary-general of the Collective of Autonomous Platform Delivery Workers (CLAP) in Paris. In this podcast, we discuss:
1:49: Why CLAP?
9:28: The shape of France’s food delivery sector
12:26: Platform worker’s status in France and the ‘social dialogue’ law
31:29: The EU Platform Work Directive and Macron’s role on the EU Council
37:18: France’s Presidential elections and the gig economy
Podcast: The historic Stuart Delivery strike
The Stuart Delivery strike is the longest ever in the UK’s gig economy. Initially running for 18 days from 6-24 December, it re-started again on 10 January.
Starting in Sheffield, the strike spread to six towns and cities across the north of England, and the couriers, members of the IWGB union, plan to continue until their demands for higher pay are met.
In this Gig Economy Project podcast we are joined by Khalil Lange, Sheffield Stuart Delivery courier and one of the strike’s leaders, and Jake Thomas, a courier in London and the IWGB’s courier branch secretary. We discuss:
01:12: Lange’s journey to becoming a courier and trade unionist, and how the strike got started
03:21: The spread of the strike and what makes it unprecedented
07:49: The mood of the strikers and the attitude of the company
11:59: Just Eat and sub-contracting
15:00: The dispute over Stuart Delivery’s “linear pay” system
19:58: The current situation on the ground
22:45: The historic significance of the strike
25:19: How can people support the strike?
From Gig Worker to Union Leader – Interview with Alex Marshall
The Gig Economy Project spoke to Alex Marshall, President of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) and former delivery courier.
This podcast was first published 27/01/21.
You can read a text version of this interview here.
Organising gig workers in Belgium: Interview with Martin Willems of ‘United Freelancers’
Can self-employed workers help rejuvenate trade unionism in Europe? Martin Willems thinks so.
Willems is responsible for the United Freelancers section of the ACV-CSC union, which represents 1.5 million workers in Belgium, and has been at the forefront of efforts to organise gig workers.
He made the case at two major gig economy conferences in Brussels at the end of October that unions must take seriously organising all workers, no matter whether they are employees, self-employed or bogus self-employed.
The Gig Economy Project spoke to Willems about self-employed unions, the gig economy in Belgium and how to ensure bogus self-employed platform workers get labour rights.
This podcast was first published on 08/11/21.
You can read the text version of this interview here.
Workers’ inquiry and the global class struggle: interview with Robert Ovetz
A burgeoning literature is seeking to understand 21st century capitalism from the perspective of work, the working class and class struggle. This ‘workerism’ tradition, historically associated with Italian marxism in the 1960s, starts from the workplace to identify where workers have power and how they can maximise it.
Robert Ovetz is one of those contributing to renewing this tradition of labour research and activism. Ovetz is a lecturer at San Jose State University in California, USA, and is author of ‘When Workers Shot Back: Class conflict from 1877 to 1921’ (2018). He is also editor of the book ‘Workers’ Inquiry and Global Class Struggle: Strategies, Tactics and Objectives’, published by Pluto at the end of 2020. Ovetz is also assistant editor for an upcoming handbook on the gig economy to be published by Routledge, and is writing a chapter on Proposition 22 in California.
The Gig Economy Project’s director Ben Wray spoke to Ovetz about ‘Workers’ inquiry and global class struggle’ and much more in this podcast.
This podcast was first published on 07/05/21.
To read a text version of this interview, click here.
The pandemic and the gig economy in global perspective: Interview with Kelle Howson
How has the pandemic changed the gig economy? The Gig Economy Project spoke to Fair Work researcher Kelle Howson to find out.
This podcast was first published on 17/08/21.
To read a text version of this podcast, click here.
The Gorillas Revolt: Interview with Zeynep Karlıdağ
The Gig Economy Project spoke to Zeynep Karlıdağ, rider at food delivery company Gorillas and member of the Gorillas’ Workers Collective, about their wave of wildcat strikes and warehouse blockades in Berlin.
This podcast was first posted on 20/07/21.
You can click here to read a text version of this podcast.
When platforms co-opt gig workers to their cause: Understanding Spain’s anti-labour movement of riders
Podcast with José Domingo Roselló of the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), which published a report into the pro-platform, astroturf movement of riders called 'Si, soy autonomo' which is against trade union and workers' rights for food delivery couriers in Spain.
This podcast was first published on 01/06/21.
You can read the text version of this podcast here.
‘The difference between a slave and a worker’ – interview with Leïla Chaibi MEP
Leïla Chaibi, the France Insoumise MEP, who sits on the European Parliament’s ‘committee on employment and social affairs’, published a draft proposal for a Directive on the regulation of platform workers across Europe on behalf of The Left Group in November. The proposal sought to put a marker down to Brussels, as the European Commission – the non-elected body which has power to initiate legislation in the EU – is set to launch a consultation on 24 February for its Directive on the regulation of platform workers. The Directive would be binding on all EU states, and could be a decisive moment in shaping the legal status of gig workers across Europe.
The Gig Economy Project spoke to Chaibi about her proposal, expectations for the EU Commission’s Directive, and more.
This podcast was first published on 04/02/21.
To read a text version of this podcast click here.
"The battle of ideas is won": Interview with ETUC's Ludovic Voet
The Gig Economy Project spoke to the European Trade Union Confederation’s Secretary Ludovic Voet about the EU Commission’s platform work directive, trade union organising in the gig economy, and whether the present moment is one for a revival of trade unionism in Europe.
This podcast was first published on 31/10/21.
To read a text version of this podcast, click here.
Why we should fear a Prop-22 law for Europe: Interview with Anne Dufresne
Brussels-based Anne Dufresne, co-author of new book "App Workers United - The Struggle for Rights in the Gig Economy", tells the Gig Economy Project that the EU Commission's track record of 'deconstructing the social rights of member-states', means we should expect the worst when it comes to their platform work directive in December.
This podcast was originally published on 25/12/21.
To read the text version click here.