Competition, Collaboration and Combination: Differences in Attitudes to Collective Organization Among Offline and Online Platform Workers

Kaire Holts, Ursula Huws, Neil Spencer, and Matthew Coates

In October 2018, representatives from 31 different collectives and unions in 12 European countries came together in Brussels to form the Transnational Courier Federation.1 This represented a culmination of spreading efforts over the previous two years to unionise workers in the part of the ‘gig economy’ devoted to providing delivery services by bike, scooter, motorcycle or car to individual homes or businesses. Using a variety of tactics including strikes, demonstrations and court cases, these workers had achieved considerable success in drawing attention to their poor working conditions and wages and, in some cases, negotiating improvements. In doing so, they, and their organising efforts, have attracted the attention of a number of scholars and have been widely promoted as an example of successful organisation among platform workers.2

Similarly, there have been a number of initiatives among drivers working for platforms such as Uber and Lyft which provide taxi-type services, including the formation of new trade unions such as the UK-based App Drivers and Couriers Union (ACDU),’ affiliated to the International Alliance of App-Based Transport Workers,4 set up in 2019. Tactics they have used include demonstrations, mobilisation within existing trade unions and taking test cases on employment status to the courts, as well as setting up alternative platform models, such as cooperatives.’ These drivers, too, have attracted considerable scholarly attention.6

These two groups are often regarded as emblematic of the new platform workforce, and, based only on this literature, it would be possible to draw relatively optimistic conclusions about the scope for development of new forms of collective organisation and representation in the ‘gig economy’. Indeed, taken alongside some of the new forms of trade union organisation among other casually employed workers in the retail, warehouse, logistics and hospitality sectors,7 it could even be regarded as heralding a new wave of trade union organisation among precarious workers, paralleling the ‘new unionism’ that emerged in the UK between 1889 and 1893, or the mobilisations of US workers that began in the mid-1890s and culminated in the foundation of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW—colloquially known as ‘Wobblies’).8

Although there is an emerging body of literature on the collective agenda of platform workers in general,9 this mostly analyses emerging organising strategies and the role of traditional trade unions among workers in public spaces. These studies often generalise to all platform workers. Apart from a few exceptions,10 there is very little literature about collective organisation efforts or understanding about the attitudes towards unionisation of platform workers who work from their homes offering online services.

In this chapter, we draw on in-depth interviews with a range of different workers for online platforms in Europe to explore the assumption that delivery and driving platform workers’ attitude represent those of working in other platforms and sectors."

Home-Based Platform Work

The research we discuss here was carried out as part of a larger research project on platform work funded by the Foundation for European Progressive studies (FEPS) in partnership with the European Confederation of white-collar trade unions, UNI-Europa, which eventually included surveys in 13 European countries.12

We report here on results from the first seven of these.13

Survey questions asked whether participants had sold their labour via online platforms for a fee in three broad categories: providing driving or delivery services; providing services on other people’s premises; or providing work to clients using a computer or other device from their own homes. In each case, prompts included examples of platforms that were well known in the respective countries. Respondents were asked,

How often, if at all, do you do each of the following online?

This may be done using any device connected to the internet, including a PC or laptop, Smartphone, Tablet Computer or Smart TV, etc.

Some examples of response options can be illustrated by these options, taken from the UK survey:

  • • Look for work you can carry out from your own home on a website such as Upwork, Freelancer, Timeetc, Clickworker or PeoplePerHour
  • • Look for work you can carry out for different customers somewhere outside your home on a website such as Handy, Taskrabbit or Mybuilder
  • • Offer to drive someone to a location for a fee using an app or website such as Uber or Blablacar

TABLE 13.1 Platform workers by type of platform work in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK (% of working-age population)

Offline driving/ delivery work in public spaces

Offline work on other people’s premises

Online work from own home

At least weekly

Ever

At least weekly

Ever

At least weekly

Ever

Austria

3.3

10.6

6.7

14.0

8.2

17.7

Switzerland

3.5

10.8

7.2

15.3

8.4

16.9

Germany

2.3

7.1

4.1

9.7

4.9

11.1

Italy

5.8

14.7

9.9

19.3

10.4

19.8

Netherlands

1.4

4.4

3.0

6.6

3.9

8.2

Sweden

1.4

5.7

3.0

7.5

4.0

8.8

United

1.5

4.8

2.9

7.1

3.9

8.4

Kingdom

Source: Hertfordshire Business School Crowd Work Survey, 201 (>-2017

Base: 1969 respondents in Austria, 2001 respondents in Switzerland, 2180 Respondents in Germany, 2199 respondents in Italy, 2126 respondents in the Netherlands, 2146 respondents in Sweden and 2238 respondents in the UK (weighted results).

