May Day: As Tech’s Fortunes Sink, Will Labor Pay the Price?
With May Day around the corner, workers in the digital economy find themselves confronting mixed fortunes. There are certainly promising developments, with important victories in the legal arena; signs of growing solidarity and organization in worker struggles, and progress on important regulatory efforts such as the EU’s Platform Work Directive, and the ILO’s commitment to move forward with discussions on standards setting for platform work. Conversely, even as the legislative gap closes in with every passing year, growing financial turmoil has reshaped circumstances. There are mass layoffs in the tech sector, which are significantly impacting blue-collar platform workers too. Moreover, debt crises are adding new stress to Global South economies, and with an economic recession likely on the cards, the ensuing fallout is poised to exacerbate the burden on the working class.
Within this multi-faceted context, we bring you a special packed DataSyn issue with important stories and analysis on labor in the digital economy. From the struggles raging in Europe’s gig economy, to the predicaments of creative platform workers in South Korea, and the recent EU Directive on platform work, our contributors reflect on the constantly evolving debate on worker rights in a world where work stands transformed. In this issue, we also try and make sense of the recent spate of tech lay-offs, and as a bonus, take you inside the workings of one of the most interesting platform worker cooperatives in action today.
To top it all off, our Sins & Synergies section brings you a roundup of the most important labor-related research undertaken by IT for Change in recent months.
Always In Solidarity,
The DataSyn Team
THE NEW DIVERGENCE
Labor and Platform Capitalism: Dispatches from Europe
As a climate of inflation and financial austerity throws a wrench into the business models of the gig economy, Ben Wray reflects on how the situation is affecting platform workers’ struggles in Europe, examining the reactions of dominant players, the likely effects from significant legislative interventions on the horizon, as well as the emerging split within organized labor on the appropriate strategy for driving change.
Creative Platform Workers in South Korea Face a Unique Catch-22
As a booming creative content industry in South Korea continues to be riddled with market concentration, its workers face rapidly declining work conditions and precarity. Ahlem Faraoun critically tracks these trends, and the complex trade-offs that workers confront in organizing within this terrain.
THE POLICY TABLE
The EU Platform Work Directive
Shreeja Sen & Sreyan Chatterjee
The EU Platform Work Directive is amongst the most ambitious attempts to institute a gauntlet of rights for platform workers. Shreeja Sen and Sreyan Chatterjee explore its breakthroughs and limitations, and consider the lessons it may hold for global south contexts.
THE BIG EXCESS
Why the Tech Layoffs are a Symptom and not a Cure
As tech sector layoffs continue to rock the cushiest worker segment in the digital economy, Sonakshi Agarwal uncovers the hidden worker precarities within the high-paying tech sector and its geographic ramifications, as well as the budding possibilities for organized action in a sector that has traditionally championed enterprise and individualism.
'Unions Raise the Floor, Co-ops Can Raise the Ceiling'
An interview with Erik Forman
Apart from on-the-ground action and reconfiguring the cogs of legislation, a key part of reforming the gig economy is honing effective alternatives to today’s exploitative platforms. We caught up with Erik Forman, one of the co-founders of The Driver’s Cooperative, a pioneering rideshare platform co-op in the US.
The Sins & Synergies Lounge
The ILO governing body’s decision to table “decent work in the platform economy for standard-setting” as part of its 2025 International Labor Conference has reignited hopes for a future convention that can address platform workers’ rights across the globe. Read IT for Change’s recommendations for ILO’s expert meeting on the subject that was held in October last year.
Looking for a good introduction to the ins and outs of platform economy’s impact of labor, the changing nature of workers’ struggles, and the key role of data in organizing this complex terrain? Have a listen to Bot Populi’s recent ‘Platform Predicament’ podcast, where these questions are explored through conversations with informants at the frontiers of platformization.
One can’t fully understand the dynamics of the gig economy without accounting for its gendered dimensions. In 2022, IT for Change, in partnership with LabourNet, conducted a survey with urban informal women workers. An analysis of the data reveals a stark account of the gender divide and asymmetries that cut through digitalization. Read the report here.
As platform mediation reconfigures the economic and social terrain, workers’ imaginaries and strategies must evolve. To this end, data’s centrality and labor’s claim in its value must be on the agenda. This critical research paper expounds on this vision.
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