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How can gig workers win?

An interesting interview in the Asian Labour Review caught our attention this week. Jamie Woodcock, co-author of 'The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction' and a member of the IWGB union, spoke to ALR about the challenges of researching about and organising in the platform economy. 

We will skip the critical discussion of academic research on the topic, though that is interesting too. What we found most intriguing is that Woodcock, who the Gig Economy Project has previously interviewed, outlines an analysis of the dynamics of worker-organising in the gig economy as strike prone, but not necessarily strike-effective.

Gig workers are strike-prone because there are low barriers to industrial action in, for example, the food delivery sector if you are not an employee and so don't have to jump through any legal hoops. Also, striking doesn't require a direct confrontation with a manager, unlike in other low-income jobs like a supermarket, and platforms do not have effective communication methods with couriers. Finally, the costs are potentially lower than for most workers because it's often feasible to work on a different platform on a strike day.

"What we see is that the kind of common form of voicing problems at work becomes the wildcat strike," Woodcock says. "The difficulty is the wildcat strike in lots of contexts isn’t winning longer-term gains."

He adds that while campaigns at the local level, targeting a specific restaurant for example or all the riders in one small town, can win victories, scaling this up to effective city-scale, national or even international action is something that has been difficult to achieve so far.

One of the challenges in building durable worker organisation is turnover: workers do not tend to remain food delivery couriers for long. Deliveroo has said average courier turnover is 11 months. Another is to overcome suspicion of trade unions: big institutional unions, small independent unions, and more informal forms of worker-organising have all played a role, but "none of these are proving a successful model for long-term organising," Woodcock says, adding that although things are moving incredibly quickly in the gig economy, he feels "we’ve reached a bit of an impasse".

Woodcock's analysis prompted us to think about some of the forms of gig economy action we have read or written about over the past few years: what have been the most successful? We have seen a variety of innovative and effective forms of organisation and action, but the one that stands out is the E-Food strike in Greece in September 2021. This is the only strike we can think of where the workers won a complete victory which also laid the basis for durable long-term organisation.

Management had scrapped their short-term employment contracts and made them all independent contractors, but the pressure of a viral consumer boycott on social media and two immediate, four-hour strikes, with 1000-1500 riders protesting through the streets of Athens, forced the company to reverse the decision and instead introduce long-term employment contracts. The strike was organised by two unions: Attica Food and Tourism Trade Union and the Assembly of Base Workers of Bicycle Drivers.

The E-Food strike was a quite specific situation - the workers were employees, before management decided unilaterally to try to make them independent contractors. Also, there was a political dimension: the government had just introduced a new labour law that made it easier for platform workers to be hired on a self-employed basis, and in response to the strike the Labour Minister had to deny that the new law was the reason why the E-Food riders had their employment contracts terminated. 

Nonetheless, important aspects of the E-Food strike are generalisable to other disputes in the food delivery sector: the unions' ability to mobilise a critical mass of workers to debilitate E-Food's operations, a willingness of unions to take strike action quickly, and an effective use of the consumer boycott co-ordinated alongside the strike action. The E-Food strike may or may not be a template for other gig workers, but it does at least show that it is possible to strike and win in the food delivery sector.

What do you think? Are there examples you know of gig workers striking and winning that should be highlighted? What organising strategies work, and what don't? Let us know your thoughts by replying to this newsletter, and we'll post it in next week's edition.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator


Gig Economy news round-up

  • DELIVEROO MADE £294 MILLION LOSS IN 2022: British food delivery platform Deliveroo has published its 2022 earnings report, with the company posting a £294 million loss for the year, an 11% smaller loss than in 2021 (£330.5 million). Deliveroo's stock dropped slightly on the news, which CEO Will Shu depicted as "progress" on Deliveroo's "path to profitability". The company, part-owned by Amazon, recorded a 14% rise in revenue for the year. Deliveroo announced last month that it was cutting 9% of its office staff in response to the economic slowdown. Shu said following the earnings report publication that it was "not the easiest time" for consumers, although the 10-year old company had detected some pick-up in sentiment in recent weeks. Read the earnings report here.
  • WORKERS AT 'PEDAL ME' VOTE FOR UNION RECOGNITION: Couriers at 'Pedal Me', a UK electric bike cargo and passenger company, have voted to recognise the IWGB as their union. The couriers are employed and 57 out of 66 voted in favour of union recognition, on a 90% turnout. The 'Pedal Me' union twitter account stated: "It's taken a long time and a lot of hard work to get here, but we're delighted that this vote has finally taken place and has gone overwhelmingly in favour of unionisation. This is a victory for all Pedal Me workers but, we strongly believe will ultimately be to the benefit of the company as a whole. We look forward to the start of official negotiations and working constructively with management, as we move into a new era of union powered pedalling." Read more here.
  • UBER TO TRIAL FREE CHILDCARE IN THE UK: Uber says it will offer 10 hours of free childcare for 1,000 UK drivers, as part of efforts to attract more parents of young children to become drivers. The childcare service will be provided by gig workers on childcare platform 'Bubble'. The UK has the most expensive childcare in Europe, and drivers can make their highest earnings in the evenings and weekends, when kids are out of school. The results of the trial will be examined before deciding on next steps. Responding to the news, IWGB union President Alex Marshall said: "This might appear positive, but if Uber paid more, drivers could afford childcare and/or take time off to be with their children. Flexibility at Uber is the ability to work unlimited hours and still struggle, rather than fitting the job around your life." Also this week, UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced plans to expand free childcare in England in a staged process that will eventually reach 30 hours per week. Read more here.
  • GETIR ANNOUNCES IT WILL CLOSE TWO DARK STORES IN AMSTERDAM: Bowing to pressure from local government and the courts, Turkish grocery delivery platform Getir announced that it will close two 'dark stores' in Amsterdam. The Dutch capital has been leading the way in Europe in cracking down on the mini-warehouses due to the impact they have on local communities, and in July last year the municipality decided that a Getir darkstore in Da Costakade in Amsterdam-West had to close, a decision which was subsequently backed by a court in September. This was followed by two fines, the last of which was in February and was worth €40,000. Finally, Getir has said that it will close the dark store on 13 April, as well as another on Rijnstraat, which it has also received a €20,000 fine for keeping open despite the decision of the authorities. Another Getir dark store in the Dutch capital, Jacob van Campenstraat, will remain open despite also incurring a €20,000 fine. The municipality said that Getir had been issued recently with another notice demanding the close of the Jacob van Campenstraat dark store. Getir said they were "committed to sustainable cooperation with local residents, the municipality and city districts". Read more here
  • LITHUANIAN BOLT DRIVERS MAY FACE DOUBLE LANGUAGE REQUIREMENTS: Bolt drivers in Lithuania may be required to speak both English and Lithuania. Bolt set a requirement for its Lithuanian drivers to speak English, but did not require them to speak Lithuanian. The State Language Inspectorate (STI) has responded by demanding that the drivers can also speak Lithuanian, claiming that they "regularly receive complaints" that drivers can't speak Lithuanian. The STI said that they want a legal loophole closed in a 2020 law which required all workers in service-based industries to speak the language, regardless of employment status. Many private hire platform drivers are foreign workers, hence the lack of Lithuanian, while many customers are tourists, hence Bolt's desire for the drivers to pass an English language test. Andrius Pacevičius, head of Bolt in Lithuania, said it was "relatively rare cases when it is necessary to talk" but that the English language requirement was a response to "the wishes of customers". Read more here.

On GEP this week

Víctor Riesgo Gómez – Strategies of resistance and trade union action in platform work: The case of Uber in Spain

How does the private hire platform market operate in Spain? And what role are trade unions playing in seeking to represent drivers? Víctor Riesgo Gómez, a sociologist and predoctoral contract researcher at Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), summarises the findings of his recent research paper on this topic.

Lee en Español aquí.
From around the web
“No to disposable immigration!": the delivery men mobilised against the Asylum Immigration law

An interesting, in-depth report by Névil Gagnepain on undocumented Uber Eats riders in Paris who were deactivated from the app on mass and have been campaigning for employment status and regularisation for months (in French).
The business of subletting Stuart, Uber Eats and Deliveroo accounts

More on Parisian riders: Irene Fodaro investigates the sharp rise in costs for undocumented riders to sublet accounts in the French capital, one of the knock-on affects of the mass app de-activation (in French).
The grievances of the arrival of Amazon, Glovo and Uber in Barcelona

David Cobo writes in 'Nació' on a new report about the social and environmental impact of digital labour platforms in Catalonia (in Catalan).

Upcoming events

- The Leeds Index of Platform Labour will launch its global database of platform worker resistance on 27 March at a hybrid event in London. Click here for full details.

- The UNI Global Union will host a hybrid event on 'dark stores' and app-based grocery delivery, 28 March in Brussels, Belgium, from 3-4.30pm. Click here for more details and to register. 

- Wage Indicator will host a webinar on women in web-based gig work on Friday 31 March, 2-3.30pm. Click here for full details and to register.

- The Platform Labor Project and the Global Digital Cultures Initiative are holding a hybrid international conference on 'Global Perspectives on platforms, labour and social re-production', at the University of Amsterdam, 27-28 June. Details here

Know of upcoming events we should be highlighting? Let us know at

Get Involved

The Gig Economy Project is a media network for gig workers and we welcome contributions from workers, writers, academics, activists - anyone who wants to stand up for workers' rights in the gig economy.

If you would like to write for the site, discuss arranging an interview with GEP, or simply have information about developments in the gig economy in Europe you think we should be aware of, get in touch. 

Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at or send a direct message to the Twitter: @project_gig.

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