The global decline in union representation offers a grim picture of the future of labour. Nevertheless, the proliferation of platform worker protest and organisation is a reminder that today’s precarious workers may well become tomorrow’s unionised working class. Most platform worker organisations in the Global South have emerged outside of the trade union movement. However, there has been a growing trend towards hybridisation as unions shift their focus to the platform economy in the quest for revitalisation. Drawing on the Power Resources Approach, this article analyses the sources of worker power in the e-hailing sector and how the Transport Workers Union in Kenya has sought to leverage sources of power to improve the conditions of work and social reproduction. The article argues that organising the e-hailing sector is akin ‘to building a car while driving it’. It involves experimentation, learning and innovation. In contrast to other types of digital work, e-hailing is geographically tethered, giving workers structural power. However, in the context of widespread informality, their power can be easily undermined. Weak regulation and platform workers’ misclassification as self-employed pose a further challenge to collective action. Nevertheless, there are emerging forms of organisation, from associations to cooperatives to the trade union. Whether TWU will be able to leverage this moment to wage an offensive struggle against platform companies will depend on its ability to incorporate emerging organisations into its structures, develop new strategies for collective bargaining, and build alliances with other working-class movements.
The decline in union representation is occurring globally even as the working class has been growing, especially in the Global South. The decline in the global organised workforce contradicts expectations that trade unions would grow in response to growing levels of exploitation prevailing especially in poor countries integrated into global production chains. However, trade unions are not growing stronger but are weaker as industrial and service workers are growing in number. This article reprises the concept of new forms of worker organisation (NFWO), advocated and advanced over the past 25 years and rooted in independent labour entities, including worker centres, syndicalist organisations, and autonomous, unaffiliated unions, and even NGOs. The record of these entities thus far demonstrates that new forms of worker organisation are expanding in response to rank-and-file activism but are ineffective as a replacement for traditional union models in building and consolidating labour power to challenge the rise of precarious and contract labour. This article examines the mixed record of new labour organisations and their failure to confront neoliberal capitalism. To remedy this structural defect, this article contends that existing unions must engage in activism rooted in the precarious working class of the Global South to build trade union power.
The digital revolution typified by pervasive intrusion of digital technology into our everyday practices raises questions concerning the impact on the organisation of work and workers’ experiences. Drawing from workers’ subjective views, this article examines how the intervention of digital technology in the gig food delivery sector in Kimberley, South Africa, shapes the organisation of work and patterns of workers’ experiences and responses. The article, informed by labour process theory, highlights the platforms’ diverse business models and how they embrace digital technology informs the nature of the labour process, employment relations and workers’ response. For example, the ‘paradoxical’ nature of customer rating systems, and a culture of tipping, which, while allowing workers to ‘extract surplus value outside the direct control of the platforms’ serves to control and manage workers’ performance. This individualisation of income determination further isolates workers from each other and ‘undermines their sense of collective solidarity’. This affirms the on-going importance of human interaction in the digital labour process and the ways in which these technologies intersect with racial inequalities, perpetuating discriminatory service delivery practices. The organisation of gig delivery work is not just about controlling the labour process to maximise capital accumulation. It is embedded in practices aimed at (re)configuring both the workers and societal norms, values and culture, and, in the process, produce new traditions of work and worker subjectivities. However, workers do not blindly surrender to this logic but have the capacity to subvert this by forging means which propels them to exercise some form of control in how their work is organised.
E-commerce platforms such as, most famously, Amazon use digitalised production systems in their warehouses. In this article we examine how such digitalised systems impact upon the labour process, the organisation of work and working condition in the warehouse of Mercado Libre in Argentina, the largest e-commerce platform there and in Latin America. In many respects, this case is aligned with the evidence emerging from similar studies on Amazon. The ubiquitous combination of algorithmic management with discretionary human management has limited the sphere of workers’ autonomy and spaces of resistance, increased control to virtually any productive or unproductive time spent by workers in the warehouse and imposed stressful working conditions on workers, often with negative implications for health and safety. These conditions of exploitation common to digitalised workplaces have, however, been strengthened by the company’s hiring strategy, based extensively on labour broking, on the high turnover of a young workforce, and the strategic use of the existing institutional regulatory framework and formal trade union representation to buffer management from workers’ complaints. In this sense it is not regulation as such that is the key to better working conditions in the digitalised labour process but rather how that regulatory framework is effectively used and contested by workers’ struggles on the ground to get concessions.
This themed issue explores the impact of digital labour platforms on the conditions of work and social reproduction in the Global South. The collection of articles – most of which derive from research undertaken by the Future of Work(ers) research group, led by the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand – profile case studies from Argentina, Brazil, India, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. The case studies focus on location-based platforms in food delivery, e-hailing, e-commerce and beauty and spa work. The collection of articles explores two broad and overlapping themes. The first is how platform business models are redefining the work process and the conditions of work. Here, labour process theory is particularly relevant because it allows us to identify both the points of value production and the sources of working-class power (). The second is the transformative possibilities and limitations of emerging forms of worker organisation. Here the power resources approach is especially useful because it allows us to analyse the extent to which organisations can leverage sources of power to transform the conditions of work and social reproduction. Ultimately, the contributions illustrate that the impact of digital technologies on the world of workers is neither predetermined nor linear. Rather it is shaped by struggle, the terms of which are themselves contingent.
