mfioretti: gig economy*

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  1. If you were a delivery van driver searching for a new job any time between the years of 2010 and 2013, chances are, you wouldn’t have found many businesses competing for your services. In Selma, Alabama, there was, on average, just one company posting help wanted ads for those drivers on the nation’s biggest job board. In all of Orlando, Florida, there were about nine. Nationwide the average was about two.

    The situation for telemarketers wasn’t great either. In any given city or town, approximately three companies were trying to hire for their services. Accountants only had it a little better: Roughly four businesses were posting jobs for them.
    A lack of competition among employers gives businesses outsize power over workers, including the ability to tamp down on pay.

    Those numbers are based on the findings of a new research paper that may help unlock the mystery of why Americans can’t seem to get a decent raise. Economists have struggled over that question for years now, as wage growth has stagnated and more of the nation’s income has shifted from the pockets of workers into the bank accounts of business owners. Since 1979, inflation-adjusted hourly pay is up just 3.41 percent for the middle 20 percent of Americans while labor’s overall share of national income has declined sharply since the early 2000s. There are lots of possible explanations for why this is, from long-term factors like the rise of automation and decline of organized labor, to short-term ones, such as the lingering weakness in the job market left over from the great recession. But a recent study by a group of labor economists introduces an interesting theory into the mix: Workers’ pay may be lagging because the U.S. is suffering from a shortage of employers.
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  2. You are a supporter of a universal basic income. How would it be able to protect the workforce engaged in digital labour, as intermittent and precarious as it is?

    AC: By recognizing the data labour that goes through the platforms. This has already been argued by a report by the French Ministry of Finance in 2013, and in a report by the Rockefeller Foundation last year. The digital giants should not be taxed on the basis of how many data centers or offices they have in a country, but on the basis of the data produced by the users of the platforms. If there are 30 million Google users in Italy, it is fair to tax Google based on the profits they made from these users’ activities. In this way, one could fund a basic income, arising from the digital labour that each of us carries out on the internet or on the mobile apps we use. •
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  3. Look: no. Skedaddle is not going to eliminate Yelp or Facebook or tipping. It's not going to be "the first cryptocurrency for real world use." But at some level they're not wrong! One day 20 years from now we'll wake up and all of our interactions and performance will be tracked on the blockchain and will directly determine our income and socioeconomic status, and on the one hand we'll get pretty good customer service, but on the other hand we'll be terrified all the time. It is the logical endpoint of the "gig economy."

    The thing is that this omniscient blockchain of terror will be run by Facebook, not Skedaddle. If you just come out and say that your mission is to build a dystopia of economic precarity and constant surveillance, then you do not have the soft skills to actually carry out that mission. (Never mind if you say that your mission is "to completely take down Yelp and Facebook reviews, while completely eliminating tipping.") If you say that your mission is "to make the world more open and connected," then you have the ruthlessness, and the facility with euphemism, to actually do it.

    Elsewhere in dystopian blockchain fiction, here is a story about doomsday preppers who are hoarding bitcoins against the apocalypse. Doomsday prepping and bitcoin enthusiasm go well together psychologically: Both involve distrust of modern social systems, and both tap into deep libertarian and self-sufficiency themes. But they don't go at all well together logically: If modern society is wiped out in some massive catastrophe, it seems unlikely that the electric grid and global internet infrastructure will survive to run an energy-hungry blockchain for a currency with no physical form that even now basically can't be used to buy anything. But the bitcoin/apocalypse enthusiasts are undeterred:
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  4. Increasingly workers, and government agencies are pushing back. Seattle passed an ordinance in 2015 allowing drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps to unionize. A federal judge temporarily blocked that law on Tuesday after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some conservative groups filed lawsuits against the city. Workers have also sued various gig economy companies to seek overtime pay, reimbursement for expenses and other damages. Lyft recently agreed to pay $27 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by drivers in California.

    Legislation and lawsuits might ensure that traditional labor laws are applied to the gig economy. But a few smaller companies, like Hello Alfred, which dispatches people to do household chores, and Managed by Q, which provides office maintenance and cleaning services, are taking steps on their own, by treating workers as employees. They say that this lowers turnover and improves the quality of their services. Over time even bigger companies like Uber, many of which lose money and rely on investors to keep pouring in billions of dollars of capital, might find that it pays to treat workers better and even make some of them employees.

    But so far, experience with these companies shows that without the legal protections and ethical norms that once were widely accepted, workers will find the economy of the future an even more inhospitable place.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-04-11)
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  5. The main difference between the Old Left and the Alt-Left is that the latter focuses more on the cultural, behavioral and psychological sides of economic life. In a world where material resources are relatively abundant and information and information processing become dominant in economic life, money begins to matter less than e.g. cultural capital, good social relations and access to high quality information. What is lacking is not stuff, or money, but intelligent solutions for distribution, value creation and ideas about what to do with our lives in the first place. To create a fair and sustainable global order we must create better social settings for people to do worthwhile things.