Table 3.1 gives a breakdown of the answers from seven countries surveyed in 2016 and 2017 showing the proportion of the population involved in each of these broad types of platform work. It should be noted that many were involved in more than one type, so there is some double counting across categories.

As can be seen from the table, the highest numbers of platform workers are to be found doing ‘virtual’ online work from their homes in all countries, ranging between 3.9 and 10.4 per cent for those who said that they carried out this type of work at least weekly. The equivalent range for those doing driving/deliverytype work in public spaces was from 1.4 per cent to 5.8 per cent. In each country, therefore, this is the smallest category of platform work type, with online work constituting the largest category. Because we had only three interviews with workers in the intermediate category (working in other people’s homes doing tasks such as cleaning and household repairs), in this chapter we decided to focus on those working for platforms from their own homes, in order to compare their attitudes to unionisation with platform workers in driving and delivery work.

Methodology

To explore attitudes about unionising among various platform workers, we now turn to our in-depth interviews with individual workers, drawing on the results of 36 of these interviews carried out in three countries: the UK, Germany and Estonia between February 2017 and May 2018.

Respondents were recruited by a variety of means. Some participants were identified randomly as a result of participation in a national survey carried out in the UK, in which respondents were asked if they would be willing to be re-contacted for a further in-depth interview. Others were recruited via trade unions and platforms, through snowballing methods, via online discussion group or approached in the street. Fifteen of the interviewees were women and 21 were men. Thirty-three interviewees were of European or British origin (including three who were Black and minority ethnic British people). The remainder had a variety of different national origins including South Asian and Kurdish.

Most interviews (which varied from 40 minutes to 2 hours in length) were conducted by Skype or telephone, but six were carried out face to face. Interviews were recorded (with the consent of participants), transcribed and analysed using Nvivo. All respondents were given nicknames to protect anonymity.

Fourteen interviewees were doing driving or delivery work, of whom six were drivers providing taxi-type services, one was a courier using his own van to deliver goods and packages and seven were cycle couriers, of whom one sometimes also used her car for delivery work.

The remaining 22 interviewees, making up the largest group, were working online from their own homes.

In the next section we explore the attitudes of these platform workers to collective organisation and representation. The small numbers make it difficult to generalise but there do appear to be distinctive differences between those workers who work offline in public spaces, where they have the opportunity of meeting and identifying each other, and those who work online, in more isolated and private locations.

Research Findings

In general our interviews showed contrasting attitudes towards collective organisation between online and offline platform workers. While offline workers had more positive attitudes towards trade unions and peer groups to support each other, online workers were less interested in traditional trade unions representing their interests. Eight out of 14 offline workers had organised collectively by either becoming a member of a trade union or forming a peer group such as an online Facebook group or participating in regular informal meetings with other workers. Only one out of 22 online workers was a member of a traditional trade union (and she had only become a member because of her other full-time job and was not sure whether the membership would also cover her work for online platforms). The majority of online workers had not considered joining a union because they either believed they were not entitled to it because they were self-employed or because they did not see any value in trade unions representing their interests.

The Race to the Bottom in Platform Labour Markets

Many workers in both categories presented an articulate analysis of the labour market in which they found themselves, where opportunities and threats abounded. One major theme in this analysis related to the open nature of labour markets for platform workers. On the one hand, this presents an open door to new workers seeking to enter the field. On the other, this very openness created a risk of a competitive race to the bottom. It was striking that the workers most likely to draw from this the conclusion that unionisation would be a way to help minimise these risks were offline workers, some of whom were already members of unions.

One reflection on the overall character of platform workers’ labour market came from a 32-year-old male rideshare driver in the UK who was a member of a trade union. He contextualised this in a critique of the ‘flexibility’that platforms purport to offer their workers:

I mean it says that ... it gives you full flexibility, but if you think about it, you, if everything’s so low and so competitive in the terms that you’ve got so many drivers, you need to be out there more, and by being out there more, it doesn’t guarantee you a set amount and once you, and the thing is, it’s not as busy as what, as what it used to be, it’s way less. So . . . you have to work more to get a decent amount, so when you’re off, you’re off, you’re not getting any, not going to get any ex, you’re not going to get any money for, you know.

