Category: Critical Digital and Social Media Studies series

A Taste of Power? Making Sense of Workers’ Struggle at Deliveroo

A Taste of Power? Making Sense of Workers’ Struggle at Deliveroo

Author Jamie Woodcock (The Fight Against Platform Capitalism, UWP 2021) guest blogs offering his view of recent developments in workers’ struggle in the food delivery sector in the wake of Deliveroo’s IPO last month.

On the 7th of April, Deliveroo riders took strike action across the UK as part of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB). In London, riders in green and silver jackets assembled outside Shoreditch High Street station, a local hub of restaurants. Workers, mopeds, bicycles, a mobile sound system, and press quickly filled the street. Then, as fits with their working day, the strikers set off for a ride around the city, ending with a protest outside Deliveroo’s headquarters in Cannon Street.

It has been almost five years since the first strike of Deliveroo workers in the summer of 2016. When I visited the picket line on the first day of the strike, we were not sure what to expect. The IWGB had come to support the strike, but it had been organised my workers on WhatsApp. What we found was a connected workforce of riders who were organising for basic rights and fair pay. As Callum Cant has demonstrated, the strike in London triggered a wave of worker resistance in European food platforms.

Much has changed with Deliveroo since 2016. It has grown rapidly, both across the UK and in an increasing number of countries. There are now an estimated 50,000 Deliveroo riders in the UK. However, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Deliveroo warned it faced an imminent financial crash. Although it has previously blocked the move, Competition and Markets Authority gave Amazon the greenlight to invest in Deliveroo, spurring investment in so-called “Dark Kitchens.” As the lockdown shut restaurants, these separate facilities for churning out takeaway food helped to create massive growth for the platform.

Throughout the pandemic, essential workers like those at Deliveroo have continued to work. For many isolating, takeaway food – and increasingly other offerings like groceries – have allowed those working from home to shield from the risks of the virus. Due to the bogus self-employment status used by Deliveroo, many riders fell between either furlough or the self-employed support scheme. The IWGB launched the #ClappedAndScrapped campaign to highlight how little support workers have received during the lockdown.

Buoyed by the surge in business during the lockdown, Deliveroo went from almost failing to an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in March of 2021. The coordination of the strike of riders makes this a good moment to stake stock of what has changed since the first open sign of workers struggle on the platform. The strikes in 2016 were against a change in payment scheme from an hourly rate with payment to drop, to only being paid for deliveries made. During the strike, a manager from Deliveroo came out to address the crowd – although he was quickly ushered away after strikers rejected his argument that the they “need to understand how the payment scheme was better for them.”

In my recent book, I have argued that there are three dynamics we can see unfolding with platform work – and each of these can be seen with Deliveroo. First, there is an increasing connection between platform workers, both on WhatsApp and social media, as well as in the streets. Second, despite that early attempt at interaction from a Deliveroo manager, there is a lack of communication from platforms, which leads to escalating worker action. Third, due to the growth of these platforms internationally, there is a new basis for transnational solidarity emerging.

Fast forward to 2021 and pay for deliveries is now the standard model, with hourly rates a distant memory. As part of a worker-led study of their own invoice data, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that some riders today are paid as little as £2 per hour. Workers have formed networks and joined unions, with WhatsApp chats remaining a key organising tool. Deliveroo refuse to recognise or negotiate with unions.

Over the past five years, Deliveroo has now achieved status as the most protested platform in the world. The recent IWGB strike was over familiar issues: fair pay, safety protections, and basic worker rights. It received support from unions internationally, including in Australia, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Spain. In the UK, the action around the IPO led to 12 institutional investors pulling out, with over £3 billion wiped off Deliveroo’s valuation. The Financial Times called it the ‘worst IPO in London’s history.’

With the recent Uber case in London, as well as the recent workers’ rights claim at the delivery company Stuart, the use of self-employment to deny rights is starting to crumble. There is still a lot that Deliveroo workers are fighting to change, but the recent strike felt like a taste of what workers power could look like with food platform deliveries.

JAMIE WOODCOCK is a senior lecturer at the Open University and a researcher based in London. He is the author of The Gig Economy (2019), Marx at the Arcade (2019) and Working the Phones (2017), also serving on the editorial boards of Notes from Below and Historical Materialism.