    We have already stated that this entails a “betrayal of the working class” (read previous post in this series). What do we mean by that? Basically it means that the Alt-Left loosens its ties to the worker movements and the interests of labor (higher wages, safer employment, benefits, consumption and so on). Simply put, the greatest problem of the world is no longer that working and middle class people make too little money. Many of the problems that come from poverty and economic precariousness are – upon closer inspection – in fact social and psychological problems. In the most developed countries people aren’t literally starving or freezing to death. But they are being stressed out, alienated, frustrated, treated poorly, manipulated by advertisement and getting stuck in destructive social relationships. Increasing people’s incomes and consumption can be a way of remedying these maladies, but it is far from the only way. And a too strong focus on material wealth does not only blind us to other means of improving people’s lives; it also perpetuates an overall system of production and consumption that is not ecologically sustainable.
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  6. The opportunity here is to accelerate learning among growers groups whose expertise and resources, when pooled, can deliver a lot of the value currently added by today’s cost-adding layers of intermediaries. Of particular importance are alternative trade networks and the Community Agroecology Network.
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  7. Maybe you deleted the Uber app when they scabbed the deportation protest in New York, then re-installed it the next day because convenience outweighed your momentary dalliance with having principles. So here's a brief round-up of reasons why you should have stopped giving them your money years ago.

    I had hoped that I could just find someone else's round-up of all the reasons, but now I understand why I couldn't: there are so many and it's such a moving target
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-03-02)
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  8. Another cause of the decline in jobs is that our engine of job growth has stalled. Young businesses, not small businesses, as is widely believed, create the most new jobs. The growth of new young businesses is at historically low levels and the businesses that do start are creating fewer jobs. Startup businesses used to create about 3 million jobs a year in the U.S. but that has declined to barely over 2 million per year.

    Instead of creating jobs, companies are increasingly disaggregating work from a job. There are fewer full-time journalist jobs available anymore, for instance, but there is plenty of freelance reporting work. Similarly, that former director of marketing job has now morphed into the work produced by a social media contractor, an outsourced PR agency, and a marketing strategy consultant. Where there once were jobs, in the gig economy there is now just work.

    The advice I give my students is to look for plentiful work, not increasingly scarce jobs.

    The second reason I tell my students to stop looking for a job is that full-time employees are becoming the worker of last resort. Instead of preferring full-time employees, many firms now actively avoid them, and look for ways to build their business models and run their firms with as few full-time employees as possible.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2016-12-20)
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  9. Multinational delivery company Hermes has been referred to HM Revenue and Customs following complaints by its couriers that they are being paid less than the minimum wage. The company, which delivers goods for major retailers including John Lewis and Next, has faced criticism since The Guardian revealed that the pay of some of its self-employed couriers back in July 2016 amounted to less than the hourly national minimum wage.

    The self-employed status of these couriers removes the company’s legal responsibility to ensure they are paid the legal minimum of £7.20 an hour. Now, compliance officers will investigate whether couriers’ classification as self-employed is genuine and fair.

    The referral marks a stride forward in the equitable treatment of workers without traditional forms of collective workplace representation, allowing their voices to be heard and potentially changing the way they are treated. Alongside similar cases recently of retailers Sports Direct and ASOS making such concessions to workers’ rights, it appears to be part of a growing trend.

    These cases are markers of how intense external pressure can change the way that these firms treat their staff (whether employed directly or indirectly via agencies). With strikes at an all-time low and the membership of unions much depleted, these advances in defending workers’ terms and conditions of employment show how alliances between unions and other NGOs are beginning to bear significant fruit.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2016-10-22)
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  10. Like an extended smashing of atoms, the 9-to-5 job market has shattered and splintered over the past 25 years in ways that have both liberated and trapped millions of workers.

    Uber drivers, ditch-digging day laborers, adjunct professors, freelance software designers, temp attorneys, domestic workers, and often woefully underpaid “task rabbits” hired online at a moment’s notice, wouldn’t appear to have much in common. Their pay and working conditions vary wildly, and some push paper while others handle steering wheels, mops, diapers, or sledge hammers — but what unites them is a gig economy marked by flexibility, instability, innovation, and legal and financial uncertainty.

    As the gig economy proliferates, growing numbers are breaking away and creating their own work communities, based on a mix of autonomy and interdependence. Combating precarious economics and social isolation, freelancers are using new open-source technology and old-fashioned shoe leather organizing to create new ways to work and to work together.

    Enspiral, for instance, uses a mix of physical meeting spaces, open-source technology, and digital organizing to help workers build creative and economic independence as well as community. The collective is just one piece of a burgeoning global freelancers’ movement that is helping independent workers to reposition power and ownership in a platform-driven age.
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