(Mustafa, rideshare driver)

John, a 25-year old delivery rider interviewed in the UK, also pointed to the way that over-recruitment of workers by platforms led to a deterioration in conditions for others.

Like in [name of town], [name of company) have been over hiring riders, which means that there’s a huge amount of people for the work that needs to be done. The only difference that makes to [name of company] is that their orders spend less time waiting until they’re picked up and delivered. Of course, the effects for the riders is massive, because they get paid by delivery. So, fewer deliveries per rider means a much lower income, but I mean, [name of company] doesn’t have to think twice about that, and that’s, in no way can we call that efficiency, and yet it’s the model.

(John, delivery rider)

He was emphatic about the need for unionisation.

I was instantly convinced that joining the union was the right thing to do.

I mean, even though I didn’t have any, you know, some people have the like, ‘ah, I might only have this job for two months so what’s the point of signing up for a union?’ To me, the case that the union, what it was doing was so, it was so obviously an important thing.

(John, delivery rider)

Online workers also demonstrated a strong awareness of the competitive nature of the labour market they were in.

Here, for example, is a 36-year old male graphic designer working in Estonia for online platforms.

Competition. You live in a super expensive country in a global context— Estonia. Well, some places are more expensive . . . but . . . well, the competition is tough. For example, if you take the logo design project, which is a very specific thing. Then usually a person is hired within a few hours. For example, the opening is at 9am and if you then look at midday they have already found someone. But by then, there are 50 proposals. Well, your chances are then 1/50 whether you get it or not. Something like that. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less.

(Henry, graphic designer)

And a 40-year-old German IT worker:

On [name of company], there is in principle no competition but on other platforms there is. You can see that there is supply and demand and that you can make an offer. This is not the case with [name of first company]. This was probably also the reason why I stayed with [this company] as there is no competition in principle . . . The disadvantage is that you have to be really good. You have to deliver a good quality work because there are 100,000 people who apply at the same time. And whether you get selected or not is a matter of luck. You’re just one of many, whether you’re here or if you’re not there, that’s completely uninteresting. . . . They can come from all over the world, so theoretically you have a very few assignments and a million hungry mouths

(Arno, IT worker)

While aware of the competitive pressures, however, Arno did not see trade unions as offering any solution:

Because I see trade unions representing the interests of employees. We don’t know how this is going to develop but another issue is that for me it is not a main source of income.

(Arno, IT worker)

Interestingly, his reasoning for this draws on two arguments: first, that he is not an employee; and second, that platform work is not his main source of income. In fact both of these factors also apply in the case of John, the cycle courier quoted earlier (who was in fact combining his platform work with a full-time job in another sector), but in this case this had led to a very different form of argumentation, for reasons we speculate on later.

Arno’s pessimism about trade unions was also shared by another German online worker, this time a 37-year-old woman for whom it provided the only source of income.

I don’t think there is much that can be done. I believe that for self-employed there is always the risk of not getting enough assignments, or that it doesn’t work out. Thus I do not know what could be done. Last year, there was this suggestion that trade unions could do something. And last year, this trade union [name of union] had discussions with [name of company] but I am not really clear what a trade union could do or how they could support. I am not sure how something could be implemented on a practical level, and what should actually be changed. As a result, it could happen that [name of company] will have less assignments and in worst case they could stop existing. And because one is not employed with them there is no social security that one would otherwise have if one was employed.

(Manuela, IT worker)

Similar views were expressed by another German online worker, 51-year-old Monika, who carried out a variety of tasks for several different online platforms on top of employment in another job.

I cannot imagine it [being a member of a trade union] at all and I am not sure how it should work because if I was a member of a trade union and worked through a platform then I am not employed. The platform does not owe me anything. A trade union cannot fight for anything, as I have no right to expect work from this platform anyway.

(Monika, multitasking online worker)

Here, her attitude might have been shaped by a limited understanding of what a trade union can achieve. In other cases, the attitudes of online workers to trade unions were more ambivalent. They recognised their value in principle but were sceptical about the possibilities for success. Here, for example, is another German online worker, a 49-year-old woman for whom IT work for online platforms constitutes the only source of income.

