Platform capitalism and class recomposition

Image: Pedro Cordero
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By CESAR SANSON*

Application workers are today at the forefront of class recomposition that will define the standards of the capital-labor relationship in the coming decades

The intense productive restructuring of capitalism in recent decades, particularly in the last decade, with the emergence of Revolution 4.0, has put in motion the “class recomposition” manifested in application workers. These workers, in their resistance and struggles, indicate that platform capitalism is open, it is not yet victorious and overwhelming as many people think.

Platform capitalism, by the way, is the result, in a way, of the rearrangement of capital to “dribble” workers' resistance. The workers' struggles of the 1960s and 1970s of the last century, as indicated by the social theory of operaismo, in their refusal of Fordist labor, forced capital to seek new productive arrangements to continue its saga of accumulation. Productive restructuring, therefore, cannot be interpreted only as a movement of capital in its renewal, based on technological innovations, but as a response to workers' struggles.

Thus, we arrive at the replacement of the metallurgist worker by the application worker. Substitution in the process of capital accumulation and substitution in the process of class struggle. In the era of iron and steel capitalism, of iron, the tensions, struggles and desires of society at the time were played out; today, in platform capitalism, the time to come is at stake. An open time, in which capital and labor engage in a daily struggle, sometimes silent and sometimes loud.

The protoparadigm companies of XNUMXst century platform capitalism like Ifood and Uber are far from winning the battle and establishing their kingdom. Just as the struggles waged at the time of the textile industry of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries and the metalworking industry of the XNUMXth century defined the standards of yesterday's work society, platform companies and their workers find themselves in the midst of a struggle that will define the standards of the capital-labor ratio in the coming decades.

The clash is set. On the one hand, the app companies, governed by finance capital and, on the other hand, workers on their bicycles, financed motorbikes and second-hand cars. On the one hand, little transparent devices, commanded by hidden algorithms that organize and plunder work and, on the other, young people, mostly, who know they are being deceived and not recognized for their insane work.

Resistance, however, is present in the refusal to discipline, in the circumvention of the application, in the collective and solidary action for the improvement of income and working conditions. Companies attentive to the rebellion of the “new worker” are involved in inventing new mechanisms that keep their “collaborators” disciplined. And so, dialectically, small fights are fought that will become big fights and will define the new pattern of the society of work.

Going down to the asphalt floor – today's factory floor – one can see the daily confrontation of application workers against faceless bosses[1] and how this battle configures and reconfigures situations and working conditions. An example is the creation, at Ifood, of the Logistics Operator (OL) worker. This delivery platform originally consisted only of “cloud” workers, a condition in which the worker chooses the hours he wants to work, without a defined working day, connecting or disconnecting from the platform according to his convenience. Subsequently, the company created the Logistic Operator, in which the worker has to comply with a mandatory work schedule and shift, not being able to miss work, choose the days or hours of work, reject delivery orders, in addition to several other requirements.

The Logistic Operator was created because the company realized that, at certain times, especially on weekends, there was a lack of couriers available to meet the demand. The Logistic Operator arises from resistance to discipline, from the importance that workers give to time off, leisure with family and friends. With bonuses and priorities given by the algorithms to the Logistic Operator, he earns more, however, they struggle with insane journeys, adverse weather conditions and hellish traffic schedules.

It is not for nothing that some couriers who are in the “cloud” jokingly call their OL colleagues “connected suckers”, in reference to the fact that they can never disconnect from the application. The transition from the “cloud” to the Logistic Operator and the return to the “cloud” is quite common due to the insanity of work that this OL work condition requires. It is preferable to earn less than to work so much.

A myriad of resistances are manifested on a daily basis to circumvent the application that, despite its alleged technological perfection, leaves workers in trouble. In the set of resistances, one of the most used is to refuse deliveries, either due to the location or the negligible value, using the “do not answer” feature of the application, like a telephone that rings to exhaustion and ends up hanging up. As in a game of cat and mouse, companies are changing their technology, the code of their algorithms, their rules to respond to workers' struggles, often having to give in to couriers.

The biggest fight, however, is ongoing, the demand for minimum wage security with established earnings floors, health insurance in case of accidents, theft insurance, the end of unilateral blocking of applications, transparency of the criteria used by the algorithms. The claims do not include a return to Fordism in its CLT version. We fight for dignity with freedom.

Another level of the clash is the resource of knowledge, open and immaterial, which can and is being appropriated by couriers in the version of forming self-managed cooperatives, with gains shared among workers. It is a possibility that goes against the culture of individualism.

In short, it is necessary to problematize the narrative that couriers are easy prey of the entrepreneurship discourse and that they are atomized. On the contrary, it is the valorization of autonomy, the preservation of dignity that does not want to be subordinated to the Fordist disciplining that allows identity, the antechamber of class consciousness. A class recomposition is underway.

*Cesar Sanson Professor of sociology of work at the Department of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN).

Note


[1] CANT, Callum. Delivery Fight! – The fight against the faceless bosses. Sao Paulo, Venice, 2021.

 

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