Mutualism, class composition, and the reshaping of worker organisation in platform work and the gig economy

Gabriella Alberti and Simon Joyce (2023), Global Labour Journal

This article contributes an understanding of mutualism as a foundational element in emergent worker collectivism. We challenge mainstream institutionalist accounts in industrial relations, especially from the Global North, that downplay processes of bottom-up regeneration of working-class organisation. We discuss compositional accounts of class formation and examine previous understandings of mutualism, then apply our conceptual framework to evidence from international literature and our own research on platform work in Italy and the UK. Three important themes emerge in understanding worker self-organisation: the demographics of the workforce, including migration backgrounds and social ties beyond the workplace; the existence of social relations in the ethnic/political/local community; and the relevance of free spaces of resource sharing and recomposition in the absence of a fixed place of work. We conclude that an understanding of mutualism can help to grasp emergent solidarities among new groups of workers within and beyond both platform work and trade unions.

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