Platform Capitalism, Millennials, and an Online Labor Movement? Flexibilization from a Labor Perspective

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Jamie MCCALLUM, Middlebury College, USA
Katherine MAICH, The Pennsylvania State University, USA
Labor leader Ed Ott (2014) remarks in his conclusion to New Labor in New York, “The old labor movement missed a lot, especially as the world changed around it,” (291). What does it mean, then, that the ways various types of workers are responding to challenges they face regarding the organization of their work looks quite similar to tried-and-true union methods? In this paper, we argue that the gig economy is the paradigmatic example of what happens when opportunistic employers find themselves awash in an economy of un- or under-employed youth. We remain suspicious at the continued (re)production of the gig economy as a system of work and its resultant negative consequences. Yet resistance and pushback forged mainly by organizations of young workers have sought to thwart the growing trends of the gig economy, so as to prevent those trends from spreading too pervasively and altering the terrain of more “traditional” labor and employment relations.

The paper explores how we see this phenomenon play out through three general trends: workers vying for more control over their schedules and their hours through Fair Workweek Initiatives and other legislative policy changes, workers developing their own online platforms and organizing them in cooperative manners, and workers not traditionally seen as being easily organizable utilizing collective bargaining strategies and also uniting to form new, flexible unions that redefine the very concept at its core. We understand this flexibility as a call for the labor movement’s renewed energy in thinking through new forms and strategies, and we argue that millennial workers’ efforts at resistance demonstrate those new, flexible tactics needed to build a better labor movement, both online and in the streets.