Sunday, 21 August 2016

Deliveroo, Uber: How to organise the gig economy

Deliveroo couriers in London recently won a victory after standing up against plans to make their jobs even more precarious. They went on strike, staged a protest at the London offices of the meal delivery company and refused to let management deal with their complaints individually. To cover income losses caused by the strike, they crowdfunded a strike fund, raising £12,994 in small donations.

Hilary Osborne and Sarah Butler of the Guardian explore what this victory means for opportunities to organise the broader gig economy, consisting of companies like Uber and Deliveroo with extremely precarious jobs.

An obvious barrier to organising gig workers is that they often work individually. One way to get in touch with them would be to set up worker centres like in the US, where volunteers provide advice. And of course there’s social media. Alex Wood of Oxford University:
Even amongst the workers who are working around the world from home we find most of them join online social networks through Facebook, forums and blogs […] These networks form the basis for people to share dissatisfactions.
Legal cases could also make a difference. The British GMB union is backing a court case taken by Uber drivers, who say they are employees rather than self-employed (similarly, the German public prosecutor is challenging the self-employed status of Ryanair pilots).

Will unions make an effort to organise the gig economy, even if it takes a lof of effort? Wood:
There’s a high turnover of people and there’s low market bargaining power. If they go on strike it’s not going to bring the economy to a halt, unlike coal miners or rail workers.
Then again, one could argue that if unions fail to prevent the spread of the gig economy, both workers and unions will end up having a weaker position. Alice Martin of the New Economics Foundation suggested new unions may have to fill the void of traditional unions are unable to deal with the gig economy.

Mags Dewhurst of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, who campaigned with the Deliveroo couriers, emphasises low-paid workers can win:
The biggest problem people face is getting in contact with each other. Once they are in contact and they have decided to work with one voice, they have effectively unionised and the company is screwed.

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