It should be organised differently because this form of work is not compatible with the form of work that trade unions cover. Sometimes I wish that there was more teaming up with other workers on the same platform ... It would be good if there was a possibility to have a dialogue [with the platform], to have the possibility to say ‘hey people, this [change or decision] was not good and I want to tell you why’. . . . However, I cannot imagine having a proper labour dispute about something because I think we are the co-creators of something that is not finished yet and where there are no ready-made solutions for everything. To be honest, I would find a trade union strange. Having contact [with other workers] is good and valuable. It would be good for letting off steam when one gets upset about something. But a traditional trade union where an outsider who is not even on the platform organises something for us ... I would find it strange.

(Adriane, IT worker)

Thirty-eight-year-old Amelie, a German writer and translator who relies on her income from platforms as a freelancer, also expressed some scepticism about whether traditional trade unions could represent her interests, but she did see some possibilities for using online means for new forms of organisation and information exchange.

I think that traditional trade unions have all the wrong answers or no answers to these kind of problems related to digitalisation. I do not expect much but maybe that we react to digital forms of work with digital form of unionisation—so with digital trade unions. I can imagine this. Another thing that we have criticised [together with other online workers] is that platforms have closed down online forums where we could exchange our experiences, [name of platform] still has a forum but there does not seem to be any interest in bringing workers together so that they could speak with each other.

... I sometimes use their forum but rather in order to get help with assignments and to understand how to interpret the instructions etc. and less in order to organise with other workers. However, I think it could be used for this but they [platforms] do not want this.

(Amelie, writer and translator)

The much higher level of pessimism about the possibility for trade unions to be able to improve their situation found among online workers seems to be linked to a perception that, without employee status, they are labour market ‘outsiders’.

Tensions Between Competition and Collaboration

An important dimension of the ambivalent attitudes to collective organisation among platform workers is a tension between competition and collaboration among fellow workers. When probed about this, some respondents saw other platform workers primarily as colleagues and others saw them primarily as rivals. The majority, however, expressed considerable ambiguity, seeing them as a mixture of both, sometimes (but not always) with the allegiance varying according to their nationality. Even when other platform workers are defined primarily as colleagues this does not necessarily involve the idea that this could provide a basis for organising themselves. They often see others as colleagues for the purposes of knowledge exchange rather than fighting in solidarity for better working conditions.

A 30-year-old German product designer provides an example of an online worker who regards other platform workers primarily, and straightforwardly, as competition.

Think about it. I think that I even enjoy a little bit this competitive nature as a whole because I can then see my own progress. I notice the change: how at the beginning it was difficult for me to get assignments and also deliver work but then how it gets better once the work becomes more familiar.

(Stefan, product designer)

A 29-year-old platform tester, also German, who combined his work testing websites and apps for an online platform with being a student, expressed a view that is more nuanced, making a distinction between foreign competition and competition within Germany.

Interviewer: But how do you see the other people? Are they colleagues or rather competitors?

That depends a little bit on the person and on his or her character. You get the idea about the person when you read the bug reports and descriptions. Generally speaking, I consider them as colleagues and I don’t like the idea of being in competition. However, when I do the tests in English (well, this certainly also happens with Germans but even more with English-speaking people) there are always people who copy things from other people and submit for themselves. This is a bit unappealing and that’s when I see it more like a competition.

Interviewer: Does this mean that German-speaking people stick together and when it gets more global, then less so?

This is a very subjective view. I don’t know if it’s really like this. I take it a little bit like that. So also with others. For example, I do not remember what that was ... I think he came from Poland or so or Ukraine . . . obviously there are also many nice, wonderful people . . . but there are also some . . . they are probably in minority who are exhausting because they copy content, for example. They misbehave in chats or make allegations or have a discussion about various things. And this is just annoying. But that’s also the case with Germans but maybe a bit more with English speaking people [i.e. workers from other countries who speak English|. I think it is because they believe more in competition. I can see that for Germans it is usually not their main source of income, they do it as a side activity. Hence they are a bit more relaxed. And whoever makes it for a living, for example someone in Eastern Europe or somewhere like that or in India, I just think that there is a different kind of pressure. And then I can understand that their tone is a bit rougher. (Dietrich, platform tester)

Another German online worker, a 35-year-old IT worker who carried out a variety of different IT-related roles via several different platforms to supplement his income from his main job, expressed a similar ambivalence towards fellow workers. He described a relationship among colleagues which was, or at least in his view, aspired to be ‘collegial’, but in which there were nevertheless competitive tensions. Interviewer: Are they colleagues or competitors for you?

