Uberization and Organizing

IG Metall Rally

Milan       In Europe there is increasing interest – and concern – over what is called the “uberization” of the economy, named after the ubiquitous and controversial US-based, but globally operating, Uber ride-sharing application.  A French parliamentarian used the expression in a communication in recent days.  Talking to a union organizer in the Netherlands, he told me of efforts in Germany to try to organize gig workers as one of several dozen campaigns being undertaken by the giant union Ver.di in that country.

Researchers are clear that it is starting to be a sizeable enough part of the workforce in Europe that it is worth attention.  A 2018 report by researchers Stefan Dietl and Kathrin Birner on the efforts of German unions, tried to get a sense of the scale of employment in this area, saying,

Few data is available on the actual dimension of crowdwork and gig work. An ILO study on crowdwork and gig work cites calculations assuming about 220,000 transportation gig workers internationally, almost 7 million care workers, and over 14 million working as clickworkers worldwide (De Stefano 2016). Experts estimate there are between 200,000 and 1 million click workers in Germany, between 1 and 12 per cent of the European working population (Pesole et. al. 2018; Bonin and Rinne 2017; Huws et al. 2017). A governmentally financed study on the platform economy estimates that up to 5 per cent of eligible voters perform crowd and gig work (Serfling 2018) and the Federal Ministery of Labor and Social Affairs assumes that a third out of these 5 per cent work only offline (gig work), a fifth only online (crowdwork), and the rest perform online and offline tasks2. With 61,9 million eligible voters as of 2017, 5 per cent results in 3,09 million crowd and gig workers, with at least one million working in gig work and at least 618,000 as pure crowdworkers.

Independent unions were created for delivery workers in several German cities, along with the election of works councils in some cases.  Deliveroo and others ended up defeating the works council effort by steadily cancelling the actual contracts for some of their delivery workers so that the workforce was all self-employed.  German courts ruled the efforts illegal, but like in the USA, the damage was done.

Interestingly IG-Metall in Germany, one of the largest unions in the world, opened their membership up to informal and self-employed workers in 2015.  Their size and strength showed signs of some success.  The researchers noted in their report that,

The campaign put enough pressure on the eight biggest German platforms so that these signed a “Code of Conduct“ affecting 2 million users. The “Code of Conduct“ sets minimum standards and includes regulations on fair payment, reasonable timing, and transparency.

These are early stage efforts, but they are showing some strength.  A similar story on the museum and art workers also shows some stirring in the USA from unexpected quarters:

Museum workers are organizing.  the fight against income inequality has taken hold in their world, with curators, handlers and designers publicly pressuring executives to raise their wages, and in some cases forming unions. The workers said they had been inspired by recent union drives at media companies and among graduate students, and their efforts even echo the #MeToo movement in its use of Google Doc crowdsourcing. In one widely shared spreadsheet, arts workers are anonymously posting their job titles and salaries, alongside those of museum officials who in certain cases are making eight times as much as some curators.

We need to follow all of this closely, wherever it pops up!


Please enjoy Midnight Sun from Calexico and Iron & Wine.

Thanks to KABF.


Learning with the Local Union Leaders

New Orleans      Local 100 United Labor Unions held its 38th consecutive leadership training weekend, this year in New Orleans.  Twenty-five leaders from workplaces in Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana converged to share strategies and tactics, tips and tools.

The meeting started with leaders sharing their views of the economy and how it might be impacting their workplaces, and, perhaps more importantly, whether or not the door was now open for our membership of lower waged workers to press for long denied raises.  Even with current minimum wages at $7.25 per hour and stuck there except for Arkansas because of its pending minimum wage bump. The living wage minimum in New Orleans at $10.55 was also important though less than the $11 per hour starting wages the union had recently won in bargaining at seven different nursing homes around Louisiana.  Winning a starting rate over $10 per hour in Houston Independent Schools had the same impact earlier.

Quickly, the debate moved to whether there was a way to push all boats up in the rising tide to bring our cleaners, custodians, launderers, and cooks up as well.  A leader from the Arkansas Human Development Center in Warren gave some tips they had used to put pressure on their state facility by selective utilization of sick and leave time to push the message to the bosses.  Leaders from Pine Bluff and New Orleans as well as Gulf Coast CAA, the giant Houston Head Start contractor, shared how they had used “work to rule” to send the message to their bosses by resisting efforts to cut the staff by speeding up work and piling on additional responsibilities.

One thing was quickly clear.  Everyone knew this opportunity wouldn’t last long and had to be seized immediately, so the discussion moved to how to organize job classification work groups to take action now, in and outside of binding contracts.  How could the leaders communicate and push forward across the union?  Why not try WhatsApp?  So, all of a sudden in the meeting three people already on the app were helping the rest of the leaders get on.  A sheet was passed around with phone numbers so everyone could connect to a Local 100 Stewards group, as the room crackled with humor and excitement.

This debate segued into a conversation about the 2020 election and how the union should approach it in our deep red states.  After some back and forth on candidates that might be promising to working people, there was consensus that we should follow six candidates that had appeal in a room of our stewards, who happened to all be black and brown women.  The six the leaders settled on were Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Beto O’Rourke.  Another list was passed around for volunteers who would monitor each of these candidates over the next six months on our issues and share the intelligence gathered with the rest of the stewards on the WhatsApp group.

All this was just the beginning in what turned out to be a great leadership conference, rich with ideas and energy, giving hope and deepening commitment across the union.