Platform Labour and Structured Antagonism: Understanding the Origins of Protest in the Gig Economy
This article investigates why gig economy workers who see themselves as self-employed freelancers also engage in collective action traditionally associated with regular employment. Using ethnographic evidence from remote gig economy workers in North America, the United Kingdom and the Philippines, we argue that labour platforms reduce the risk of false self-employment in terms of the worker-client relationship. However, in doing so, they create new forms of worker dependency on the platforms themselves. We term this relationship ‘platform labour’, and demonstrate that it entails a ‘structured antagonism’ which manifests as perceived conflicts over platform fees, pay rates, and lack of worker voice. This creates desires for representation, greater voice and even unionisation towards the platform, while retaining entrepreneurial attitudes towards clients. By refocusing industrial relations on structured antagonism instead of the employment relationship we can understand conflict, protest and organising in new and diverse forms of work.