The Fight Against Platform Capitalism: An Inquiry in the Global Struggles of the Gig Economy (2021) is published in the Critical Digital and Social Media Studies series edited by Christian Fuchs. The book is available open access from the University of Westminster Press.

Sustainable Fashion: ‘Journalism and Media Influencers Are Being Overlooked’

The latest CAMRI Policy Brief, Fashion Media and Sustainability addresses the problem of throwaway fashion and how regulation and advocates a more proactive approach that can promote sustainable fashion, drawing on original analysis of 1,000+ media artefacts.

Fashion is among the biggest polluters, yet the media still promote throwaway fast fashion. The growing fashion public relations industry encourages and enables this media coverage. This policy brief identifies patterns in the way journalists and influencers cover fashion which contribute to unsustainable buying behaviours. Recent research recommends practical steps to improve media coverage to make consumption sustainable, by changing consumers’ understanding and reducing the pressure on them to buy ‘fast’ satisfaction. Policy recommendations here suggested are based on the extensive recording of fashion coverage – from magazines to newspapers, gossip weeklies to Instagram influencers. Anastasia Denisova proposes regulation of vocabulary and of affiliated links in journalism and social media, greater discussion of the psychology of buying and a ‘paid advertisement label’. Also recommended is a more engaged approach from magazines and other media with the aim of promoting restyling advice and more sustainable coverage for readers of differing financial means. 

THE AUTHOR
ANASTASIA DENISOVA is is Senior Lecturer and Course Leader BA (Hons) Journalism at the University of Westminster. Her monograph Internet Memes and Society was published in 2019. She researches viral online communication and digital journalism, fashion media and sustainability.

CONTENTS
Key Messages
Whats the Issue?
Research Evidence
Psychology of Fashion
The Sustainable Consumption Paradox
Sample and Method
Ten Patterns of Unsustainable Media Coverage
Impact of Research 
Review of Policy Options
Policy Recommendations
Notes

PDF, ePub and kindle versions available free from:
https://uwestminsterpress.co.uk/site books/10.16997/book/50
PDF 978-1-912656-91-2
ePub 978-1-912656-92-9
Kindle 978-1-912656-93-6
https://10.16997/book50
Published 1 March 2021

This title is published open access in the CAMRI POLICY BRIEFS series by the Communication and Media Research Institute, University of Westminster and the University of Westminster Press

New Law for Intellectual Commons Needed – Broumas

New Law for Intellectual Commons Needed – Broumas

Released this week the latest title in the CDSMS series edited by Christian Fuchs by lawyer and activist Antonios Broumas makes the case for a new body of law to harness the potential and social value of the intellectual commons. Using case studies of cultural commons initiatives it clearly articulates why the commons have intrinsic value deserving of legal protection. At the heart of these new proposals is a recognition and expansion of the public domain and the need for greater personal and social rights and freedoms for individuals to properly participate in the realms of culture and science.

Extracts from the book titled Intellectual Commons and the Law: A Normative Theory for Commons-Based Peer Production follow:

[T]he intellectual commons are suppressed by the dominant value system of commodity markets and its universal equivalent of value in the form of money upon the intellectual commons. Such pressure, which may even lead to the extinction of intellectual commons communities, comes into contradiction with the overall conclusion regarding their social value and potential. Even though such communities may as a rule not be as productive as corporations in terms of money circulation, profits, jobs and taxes, this does not make them unproductive in terms of social value. On the contrary, the communities of the intellectual commons contain and emanate a wealth of social values, which ought to be protected through legal means.

***

Rather than proposing reforms within the property-oriented framework of contemporary expansive intellectual property laws, the current book advances a normative line of argumentation in favour of an independent body of law for the regulation of the intellectual commons, i.e. both the open access commons of the public domain and any other type of regime oriented towards the shared use of intellectual works. The appropriate protection and promotion of these two sectors of our intellectual commonwealth aspires to construct a vibrant non-commercial zone of creativity and innovation in parallel to intellectual property-enabled commodity markets of intellectual works.

