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We have entered a new stage of capitalism. The global economy is no longer what connects our economic activity. It’s now the digital economy, where geographies cease to matter — at least to capital — as everything happens in cyberspace, on platforms.

In this William Gibson-esque world, work is being digitized, and workers are being dehumanized as a result. To understand and address labor exploitation in the digitized economy, we need to grasp the ways in which it both alters our labor relations and simply exacerbates longstanding problems.

The New Data Colonialism

A small handful of platform companies now dominate the entire globe, transforming our collective economic life. A ‘platform company’ is a corporate entity whose business model relies on a two-sided application programming interface (API) and the internet to ‘source, schedule, manage, ship, and bill task-based, project-driven work’ as Mary Gray and Siddarth Suri have described. Work is fragmented into digitally intermediated ‘gigs’ that in many ways resemble piece-work. …


Bama Athreya of the Gig Podcast and Ben Wray of the Gig Economy Project report on the key take-aways from a recent international conference on decent work in the platform economy.

This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in the EU was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Lipman-Miliband Trust

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Blind Spots

The Trump Administration very recently issued an Executive Order (E.O.) protecting toxic workplace behavior. It’s not a surprise that a White House that has embodied misogyny, xenophobia and white nationalism would come up with such a directive. This E.O. is not just bad for the integrity of our federal government, it’s bad for all Americans. But it doesn’t seem to be written to stand the test of time and is unlikely to survive legal challenges. So why issue it now? I believe it is intended as a clear signal to public servants, on the eve of a tense election, that there will be retaliation if they bring forward any evidence of abusive behavior at the hands of political appointees. …


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The fight over so-called “gig” work has come to a head in California. Lyft has even threatened to suspend all operations in the state. Why would the company even think of pulling out of such a lucrative market? This particular showdown is about who defines employment, and it has global implications for the future of work.

The fight started in 2018, when California’s highest court had the audacity to suggest that Lyft, Uber, and other platform companies abide by the nation’s employment laws. The companies refused to comply. So in 2019 California’s legislature passed a new law, Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) to reinforce the point. The companies continued to misclassify their workers, so California’s Attorney General brought suit against them in May. …


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It’s been quite a week for Uber. The company is facing a slew of legal challenges around the world. While each case may appear to be unique to its particular situation, the accumulation of legal slings and arrows represents a much larger issue. Globally, Uber and other gig companies have been aggressively promoting a business model that is quite possibly incompatible with rule of law. If Uber wins in these cases we will need to confront the question: can a 21st century global economy survive and thrive without rule of law? …


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On March 30 I published a piece titled A Feminist Stimulus. Even in its earlier stages the pandemic provided stark proof of the essential nature of care work. I imagined that this would be evident to increasing numbers of working people, families, and in turn, policy wonks. But the policy responses to the obvious looming crisis in care in virtually every country have been disappointing- until now. Fortunately former Vice President and presidential candidate Joe Biden has embraced the need to invest in the care economy. It’s a good plan and deserves praise. It also needs to be pushed further. …


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Boys on fishing platform, Indonesia

Thanks to a series of media and human rights reports, many of us are now aware that vast numbers of young men and boys are lured onto fishing boats and held in slavery at sea — sometimes for years without touching land. Attention to the dramatic extent of crimes at sea spiked a few years ago with incredible journalistic investigations by reporters at the Associated Press and The Guardian as well as by respected human rights organizations. Lately Ian Urbina of the New York Times has renewed attention to the problem with his book, The Outlaw Ocean. …


Our legal system is all but broken. Only collective power can fix it

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Credit: Rideshare Drivers United

Last week, former VP Joe Biden came out in support of gig workers’ rights in an unexpected but timely tweet. Gig companies, led by Uber, Lyft and Doordash, had just won certification of their ballot initiative to overturn California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). It was good to see immediate push-back from the likely Presidential nominee.

As a White House spokesperson called for “human capital stock” to work through a pandemic, Uber, Lyft and other gig companies launched their “Protect App Based Drivers and Services” campaign. While laying off thousands of office staff, Uber and other gig companies poured money from their $100 million war chest into the production of glossy video clips featuring bizarre “testimonials,” apparently by drivers and delivery workers demanding the right to work for less than minimum wage without any sick leave, safety and health protections, indeed without even measures to ensure that they do not spread coronavirus to their clients. …


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Credit: We The People

A year ago on May 8, 2019, Uber and other ride-hailing app drivers demonstrated their collective power by launching a worldwide day of action to protest continuous cuts to driver pay. Uber and Lyft drivers in California now plan a follow up day of action next week, on May 11, and actions today include a national Facebook live event. Grocery and delivery service workers throughout the US organized strikes and demonstrations last week on May 1, International Workers Day. In a time of national and global lockdown due to COVID-19 we literally can’t live without these workers. …


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Source: Washington Post/MoveOn.org

Why is Trump calling for protests to ‘liberate’ states and ‘reopen’ the economy? It is always illustrative to ask who really benefits from rapid resumption of business. Some excellent labor reporting in recent days clearly points to an answer to this question. OSHA complaints filed by workers in meat processing plants in several states, coupled with coverage of the push by executives to declare meat packing an essential industry, suggests that CEOs not only in food processing but other sectors as well might be troubled by the possibility that governors are contemplating measures that would increase their business costs in order to reopen safely. There is ample evidence these executives have the ear of the White House. …

About

Bama Athreya

Expert on labor, gender equity and workplace social inclusion, labor migration and trafficking. Interested in the intersection of tech and social movements.

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