(laughing) It’s a damn good question, so . . . because I said that I do not do that full time, they are rather no competitors for me. They are more like colleagues than competitors. So I do not know, I see that rather neutral. So there is a test and who gets the job. he or she then just does it and if not, then not. Well, I see it very collegial. Maybe collegial is the wrong word because I don’t know them. I sit in front of my screen and they in front of theirs and we don’t know each other. Competitors—I am not sure about it. If I had to make a living out of it then they would be competitors for me but I don’t. These are for me at most people who may somehow have an interest in it, maybe because of the technology, somehow want to earn extra money. That’s OK too. As I can see who gets which assignments, they are not really competitors for me. ... So in principle you have a lot of time, but the problem is that there is always competition, because every bug can only be reported only once. You are paid per error. And of course I’m not the only one testing—the later I start, the more bugs others have found. So the later I start, the less productive I am because I have to search even more and see what else I can do. And of course it is sometimes frustrating even if you find things you realise that someone else has already registered. And then you have nothing and that upsets you and you stop. So it’s worth starting early, but you do not have to. But it’s worth it. (Benjamin, IT multitasker)

However, it seems unlikely that this relaxed attitude to competitors is a simple by-product of the fact that Benjamin has a steady income from his main job. Manuela, a 37-year-old who lacked regular employment in Germany where she lived, expressed a similar view. She pieced together an income from advertising revenue from her blogs and a similar type of product testing, often on the same platform as Benjamin. This suggests that their attitudes may be shaped more by their similar work experiences than by their personal circumstances—experiences which are at least partly shaped by the particular business model of this company and the labour processes dictated by it.

[Other people working for the same platform] are more like colleagues, yes. I do not see them as competitors . . . And there were people who behaved a bit as if they were competitors. One of them asked me about my approach and if I could give him hints about how he could also find better bugs. And then I thought ‘no, I won’t do that’. This was the first time I saw someone as a competitor because I thought that I cannot reveal all my tricks because only the one who finds it [a bug] first gets paid.

Interviewer: So there is a bit of competition?

Yes, a little but I do not feel it that strongly. However, I found this one case blatant. I thought ‘no. I’m not here to give out information about what I typically do because I’ve found my own way how I work and I don’t want to tell anyone about it’. But I think that other workers feel even more like competitors. (Manuela, blogger and IT worker)

This ambivalence around feelings of worker solidarity is by no means restricted to online workers. Offline platform workers sometimes expressed similar views. A 42-year-old male Estonian rideshare driver clearly stated his view that other drivers were competitors:

Well, basically they [other drivers] are my competitors. They also look for customers. And the less cars there are, the better for me. But the more cars there are, the . . . Well, I’m not ... in a nutshell, I’m relatively neutral. I have maybe had a conversation with one or two drivers about ‘well, how are you doing?’ Are there a lot or a little assignments?’ That’s it. However, I know that two of my acquaintances also drive.

(Paul, rideshare driver)

In general, however, offline workers exhibited a stronger sense of solidarity with fellow workers than did online workers. Another Estonian offline worker, a 35-year-old woman who carried out deliveries by bike and car, expressed it in these words:

There is no sense of competition against other couriers. We openly talk about how many orders we have made. For instance, you have managed 120, but I have only 110. . . with 120 you get a bonus . . . there are still 10

left till a bonus. Then one delivery driver says that he/she is going home today so that I will get enough assignments. We rather help each other to get enough assignments. The one who gets enough manages his/her goal and goes home earlier. A new counting starts tomorrow. For me a team is very important in life. A collective. I have never had such a good collective, team, work. I feel I’m in the right place. I’m in Tallinn what I wanted. I can leave whenever I want—exactly the day I want (laughs) and at the time I want.

(Mia, courier)

Interestingly, none of the Estonian respondents in the survey were members of trade unions. This is not surprising in a former Soviet republic, where trade unions were often viewed with suspicion as instruments of the state. As a consequence of this legacy, trade unions are relatively weak and membership low.14 Nevertheless, this has not prevented offline driving and delivery workers from building up a comradely, collaborative work culture.

A similar sense of camaraderie was found among couriers in other countries. One 32-year-old delivery rider, Tahim, who was interviewed in Germany but had also worked for the same platform in the UK and was interviewed in English, was combining this work with being a student. He compared the work favourably with working for a supermarket which, he said, paid more, but entailed ‘lots of stress’. One of the things he enjoyed most about being a delivery rider was ‘every time when I’m riding I saw lots of [name of company] drivers, when they’re not busy we talk, we gossip’.

