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'Digital Workerism: tracing global workers’ struggles against platforms'

24 March 2021



Dr Jamie Woodcock is a Senior Lecturer in Management at The Open University and a researcher based in London. He is the author of The Gig Economy (Polity, 2019), Marx at the Arcade (Haymarket, 2019), and Working The Phones (Pluto, 2017). His research is inspired by workers' inquiry and focuses on labour, work, the gig economy, platforms, resistance, organising, and videogames. He is on the editorial board of Notes from Below and Historical Materialism. You can download his latest book The Fight Against Platform Capitalism for free.


The rise of platform capitalism has become a key part of contemporary debates on how work is changing, the future of work/ers, resistance, and organising. Workerism took up many of these questions in the context of the factory – particularly through the Italian Operaismo – connecting the experience of the workplace with a broader struggle against capitalism. There are, of course, many differences between those factories and the new digital workplaces in which many workers find themselves today. However, the methods of workers’ inquiry and the theories of class composition remain a useful legacy from Operaismo, providing tools and a framework to make sense of and intervene within work today. Today, they require sharpening and updating for a platform context.

For example, Uber now has around 3 million drivers across the world. This would make it the largest global employer - if it did not use bogus self-employment to engage its workers. Drivers have formed networks, associations, and unions in some countries, organising protests and strikes against the platform. In the run up to Uber’s IPO in 2019 these became coordinated across national borders. Little is known so far about the new subjectivities that are forming between Uber drivers on a transnational level. However, as I have argued with Callum Cant, ‘we need to stop talking about resistance as emerging in platform work’, instead beginning to focus on the new class composition that is emerging and understanding what forms of struggle can be successful.

This paper draws on research with platform workers in the UK, US, South Africa, and India. By developing an analysis of the technical, social, and political recomposition taking place on platforms, it is possible to move beyond determinist readings of technology, to place different technologies within the social relations that are emerging. In particular, the talk focuses on how these new forms of workers’ struggles can be circulated. Through this, the talk argues for a “digital workerism” that develops a critical understanding of how the workplace is becoming a key site for the struggles of digital labour capitalism.

This event was Chaired by Dr Lorena Lombardozzi, Lecturer in Economics at The Open University.

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