***

Following the above, it is held that states are morally committed to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the freedom to contribute to the intellectual commons, thereby abstaining from its restriction through intellectual property laws, which are not compatible with international human rights treaties. In addition, the critical normative theory of the intellectual commons holds that the freedom to contribute to the intellectual commons ought to acquire statutory content substantive enough to give commoners the ability for its meaningful practice.

UWP has published several book titles all available open access including Peer to Peer (Bauwens et al), Incorporating the Digital Commons by Benjamin Birkinbine, The Commons: Economic Alternatives in the Digital Age (Vangelis Papadimitropoulos). Communication and Capitalism: A Critical Theory also discusses the ‘Communication Society as a Society of the Commons’.

Intellectual Commons and the Law was published on the 25 November 2020.

UWP, #openaccessweek2020: a raincheck

UWP, #openaccessweek2020: a raincheck

At the end of #openaccessweek2020 honoured to reflect that since September 2015 open access imprint @UniWestPress has published 254 unique editor/authors in our journals and books from 34 countries. That’s 32 books (incl. edited), 6 policy briefs and 5 distributed titles; 131 new journal articles also making available 719 archive journal articles.  

Today we have just had certain confirmation that we have hit over 750,000 views and downloads for our publications already, close to a 50% increase in less than a full year. Over 20% of UWP’s unique authors are University of Westminster authors with on the other hand 58% of contributions originating from outside the UK. Many authors (75) have worked with us more than once. One of our journals Silk Road is based at Westminster International University in Tashkent.

It’s not all about quantities. Our books have been translated into Spanish, Chinese and (shortly) Turkish; one has won a Latin American prize. We’re proud of our diverse range of authors from the global south, Europe, from all corners of the English-speaking world, feminist writers and early career research authors, the academic stars of the future as well as – Jurgen Habermas, Antonio Negri and Jean-Luc Nancy contributors to our list.   

It would not have been possible without support of our authors and editors @UniWestminster @UniWestLib @ubiquitypress the Research Environment and Knowledge Exchange Team at Westminster and the UWP editorial board.

What Are the Commons? What Could They Be?

What Are the Commons? What Could They Be?

Vangelis Papadimitropoulos in a new open access book just published (The Commons: Economic Alternatives in the Digital Age) surveys theories of the commons: liberal, reformist and anti-capitalist. Discussing these three viewpoints, the book contributes to contemporary debates concerning the future of commons-based peer production (see also UWP’s Peer to Peer) and makes the case in the conclusion for a post-capitalist commons-orientated transition that moves beyond neoliberalism.

This title is the in the University of Westminster Press‘s Critical Digital and Social Media Studies series. All previously published titles are available open access via a variety of channels including OAPEN, JSTOR and DOAB. Other titles discussing the Commons published by UWP include Incorporating the Digital Commons by Benjamin Birkinbine and Communication and Capitalism by Christian Fuchs.

IT professionals – a pervasive lack of control?

IT professionals – a pervasive lack of control?

In an extract from a new book that looks at Marx’s theory of alienation and Information and Communication Technologies, author Mike Healy outlines an agenda for future research on the key occupation of IT professionals and why it would need to consider workers’ alienation, not narrow job satisfaction. Marx and the Digital Machines: Alienation, Technology, Capitalism was published on 16th October, available open access.

Issues such as the application of project methodologies, the control the professional (and indeed the profession as a whole) has over the industry, the rapid commodification of skills such as programming, software maintenance and testing, and business processes, could all benefit from using Marx’s theory of alienation. Research that takes as its focus the role of the ICT professional in promoting the ethical use of ICT could benefit from a shift of perspective that sees the professional as one in command to a view of the professional as someone who is powerless and who cannot determine what they make, nor for whom or how it gets made. Research could also investigate what coping and resistance strategies they employ to deal with their alienated condition. Further research using theories of alienation and PAR [Participatory Action Research] would provide deeper insights into the problems ICT professionals face such as, for example, the contradiction discussed … between what they feel about their occupations and what they would do if given the opportunity to quit their jobs. Research on ICT professionals vigorously embracing Marx’s theory of alienation would enable it to move beyond the straitjacket of, and the inadequate categories associated with, job satisfaction thereby offering a greater explanation for, rather than a description of, the conditions in which ICT professionals work.
(From Chapter 8: Critique and Conclusion p. 126)