Thierry, another student/delivery rider interviewed in Germany, a 20-year-old man, also described the friendly relationships among fellow workers:

Between [name of company] riders we always say ‘hi’ to each other when we meet. And if two [name of company] riders, or even [name of rival food delivery company] riders, are waiting at the restaurant we start chatting as well. . . . We have a good communication, yes.

(Thierry, food delivery rider)

This interaction extends beyond casual greeting to include pre-arranged meetings, combining work-related and social contact.

We talk about everything and nothing. For example, if we want to meet in a bar, or, I don’t know, we ask about our experience with one of our riders, for example, I don’t know, we talk about everything and nothing.

(Thierry, food delivery rider)

It should be noted that Thierry was not a trade union member and said that he had not heard of any other food delivery rider being a member.

It is apparent that offline courier workers, even when they are not unionised, have managed to build a culture of collaboration and solidarity that could be an important precursor of collective organisation. It seems likely that the chance to interact with each other in person, in real time and real space, has played an important role in this.

The importance of face-to-face meetings for trade union recruitment was borne out by the testimony of John, the UK delivery rider quoted earlier, who was an active trade union member. Indeed, he suggests that the platform company he worked for was so concerned about this that it had taken steps to reduce the amount of direct time that riders spent together waiting for tasks.

It has changed a bit now but they [the company] used to have a lot of emphasis on what they called the zone centre, which is a spot they’ve calculated to be equidistant from all of the different restaurants you might pick up from. In [district in South London] it was a square, they also tried to try and, I think they used to try and make it a place you could also hang out, where there were some benches or something, and in [name of district] it happened to be a square, in [another London district] it’s just off the High Street, there are no benches but there are restaurants that have outdoor seating thing, also there’s a place to park your bikes and stuff, like a bike rack. I think they’ve tried to de-emphasise the zone centre a little bit recently.

Interviewer: LWiy?

Because it was crucial in, it’s like really, it facilitates communication between drivers, which is the only way really that there’s a kind of tangible sense of all being in the same boat with [name of company], otherwise you’re . . . you’re just one rider in the city. Where you see other people in the same uniform, there’s not a connection there. So it was, it has been key, that zone centre, in fermenting strike movements and resilience towards bad practices. (John, delivery rider)

Taken together, these accounts lend strong support to the hypothesis that direct social contact between workers plays a strong role in building collective identities and organisation. However, it is also clear that an employed service worker in the retail sector has more connectivity than a self-employed courier worker has. And while access to social relationships plays an important role in organising, it is not the only factor that eases unionisation. Platform workers still face barriers that range from the cultural/historical environment (as in Estonia), stereotyped ideas about the role of trade unions (as among some of the German online workers quoted earlier) to the legal classification that makes organising difficult.1

Conclusions

Although this study is part of a larger work in progress and draws only on some of the interviews conducted for this analysis, we believe that these results shed interesting light on the attitudes of platform workers to trade union organisation and open up important questions to be addressed in any further research. First, they caution us against generalising from the experience of one occupational group of platform workers to those in other occupations. Even when there are strong similarities in their situations as platform workers in relation, for example, to their formal status as self-employed workers, the unpredictability of work and the negative effects of competition in a flooded labour market, it cannot be assumed that the reactions to these situations will necessarily be the same. Even a similar interpretation of the problem will not necessarily lead to the same political conclusion.

There are of course many factors that shape attitudes to collective organisation. One might expect that one of the strongest of these factors might be the extent to which a platform worker is actually dependent on his or her income from platform work to make a living. Somewhat surprisingly, based on these interviews, this is a much less important factor than whether the worker is involved in delivering offline or online services. While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to investigate the many other factors that shape platform workers’ attitudes to unionisation, we can surmise that the opportunity to meet with fellow workers in real time and space plays a strong role in building a sense of solidarity, mutual trust and common purpose that, in turn, can provide the basis for collective organisation. Further research will be necessary to establish this.

It would be also interesting to further explore connections between the layers of worker-perceived ‘insiders’and ‘outsiders’within platform labour markets and unionisation attitudes. How do perceptions of such status by other workers or by themselves impact these attitudes? How does the material status of workers as reserve armies within a reserve army or within core labour shape attitudes about labour organising and union membership?

The results of our research also raise questions about whether and how trade unions need to change in order to meet the needs of platform workers and the new and enduring landscapes of work. Would union organising campaigns benefit by conducting education campaigns about the achievements of organising digital workers and of using digital tools to organise workers? Our interview material raises these questions.

