Christina J. Colclough
Seven ways platform workers are fighting back
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the UK has just published this collection of essays on how platform workers are fighting back against algorithmic management, the datafication of work and precarity. It includes an essay by Christina Colclough, the founder of the Why Not Lab.
Platform working is an expanding part of the economy. Globally the number of platforms has grown five-fold in a decade.
And the coronavirus pandemic seems to have been the catalyst for further surge in platform growth in the UK and elsewhere as many homebound workers opted for internet shopping and food delivery.
New polling data published in this collection shows that 14.7 per cent of working people in England and Wales, equivalent to approximately 4.4 million people, now undertakes platform work at least once a week. Almost a quarter (22.6 per cent) of workers have done platform work at some point.
It can seem that practices like casualisation, management by algorithm rather than human and a complete absence of trade unions are baked into the way that platform economy is run. There are fears that it is therefore only a matter of time before these spread to other jobs.
Yet platform workers, who range from private hire drivers to translators, and their representatives are fighting back in many important areas and have secured notable victories.
However, often this activity is conducted in isolation: the labour lawyers plot improvement to employments rights in one corner while the tech enthusiasts highlight discriminatory algorithms in another. Meanwhile, union organisers plug away in the vital work of signing up new members.
This essay collection seeks to unite these experiences to build a picture of the various areas where platform workers are fighting for their rights with the aim of informing and inspiring future union activity. All work should be decent work. These essays set out ways this might be achieved in the platform economy.
See the full table of contents here:
Building Union Data Capacity
Colclough's essay argues that we need to turn the tides, and tip the scales so workers can be empowered and protect their rights. Digital platform workers and their unions could beneficially tap into the powers of digital technologies to form their responses. While it would be ill-advised to simply duplicate, or increase, the surveillance of workers and the commodification of work they are already subject to, she presents two inspiring possibilities (WeClock and Driver's Seat), a helpful guide (Lighthouse) and a vision for the future (workers' data collectives). Common for them is that they empower workers through the responsible collectivisation of worker data.
Read her essay below, download it, and do read the full publication