Giuseppe Antonio Recchia

University of Bari

See no evil, hear no evil?

Workers voice in the gig economy

Giuseppe Antonio Recchia, University of Bari

The “identity crisis” of the gig economy worker - employee, worker, self-employed, micro-entrepreneur, according to the different platform schemes and the applicable legal framework – jeopardises, at least at first glance, another symbol of the traditional employment relationship, i.e. the collective interest, its becoming subject, through precise forms of representation, and object of collective action; as it has been rightly pointed out, in the sharing economy, workers do not require the trade union mediation, nor the employers need their associations, because everything, apparently, is entrusted to a direct encounter between customers/consumers and workers, linked or mediated by a platform that generates algorithms. Nonetheless, workers’ vulnerability and the economical (and even hierarchical) dominant position of digital intermediaries brings to inevitable protests, mobilization and early forms of organisation. The protests of food delivery gig workers across Europe or the use of judicial actions as a way of setting up an agenda for claiming right represent the tip of an iceberg which affects the traditional industrial relations system and which demands to be analysed in the paper according these lines:

  1. the way in which gig economy workers’ interests find even basic forms of organization and representation and in which these forms of representation, voluntarily settled on “precarious” representation, develop collective action, adopting a grassroots approach which marries militant campaigns to legal battles;
  2. the way in which gig workers seem to move without and beyond traditional trade unions, which in turn are forced to rethink their strategies, accepting the challenge of representing the precarious and informal work, finding successful solutions, for example, in the German approach of IG Metall and the Swedish model of Unionen.

The study of representation and collective action in the platform economy scope – based on case studies and the theoretical literature - will also focus on the internal and external obstacles – including the EU framework on freedom of association and collective bargaining - to its strengthening.

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