Transformations of work in the era of the gig economy: towards a new paradigm of worker autonomy or exploitation?

Lunch seminars


    Simone Baglioni
    University of Parma


Simone Baglioni, University of Parma
Transformations of work in the era of the gig economy: towards a new paradigm of worker autonomy or exploitation?

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Abstract: (with Tom Montgomery)

The transformations of work evident in the global economy by the fusion of technological developments and global capital, have generated new patterns of work which disrupt long established conceptual, legal, and common understandings of labour. The new forms of employment that are labelled the ‘gig economy’ are among them: building, on the one hand, upon a spirit of capitalism which transforms features of everyday life (e.g. free time, ability to cycle, knowledge of a given city and neighborhood, and the possession of a cell-phone) into resources for income generation; while, on the other hand, blurring the line between dependent and autonomous work, as gig workers retain some aspects of self-employment (they can decide when and for how long to ‘ride’ on a day, responsibility or ownership of their bikes/vehicles etc..) while seeking orders for deliveries to generate income often carrying the brand of a large private company embedded in the growing ecology of platform capitalism. Attempts to clarify the nature of gig work are made by a range of actors, including local and national public authorities or trade unions which seek to regulate, and increase public awareness about, work in the sector. Yet, the confusion about what gig work implies for people’s lives (in terms of income and well-being) and the consequences it generates for the future of all work, are still there: many workers, trade unions and public actors are yet to solve the challenges raised by the new phenomenon. Who are those who see it as simply a new modality to increase people’s economic potential via self-employment or self-entrepreneurship? Which actors instead consider the gig economy to simply be a new form of labour exploitation promoted by ‘surveillance capitalism’? What would further regulation produce in this domain? Are current academic and policy categories of work adequate to understand such a phenomenon or do we need new conceptual and policy lenses? In this chapter we discuss such issues by contrasting the opinions and experiences of gig workers, unions, and policymakers in the UK, a country which has been pioneering matching of global capital with disruptive technology in an already advanced deregulated labour context.