Theorising labour unrest and trade unionism in the platform economy

Joyce, S., Stuart, M. and Forde, C. (2022), New Technology, Work and Employment

The article develops a novel conceptualisation of labour unrest and trade unionism in the platform economy, extending current understandings in two ways. First, we situate platform work historically, in the longue durée of paid work under capitalism. Secondly, we introduce a consideration of social structure into debates on union practices often framed in terms of agency. Building on Silver and the Webbs, we highlight the importance in platform work of associational power over structural power; legal enactment over collective bargaining; and geographical over workplace unionism. While mainly a theoretical article, we draw on empirical evidence from research into platform work over five years, comprising interviews, case study, observation and documentary analysis. We conclude that platform labour unrest and unionism bear marked similarities with 19th century forms rather than the 20th century models that often dominate industrial relations perspectives. Consequently, unions organising platform workers should consider adapting their approach accordingly.

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