Working Underground in the Informal and Gig Economy

ACORN International


            New Orleans      ACORN is now in the process of organizing gig workers and delivery drivers in Delhi.  Maybe we should know better?  There’s no easy way to do this, and the record of success anywhere in the world is marginal to nonexistent.  Motor scooters are ubiquitous, with company names recognizable around the world and some that are India-based.  The big India-based ride-sharing company is Ole.  Uber is there as well, and gets foreigners’ business, because you have to have a local phone number to use Ole.  Those are the issues on the customer side.  On the production side, an observer would fairly worry about what the fatality rate for such work might be in the constant jams?

It was miserable to read about similar work and workers in New York City recently.  The influx of immigrants to the city who are undocumented migrants, but need work, is huge.  Food delivery work is the lowest hanging fruit, but from the description, it seemed horrific for the workers.  Someone fresh up from Venezuela, Columbia, or even Mexico, needs to get wheels under them.  Many rent mopeds at exorbitant rates and borrow or rent someone else’s identification and either connect it to their Western Union accounts, if they are lucky, or have to depend on a fair shake from the scammer who owns the number.  When all goes well, they might make enough to live, though it seems rarely enough to pay off their debts to the coyotes or others that financed their travel.  Add to that the fact that some of them have children and spouses with them as well, and you have a recipe for disaster on all accounts.  The mopeds are often as unlicensed as they are, so the New York City police have impounded, 7000 of them, which means the worker often owes the original owner for that problem as well.  The police say all this makes the streets unsafe and risks the drivers themselves.  Furthermore, they are acting on complaints.  My bet would be that many of those complaints are being made by the same people who are also ordering food to be delivered and not thinking twice about the consequences.

Worse, many informal workers around the world would trade places with the New York City migrants and their struggles in a minute.  In their home countries, they are making pennies, not dollars.  Often the work is dangerous, unhealthy, and in horrid conditions; work that no one else wants to do or does, unless equally desperate.

We need to formalize this employment, but there’s no political will or popular demand to do so.  People like it cheap.  It’s an underground economy, because officials, corporations, and likely the general public like it that way, so everyone can point the finger at someone else as the exploiter, while making sure that world keeps turning and twisting around endlessly for the workers desperate for the dollars.