Platform Labour in Search of Value
Platforms are, today, critical infrastructure connecting different economic nodes and facilitating the constant harvesting of data-based intelligence to optimize interactions and, thus, maximize profits for their owners. Digital intelligence has emerged as a key factor of production to orchestrate market exchange in global value chains, enabling platform owners to selectively mobilize and demobilize labour at will. The “intelligencification” of value chains under the capitalist platform model has seen a concentration of economic power in the hands of a few powerful platform companies and an accompanying increase of labour precarity. While digital labour platforms generate new flexi-work opportunities, they have also come under scrutiny for low wages, unfair terms of work, and lack of clarity about employment status of the workers associated with them (ILO 2019a; ILO 2020a). The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the urgency of securing labour guarantees for workers in the platform economy. This research documents organizing strategies and alternative business models currently being deployed by platform workers across the world to reclaim their civil-political and economic rights in the platform economy. It focuses on the domains of on-demand work, such as platform-mediated matching of work performed within a specific geography; crowdwork, such as platform-mediated matching of work performed remotely across geographically dispersed locations; and e-commerce, such as digital trade in goods and services. Based on a literature review and in-depth interviews with a range of stakeholders — representatives from academia, global trade union federations, traditional and new-age trade unions working with platform workers, apex organizations of the international cooperative movement, traditional cooperatives, new-age platform cooperatives and the ILO — the study captures and analyzes various standpoints, spotlighting the differences in worker perspectives and approaches between the Global North and the South.