The discourse and policy of ‘entrepreneurial development’ has been critical to the spread of platform-based gig work in India. Digital platforms introducing gig work for location-based services, are perceived as vital in providing opportunities for dignified work marking a break from informality and are accompanied by the state’s push towards cultivating neoliberal subjectivities of ‘self-reliance’. We examine how a discourse of entrepreneurial development and the ‘enterprising self’ underpins the structural conditions of location-based gig work, through an examination of conditions of work in the ride hailing, food delivery and beauty/spa sector, in the Delhi National Capital Region. Although gig work has been defined as fertile ground for enterprise culture to take root, we find that neoliberal subjectivities within it have not thrived. An enterprising spirit can only survive through a subversion of the platform rather than by working on it. Our findings also suggest that gig workers’ drive to earn more, and for autonomy is underpinned by social considerations, including that of survival and mobility for the self and families. Gig work, then, is not a radical break from informality, instead workers experience social and economic insecurity common to informal workforces, which is now reproduced through digital technology and the ‘unexceptional’ change of neoliberalism.
Nearly three decades ago, Manuel Castells declared the atomising effects of the new technologies of the ‘information age’ to presage the ‘end of labour’. There is little doubt that the labour movement worldwide is no longer the social force it was in the twentieth century. Much of the debate on the future of work and consequences for worker organisation, moreover, has focused on defensive struggles against the introduction of new technologies in the Global North. Technological change has also led, however, to struggles in the Global South. These ‘technological fixes’ have historically contributed to the ‘remaking’ of new working classes and related ‘offensive’ struggles, the latest of which is digitalisation and algorithmic management. In this primarily conceptual article, we adopt a power resources approach to an analysis of these changes, using as our basis, a project encompassing eight empirical case studies on recent labour organising in on-location platform economies of both the Global North and South. Analysis of food-delivery and private ride-hailing platforms in Argentina and Uganda, respectively, showed different varieties of platform unionism, with forms of worker organisation in the Global South tending to more autonomy and hybridity. In some cases, these self-organised worker collectives go beyond established forms of unionism in attempts to control the platform technologies. We conclude by suggesting that the experiments of platform workers with new forms of power and organisation, particularly in the Global South, are important to follow in the Global North.
This article documents the working conditions of couriers in Rio de Janeiro, paying attention to their trajectories and individual and collective experiences. It asks three questions: What is the profile of these workers? What are the conditions of work and how have historic patterns of precarity taken on new features with technological advances? How do workers’ experiences of digital labour platforms inform their aspirations and expectations? Based on a survey of 500 couriers and 100 semi-structured interviews in the second half of 2021, I argue that structural precariousness has gained a new impulse with the platformisation of deliveries. The article identifies three groups of food couriers, based on their experiences and expectations. The first includes those who worked as couriers before the existence of delivery apps. The second group refers to those who were in courier services as a temporary alternative to unemployment, and who generally aspired to return to their former activities. The third represents those whose first job was in platformised deliveries, who seem to see an extremely precarious job as normal. The article points to continuities and ruptures in the activity of couriers in Rio de Janeiro since the arrival of digital platforms. This article also aims to explore the connections between race, gender and precarisation in delivery activity. The results indicate that historical patterns of tensions related to race and gender that shape the local labour market are reflected in the algorithmic management of platform-based deliveries, adding nuances to the precariousness of activity.
Public choice scholars have long argued that the decentralisation of governance has substantial benefits, though the specific context is necessary to understand why and how it works well. This article provides an Ostromian analysis of decentralised governance in Ukraine based on a wartime survey of 204 Ukrainian local authorities (LAs), in-depth interviews and focus groups with LA representatives. The article identifies empirical evidence of three mechanisms of polycentricity at play locally in Ukraine: the facilitation of local knowledge; resource mobilisation; and the enablement of experimentation and innovation. One year into the full-scale Russian invasion, empirical insights from Ukraine demonstrate how a polycentric governance system can contribute to resilience in a protracted and extreme crisis. The research findings also highlight the critical role of personal communication and technology in enabling social innovation that supports resilience.
The purpose of this study is to investigate transformation processes in the field of public administration in Ukraine and the possibility of implementing change management. This article uses a case-study methodology, with both primary source statistics and archival materials, to evaluate the extent of decentralisation reforms in Ukraine. We demonstrate that reforms have been partial, which we attribute to an inefficient and opaque system that frustrates reform efforts. The main gaps of the Ukrainian authorities are observed in the inability to effectively influence the distribution of resources, in particular, to ensure the functioning of newly created territorial units. The article provides evidence that the existing problems that are the result of inefficient public administration in Ukraine, regarding poverty, inflation, the growing gap between rural and urban population, and the growth of unemployment, can be solved by implementing change management. The decentralisation reforms initiated in Ukraine have often been extolled in various quarters for their potential to enhance administrative and governance efficiency. Nevertheless, a comprehensive and empirical assessment detailing the full extent and depth of these reforms remains conspicuously absent. Such a gap in the literature underscores the need for a rigorous examination to ascertain the real magnitude of changes and their tangible impacts on the ground. The novelty of the study consists in the focus on the approach of the three-dimensional design of public administration proposed by Ukrainian researchers in the context of ‘management–administration–management’.