There could be other explanations for the differences we found, perhaps including a realistic assessment of the prospects for success of trade union organisation. Have platform companies raised barriers to organising so high that workers fail to even imagine how digital organising might occur? Or are there unrealised opportunities for working around or through these barriers? Here, it is possible that success breeds further success, as news spreads of successful examples of organisation and representation, inspiring others to join and follow their example is also clear that the propensity to organise is contingent on specific circumstances and cannot be read off from the simple fact of being a platform worker.

Our study suggests that, useful though it is in bringing real benefits to the workers represented and drawing public attention to the challenges facing platform workers, trade union organising is unlikely, alone, to bring about a universal improvement in conditions. Union organising should be combined with broader political action, with unions and in coalition with nonunionised workers to make policy interventions that regulate platform companies and provide basic employment rights to platform workers.

Notes

  • 1. Labournet TV, “Riders Across Europe Unite to Form the Transnational Federation of Couriers,” 2018, accessed February 9, 2019, https://en.labournet.tv/riders-across-europe-unite-form-transnational-federation-couriers.
  • 2. Daniela Leonardi, Annalisa Murgia, Marco Briziarelli, and Emiliano Armano, “The Ambivalence of Logistical Connectivity: A Co-Research With Foodora Riders,” Work Organisation Labour & Globalisation 13, no. 1 (2019); Facility Waters and Jamie Woodcock, “Far From Seamless: A Workers’ Inquiry at Deliveroo’,” Viewpoint Magazine, September 20, 2017, accessed February 9, 2019, www.viewpointmag.com/2017/09/20/far-seamless-workers-inquiry-deliveroo/; Caleb Goods, Alex Veen, and Tom Barratt, ‘“Is Your Gig Any Good?’ Analysing Job Quality in the Australian Platform-Based Food-Deliver}' Sector,"Journal of Industrial Relations (2019), https:// doi.org/10.1177/0022185618817069; Arianna Tassinari and Vincenzo Maccarrone, “The Mobilisation of Gig Economy Couriers in Italy: Some Lessons for the Trade Union Movement,” Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research 23, no. 3 (2017): 353-57; Anne Degner and Eva Kocher, “Arbeitskampfe in der ‘Gig-Economy’? Die Protestbewegungen der Foodora—und Deliveroo-‘Riders’ und Rechtsfragen ihrer kollektiven Selbstorganisation,” KJ KritischeJustiz 51, no. 3 (2018): 247-65.
  • 3. Formerly the United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD), the members of this union briefly joined the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) before becoming an independently registered trade union, www.adcu.org.uk.
  • 4. https://iaatw.org/.
  • 5. Karolien Lenaerts, Zachary Kilhofter, and Mehtap Akgüç, “Traditional and New Forms of Organisation and Representation in the Platform Economy,” FF&rfe Organisation, Labour and Globalisation 12, no. 2 (2018): 60-78; Jeremias Prassl, Humans as a Service: The Promise and Perils of Work in the Gig Economy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018); Trebor Scholz, Platform Co-Operativism (New York: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2016).
  • 6. Luke Munn, “I am a Driver-Partner,” FF&rfe Organisation Labour & Globalisation 11, no. 2 (2017): 7-20; Alex Rosenblat and Luke Stark, “Algorithmic Labor and Information Asymmetries: A Case Study of Uber’s Drivers,” International Journal of Communication 10, no. 27 (2016): 3758-84; Veena B. Dubai, “The Drive to Precarity: A Political History of Work, Regulation, & Labor Advocacy in San Francisco’s Taxi & Uber Economics,” Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law 38, no. 1 (2017): 73-136; Geoffrey Dudley, David Banister, and Tim Schwanen, “The Rise of Uber and Regulating the Disruptive Innovator,” The Political Quarterly 88, no. 3 (2017): 492—99; Mareike Gloss, Moira McGregor, and Barry Brown, “Designing for Labour: Uber and the On-Demand Mobile Workforce,” Paper read at Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2016, 1632-43, https://doi. org/10.1145/2858036.2858476; Jeremias Prassl and Martin Risak, “Uber, Taskrabbit, and Co.: Platforms as Employers—Rethinking the Legal Analysis of Crowdwork,” Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal 37 (2015-2016): 619.
  • 7. Brett Caraway, “Collective Action Frames and the Developing Role of Discursive Practice in Worker Organisation: The Case of OUR Walmart,” Work Organisation Labour & Globalisation 12, no. 1 (2018): 7-24; J. Slaughter, “Strikes Expose Hazards In Walmart’s Supply Chain,” Labor Notes no. 403 (October 2012): 15-16; Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Immanuel Ness, Choke Points: Logistics Workers Disrupting the Global Supply Chain Journal of Labor and Society (London: Pluto Press, 2018);

