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  • Author or Editor: Riccardo Emilio Chesta x
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A Comparative Perspective

From Deliveroo to Amazon, digital platforms have transformed the way we work drastically. But how are these transformations being received and challenged by workers?

This book provides a radical interpretation of the changing nature of worker movements in the digital age, developing an invaluable approach that combines social movement studies and industrial relations.

Using case studies taken from Europe and North America, it offers a comparative perspective on the mobilizing trajectories of different platform workers and their distinct organizational forms and action repertoires.

This is an innovative book that offers a complete view of the new labour conflicts in the platform economy.

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The chapter looks at the structural transformations triggered by the processes of digitalization by showing how they have been able to redefine global competition based on digital innovation, at the macro-level, restructure companies in terms of a network-based organization at the meso-level, and change the nature of the workplace and its constraints and opportunities for worker collective organizations at the micro-level. The chapter covers the current wave of digitalization and automation by building upon classical works that define technology as neither neutral nor autonomous, but rather as an outcome of the social interests embedded in its design and application. These directly refer to the power of designers and planners in their use of technological innovation to reshape traditional functions of labour-saving and labour control. At the same time, the chapter develops the critique of technological determinism developed by the social shaping of the technology paradigm by looking at the interactions between digital transformation of the workplace and identity formation of new typologies of digital workers.

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The chapter presents and discusses the main structural and political challenges underlying platform workers’ organizational processes of collective action. Firstly, we present the definition of digital work on which we base our analysis of the rise of platform worker mobilizations. Drawing on the extant literature on the subject, we look at the main challenges to collective action for the two digital workers’ categories considered in the book, namely, food-delivery couriers and Amazon drivers. Secondly, by building a typology of labour process transformations connected to digital work, the chapter discusses the main challenges that these two categories of workers face in organizing collective action at the workplace level. Most of the obstacles to workers’ collective organizing in platform economy derive from specific processes of labour fragmentation that the digital intermediation of platforms induces either directly or indirectly. More specifically, we identify five processes of fragmentation in platform labour: legal, technological, organizational, spatial, and social. In the chapter, we introduce and discuss each of them at length for food-delivery couriers and Amazon drivers.

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This chapter offers an overview of the vast array of organizational forms and action repertoires that Amazon drivers and food-delivery couriers have adopted over the course of the last decade in order to improve their working conditions. We do so by drawing on our research fieldwork, and on the growing empirical research in the fields of industrial relations and social movement studies, which have recently dealt with the collective organization of various segments of this new precarious workforce. The mobilization of digital workers is particularly puzzling, as they are employed under working conditions that share several features usually considered in scholarly literature as not conducive to the emergence of collective action. Among these, we explicitly consider 1) the high levels of technological and organizational innovation, and 2) the absence or ineffectiveness of traditional trade unionism. Focusing on the organizational process, the overall aim of the chapter is to understand why and how these protests have occurred ‘against the odds’, looking at the mobilization of alternative sources of power rather than the ones usually considered in industrial relations.

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The chapter explores the processes of identity formation concerning Amazon drivers and food-delivery couriers. Such processes are located within a ‘solidarity in action’ framework, which emphasizes the dynamic and processual components of workers’ political identity. In doing so, we draw on Alessandro Pizzorno’s concept of recognition struggle, looking at the development of group identification among workers as the precondition for such a process of collective identity to emerge. In the chapter, we show how this process of identification is also crucial in the identity-making of the categories of digital work under investigation. Developing Pizzorno’s framework, we look at how the processes of identity formation have not only been confined to their work setting, but rather build upon and affect specific political and social conditions beyond the workplace. By moving the analytical focus beyond the employment relationship and firm boundaries, we broaden the analysis of what defines the primary identities of digital workers and how they voice in workplace and societal affairs.

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Summarizing the empirical results of the research and discussing our main theoretical achievements for the explanation of the new mobilizations of platform workers, Chapter 6 provides several arguments as to why a renewed social movement approach is key for understanding and explaining the new labour conflicts in the digital context. More specifically, we revisit the three core frames of references presented in the introductory chapter. On the bases of our empirical evidence we then suggest theoretical reflections aimed at combining the attention to structural conditions of conflicts, workers’ agency, and organizational dynamics, as well as the emergent power of eventful protests. In this way, we also single out the contribution that comes from the bridging of social movement studies and industrial relations studies. The chapter then highlights how our contribution sheds light on the specific characteristics of work affected by the new technological transformation as well as the mechanisms that trigger new collective identities and mobilization processes for workers. Finally, the conclusions bridges labour studies and social movement studies with debates on the rise of a new digital working class (cybertariat, info-proletariat, digital proletariat) making sense of processes of class mobilization that concerns the new precarious workers in general.

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The first chapter provides a critical review of the relevant literature in the fields of social movement studies and industrial relations on the issues of capitalist transformations, workers’ collective voice and identity formation in the digital era by highlighting their points of tensions and of interaction. In this way, the core arguments of the chapter are linked to the debates in social movement studies as well as industrial relations. More notably, we argue that in order to make sense of the new labour conflicts in the platform economy it is necessary to build an analytical framework which draws upon and combines concepts and theories developed in both fields of studies. We do so by discussing the most recent theoretical frameworks that have been put forward and assessing their contribution to the understanding of the current revival of reflections on class and capitalism, as well as the mobilization of labour.

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