Virus Exposes Gig Economy for Predatory Business Model It Promoted

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans       A lot of Silicon Valley are self-isolating in what should be shame as their app-based, platform capitalism, or whatever they wanted to call it, is exposed as little more than rapacious capitalism based on worker exploitation.  Hundreds of thousands of workers in the gig economy are now caught in a vicious double bind all over the country.  On the one hand, they lack any benefits like sick leave and health insurance, and, on the other, many of their customers have also disappeared as business are forced to close, airports and travelers have shrunk, and events of all kinds have disappeared, and so has their income.

Raise you hands if you want to be a libertarian today.  Yes, I thought so.  Headlines have been noting that the coronavirus is a recruiter for socialism.

Well, not really, but the gleaming whitewash that covered the crippled social safety net in the United States has been starkly exposed. In Denmark, the government is offering to pay 75% of an employer’s payroll if an employer retains the workers.  In France, when workers are sequestered, the government is standing behind them.  Computers at state unemployment and food stamp offices are crashing.  In general, of course, whether Canada or Britain or Europe, there’s health insurance so it’s still a crisis, but it’s not catastrophic. In that sense, even gig workers, many of whom are in fact classified as employees in Europe, at least have the social safety net provided for all citizens, including paid leave and health insurance.

The DC debate on emergency sick leave pay for coronavirus victims and those quarantined will cover workers, but what about giggers?  They are self-employed as contractors in the play pretend world of the predatory app companies. but emergency sick leave is touted for employees, as near as I can determine. There was a picture in the paper of a bike delivery worker in Italy.  He was still working to make food deliveries, despite the risk, for a very simple reason:  he had to have the do-re-mi.

Facebook made an announcement that they were giving their workers a thousand bucks as an accelerated bonus.  Did that include their army of contractors which is almost as large?  I’m not sure.  In the USA, a plan for one or two thousand dollars is being debated for everyone, so let’s assume that would include the giggers, but make no mistake, regardless of any story in the Times, this is not Andrew Yang’s plan for guaranteed annual income by a long shot.

If you have the stomach venture over to the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, and read the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments as they moan about whether or not emergency sick leave and cash payments could institutionalize paid sick leave and revive cash supports, like even welfare as we used to know it.  They are afraid we won’t go back to where we were pre-virus.

We can only hope that might be the silver lining in the new world order for global survivors of this pandemic.  We can also hope this pandemic spells the end of gig workers being seen as independent subcontractors without any security for wages, benefits, or health care.