Reuters Staff, “Amazon Workers Strike in Germany, Joining Action in Spain and Poland,” Reuters Business News, July 16, 2018, 4:17 pm, accessed August 24, 2018, www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-germany-strike/amazon-workers-strike-in-germany-joining-action-in-spain-and-poland-idUSKBN 1K61OY; Julia Kollowe and Nicola Slawson, “McDonalds Workers to Go on Strike in Britain for First Time,” September 4, 2017, 05:27 BST, accessed August 24, 2018, www.theguardian. com/business/2017/sep/04/mcdonalds-workers-strike-cambridge-crayford; Alison Moody, “Labour and the Contradictory Logic of Logistics,” Wbrk Organisation Labour & Globalisation 13, no. 1 (2019).

  • 8. Derek Matthews, “1889 and All That: New Views on the New Unionism,” International Review of Social History 36, no. 1 (1991): 24—58.
  • 9. Hannah Johnston and Chris Land-Kazlauskas, “Organizing On-Demand: Representation, Voice, and Collective Bargaining in the Gig Economy,” in Conditions of Work and Employment Series No. 94 (Geneva: International Labour Office, 2018), www.ilo. org/travail/whatwedo/publications/WCMS_624286/lang—en/index.htm; Phoebe V. Moore, Pav Akhtar, and Martin Upchurch, “Digitalisation of Work and Resistance,” in Humans and Machines at Work: Monitoring, Surveillance and Automation in Contemporary Capitalism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 1-16; Kurt Vandaele, “Will Trade Unions Survive in the Platform Economy? Emerging Patterns of Platform Workers’ Collective Voice and Representation in Europe,” ETUI Research Paper— Working Paper, April 2018, www.etui.org/Publications2/Working-Papers/Will-trade-unions-survive-in-the-platform-economy-Emerging-patterns-of-platform-workers-collective-voice-and-representation-in-Europe; Lenaerts et al., “Traditional and New Forms of Organisation.”
  • 10. Gemma Newlands, Christoph Lutz, and Christian Fieseler, “Collective Action and Provider Classification in the Sharing Economy,” New Technology, Work and Employment 33, no. 3 (2018): 250-67; Lilly C. Irani and M. Silberman, “Turkopticon: Interrupting Worker Invisibility in Amazon Mechanical Turk,” Paper read at Proceedings of the SICCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM Digital Library, 2013, https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2470742; Alex J. Wood, Vili Lehdonvirta, and Mark Graham, “Workers of the Internet Unite? Online Freelancer Organisation Among Remote Gig Economy Workers in Six Asian and African Countries,” New Technology, Work and Employment 33, no. 2 (2018): 95-112; Christina HieBl, “Labour Law for TOS and HITs? Reflections on the Potential for Applying ‘Labour Law Analogies’ to Crowdworkers, Focusing on Employee Representation,” Work Organisation Labour & Globalisation 12, no.(2 (2018): 38-59; P. D’Cruz and E. Noronha, “Positives Outweighing Negatives: The Experiences of Indian Crowdsourced Workers,” Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation 10, no. 1 (2016): 44—63.
  • 11. The research reported here focused on the attitudes of online and offline workers to unionisation. We do not explore achievements in unionising. For that research, see Vandaele, “Will Trade Unions Survive in the Platform Economy?”; Lenaerts et al., “Traditional and New Forms of Organisation.”
  • 12. This chapter was written in 2019 when the final report with additional six countries was not published yet. In 2019, the final 13-country report was published: U. Huws, et al., The Platformisation of Work in Europe. Highlights from Research in 13 European Countries (Brussels: Foundation for European Progressive Studies, 2019).
  • 13. For details of the research in the first seven countries, see Huws, Spencer, Syrdal, and Holts, 2017, www.feps-europe.eu/resources/publications/561-work-in-the-european-gig-economy-employment-in-the-era-of-online-platforms.html.
  • 14. Raul Eamets and Epp Kalaste, “The Lack of Wage Setting Power of Estonian Trade Unions?” Baltic Journal of Economics 5, no. 1 (2004): 44—60.
  • 15. Prassl, Humans as a Service.

15

PRECARITY BEYOND THE GIG

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >