Work in the digital age

Image: Cyrus Saurius


Work through “on demand” and “crowdwork” platforms – precariousness and flexibility

The changes that took place in the XNUMXth century can be characterized by the arrival of the automobile, which modified the structure of industrial society and led to new development paradoxes. The XNUMXst century, in turn, is characterized by the cell phone society, or, better said, the digitized and computerized world, based on codes that permeate human perceptions. In this sense, the world of work, in this century, also underwent a radical change in the characteristics and conceptions of the new forms of work that prevail in the face of the technological demands of the XNUMXst century. Mixed between cutting-edge technology and the reordering of new forms of work, capitalist society is creating and increasing the flexible pauperism of the so-called postmodern societies.

The restructuring of the world of work enters new realities for the worker, requiring adaptations to ensure survival in the face of configurations and precariousness of labor relations. These new labor practices are forging new adaptable and flexible subjects to meet the demands of capital, thus sustaining the vicissitudes of large corporations that gently exploit and subordinate the working class to the new facets of the labor market. In view of this, the digital age generated intermittent workers, dressed as contemporary slaves. In recent decades, there has been an increase in the service sector. The justification for this is due to the neoliberal policies of privatization of the sector, which generate profits and are exploited by large capitalist corporations. Furthermore, in this process, there was an explosion of the digital informational world (ANTUNES, 2018).

According to Abílio (2020), “at the beginning of 2019, according to data from the National Household Sample Survey (PNAD), 3,8 million Brazilians had their main source of income at work using an app. Research by the Instituto de Lo-comotiva showed that approximately 17 million people regularly earn some income through work by application in Brazil.” (ABÍLIO, 2020, p.111).

These data reflect the new reality of work through computerization and the precariousness of work relations. This demonstrates a new structuring of the world of work and also the increase in exploitation and precariousness of the workforce. The author points out that, currently, there is a new form of control, management and organization of work, which is largely related to work mediated by digital platforms, but is not restricted to it. This is a global trend, understood as uberization[I] (ABÍLIO, 2020).

The new forms of control over the body of workers, given the nebulous practices of flexibility, confuse what is work and what is not work, in addition to overloading and deepening a new form of management and control of the workforce. The dismantling of labor laws and the growing crises of the neoliberal society that prioritize big profits further aggravate the precarious relations of computerized/uberized jobs.

The unemployed worker's control and need to submit to the modus operandi of the system in the digital age and work through platforms forge a new job, which becomes a kind of modern slave to the dictates of capital. Analyzing the weaknesses of labor rights and labor guarantees, the digital age, linked to new work practices platforms, leads the worker to be a servant of digital capital. Abílio (2020) reinforces, like the motorcycle couriers, the transformations of work that is now organized and subsumed in new ways, which change the modes of remuneration, the determination of working time, subjective motivations, the formation of professional identity , worker health, among other elements. In this case, people live in favor of the rhythm of the clock, which dictates the rules and demands, forcing dangerous work without job security.

In this correlation, according to the analysis by Antunes (2018), the privilege of workers is to be servants of work, “if they are lucky”. For the author, in the current conjecture of class society, from the moment that people do not have the privilege of being servants, a social tragedy is configured, that is, the scourge of complete unemployment. This category of work creates a new kind of monopolization of economic activities, reorganizing the centralization of control over work and increasing the submission of workers to this model of platforms called urbanization.

The State plays a decisive role in regulating uberization, as its neoliberal reforms guarantee the expansion of corporations in domestic markets, ensuring the elimination of rights won after hard battles. Furthermore, it can be seen that the State's convenience in making labor laws more flexible strengthens the exploitation and precariousness of the workforce. This new wave of restructuring of labor relations strengthens the profit of international corporations, in addition to weakening and inhibiting the legal guarantees of workers' rights. As Abílio (2020) points out, involved in the discursive production of entrepreneurship, uberization also refers to modes of subjectivation related to contemporary forms of work management and neoliberalism.

Uberization reveals practices of work subordination, surveillance, control and strong work management. The dismantling of the 2017 Labor Reform enabled and corroborated the expansion of legal and exploratory means to build a new subject that adapts to the processes of submission to precarious work. In this sense, the State is convenient to the apparatus of this modus operandi that spreads at a speed in all the corners of Brazil. Therefore, there is a process in which, as the economy deindustrializes and reduces formal jobs, the appeal to “undertake”, “win for oneself”, “not depend on a boss” increases, forging, with this, new desperate workers in search of their livelihood, who will accept anything to survive. Abílio (2020) points out that what is at stake is the tendency of generalization at a global level, with characteristics that are persistently made invisible and strongly associated with marginality, informal work and, more generally, the world of work in the periphery.

The society of the 2020st century represents a critical and chaotic scenario regarding working conditions in the globalized world. Demonstrating a frightening reality of the living conditions of the working class, in past centuries, the hard work of everyday life was perceptible. Currently, in modernity, it becomes hidden and made up in the eyes of society, but exploitation and subordination remain the same in the face of the remodeling of capital and the new practices of labor relations. As an example, there are the precarious, the flexible, the temporary, in addition to the huge army of unemployed men and women that spread across the contemporary world. Paraphrasing Abílio (XNUMX), the working class and the self-management of a survival in which very little is guaranteed, of a permanent provisional nature, are structuring elements of a way of life that precedes neoliberal policies and the flexibilization of work.

Therefore, the digital age has suffocated workers' rights, which were conquered through hard battles throughout history. The process of radicalization of new computerized work relations should in fact be aimed at improving the working and living conditions of the working class, but what is seen is a profound setback, with the implementation of neoliberal policies and the withdrawal of these subjects' rights, putting them at the forefront of society's toughest jobs. This reality of the so-called “modern” society is permeated with contradictions in its various forms in human relationships. Science (technology), which should be a patrimony of humanity, is at the service of large corporations that control and dominate the masses of workers.

Furthermore, the 2002st century has become the age of representation and the globalization of capital, triggering several social, economic, political and cultural crises. The flexible relations of the new society became the crux of the subordination of the workforce and the loss of rights to adapt to new labor practices. This flexibility of labor relations increases the deregulation of labor relations and increases the burden of exploitation of the working class. The process of informality becomes the basis of new practices called entrepreneurship in contemporary times, called by Harvey (XNUMX) “eclecticism in work practices”.

* André Luiz de Souza is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).


ANTUNES, Ricardo. The Privilege of Serfdom: The New Service Proletariat in the Digital Age. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2018.

ABÍLIO, LudimilaCosthek. “Uberization: the era of the just-in-time worker?”. Advanced Studies, v. 34, no. 98, p. 111-126, May 2020. Doi:

HARVEY, David. The postmodern condition. [Trans. Adail Ubirajara Sobral; Maria Stela Gonçalves]. São Paulo: Loyola, 2002.


[I]The uberization of work defines an ongoing trend, which can be generalized across labor relations and encompasses different sectors of the economy, types of occupation, levels of qualification and income, working conditions, globally (ABÍLIO, 2020).

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