The philosopher Zygmunt Bauman coined the term “liquid modernity” to refer to this moment in history in which “solid realities” like community, work, relationships, space and time they have been diluted. Liquidity without boundaries leaves us without anchors, fragmented and with serious difficulties to articulate collective responses to the loss of democratic soil, the climate crisis and changes in the world of work.
Flexibility, transformation, fluidity, adaptation. The language of Silicon Valley permeates all areas of life: work, affect and even mental health, and its model extends to the entire economy. “The uberization It does not affect only some sectors: it is a model that puts downward pressure on rights for everyone. Before, they fought for the eight-hour day, for the right to strike, for wages, for social protection … Now we have to fight to be recognized as workers“.
It was explained by a member of ‘Correos en Lucha’ days before the European Parliament approved a resolution that requires the same thing: the “presumption of employment relationship” between platform workers and the companies through which they provide services, to finish with the figure of the false self-employed. This presumption will be “rebuttable” and the burden of proof will fall on the company: that is, it will be the company that has to prove that there is no employment relationship. Until now, it was the employees who had to go to court to achieve their recognition.
In September 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that Glovo’s distributors were employees of the company, since the platform was not a “mere intermediary”, but set the price and “the essential conditions of the service.” The Spanish ‘Rider Law’ that came into force in August is the first regulation of a European country that contemplates the presumption of employment. The path opened by the Ministry of Labor will serve as a reference for the regulation proposal that the European Commission must present at the end of the year, framed in the European Pillar of Social Rights.
The resolution passed by Parliament is clear: platform workers must have the same labor rights and the same social protection as the rest. Furthermore, it rejects the creation of a “third statute” between self-employment and employment. This “intermediate” figure has been the bet of Emmanuel Macron, who, unlike Yolanda Díaz in Spain, has acted as ‘public relations’ for Uber and Deliveroo in France. For the president, the initiative launched by the Commission is an opportunity to include the interests of the platforms in the legislative proposal for the coming months, instead of forcing companies to respect current labor regulations. Thus, while throughout Europe the judges recognize the systematic and fraudulent use of false freelancers by the platforms (there are similar sentences in Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands …), Macron and the digital work companies intend to legalize this practice with a custom figure. A ‘safe conduct’ that would allow platforms to establish a subordination link without assuming their obligations as employers. Fortunately, Parliament has ruled out this option and adopted a guaranteeing position.
The text achieved wide support in the European Parliament, with the vote against the extreme right. There were, yes, important debates on the use of language, which describes realities and also makes them. “Platform work can create employment, increase choice, offer additional income and reduce barriers to accessing the labor market,” says one of the recitals that the liberals included in the text. Where they see the “opportunities” of the “modern forms of employment”, we see the dangerous updating of old forms of exploitation and lack of labor protection. Where they see “additional income”, we see insufficient wages. Where they see “fewer obstacles”, we see precariousness and low-quality employment. Also, can you call “choice” to decide in which time slot you want to put yourself at the service of the algorithm? The Supreme Court has already told us no.
Parliament also demands that “transparent, ethical and non-discriminatory management of algorithms” be ensured, because their use “can lead to power imbalances and opacity in relation to decision-making, as well as control and surveillance based on technology, which could exacerbate discriminatory practices and pose risks to privacy, worker health and safety, and human dignity. ” And it also warns about the bias of gender, origin or sexual orientation of the data collected by the platforms from the ratings of the users, something that affects the distribution of tasks and the setting of prices.
The application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the organization and assignment of work involves several risks: labor risks (the lack of transparency about its operation prevents workers from being able to challenge the algorithm’s ‘decisions’ or face collective bargaining with sufficient information , already weakened by the atomization of the workforce); the ethical (through the possible reproduction of prejudices in the collection of data and in the distribution of tasks); and those related to privacy (due to its potential for surveillance, both of workers and users of its services). In this regard, we should start by regulating the AI in the same way as a guarantee as the European data protection regulations.
Finally, it is worth remembering the impact that this business model has on public protection systems. The uberization it weakens the very foundations of the Welfare State, among other things, because taxing the digital economy fairly remains a pending challenge around the world. On the one hand, companies like Uber evade taxes by setting their headquarters in countries with low taxation (the dumping tax from Holland to the rest of the EU is obvious), and on the other hand, as the employment it offers is very precarious and the contributions paid are very low, its contribution to the public coffers is very poor. The platform economy steals revenue from the State, which has fewer resources to invest in public services and social policies.
Faced with this situation, the construction of alliances between workers is essential, since that the loss of material security and the ‘liquidity’ of employment occurs in a global context in which collective bargaining capacity and union strength have been reduced. Only in this way will we be able to unmask and confront a model that we want to build from the cutting of the most essential labor rights.