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The mobilisation of gig economy couriers in Italy: some lessons for the trade union movement

Authors:
The$mobilisation$of$gig$economy$couriers$in$Italy:$some$lessons$for$the$trade$union$
movement$!
!
Arianna!Tassinari!(University!of!Warwick)!and!Vincenzo!Maccarrone!(University!College!
Dublin)!
!
Forthcoming!in!Transfer,!3!(2017),!DOI:!10.1177/1024258917713846!
!
!
Introduction!!
!
In# October# 2016,# in# Turin,# northern# Italy,# cycle# couriers# working# for# the# German# food#
delivery# company# Foodora# staged# a# series# of# public# protests# which# quickly# attracted#
considerable#media#attention#and#became#known#as#the#first#case#of# workers’# mobilization#
in# the# Italian# ‘gig# economy’.# The# protests# sparked# a# lively# debate# in# Italian# public# opinion#
about# working# conditions# in# the# so-called# ‘gig’# or# ‘on-demand’# economy.# However,# the#
debate#remains# confused# by#the# ambiguous# meaning#of# these# terms,#often# conflated# with#
unrelated# concepts# such# as# that# of# the# ‘sharing# economy’# (Blanchard,# 2015;# Drahokoupil#
and# Fabo,# 2016);# and# by# the# yet# limited# understanding# of# what# these# ‘new’# work#
organisation# forms# entail# for# the# evolution# of# employment# practices# (Eurofound,# 2015;#
Valenduc#and#Vendramin,#2016)#and#for#the#possibilities#of#workers’#collective#organisation.##
Analysing# the# case# of# the# Foodora# riders’# mobilization# in# Italy# thus# offers# a# timely#
opportunity#to#reflect#on#the#current#challenges#facing#the#labour#movement,#in#Italy#and#in#
Europe#more#widely,#in#the#brave#new#world#of#the#‘gig#economy’.##
#
The!Foodora!model!and!the!reasons!behind!the!protest!
Foodora’s#operating# model# sits# at# the# intersection# between# the# traditional# logistics# sector#
(i.e.# delivery),# the# service# sector# (catering),# and# the# ‘platform’# or# ‘on# demand’# economy1.#
Like# other# delivery# apps# such# as# Deliveroo# and# UberEats,# Foodora# operates# an# online#
platform# that# uses# a# “crowd-fleet”# of# cyclists# to# deliver# food# to# customers# from# local#
restaurants.#This#model,#at#least#on#the#surface,#resembles#a#kind#of#‘platform-based#on-call#
work’#(Valenduc#and#Vendramin#2016:#34),#or#‘work#on#demand#via#app’#(De#Stefano,#2016:#
3).# The# platforms’# profits# come# from# acting# as# intermediaries# between# consumers# and#
workers.# Restaurants# pay# Foodora# a# commission# to# appear# on# their# platform# and# for# the#
coverage#of#the#delivery#costs.# The# riders,# who#are#classed#as#external#contractors# and# are#
hired#(in#Italy)#on#a#‘contract#of#collaboration’#(similar#to#a#zero-hours#contract)#2,#log#onto#a#
smartphone# app# to# receive# single# delivery# jobs,# automatically# allocated# by# an# algorithm.#
Therefore,#whilst# the#work# itself#is# physical,#the# organisation# of# the# labour# process# is# fully#
########################################################
1#For#a#classification#and#discussion#of#different#kinds#of#digital#work#platforms#see#De#Groen#et#al.#
(2016)#and#Drahokoupil#and#Fabo#(2016).#
2#More#precisely,#the#contractual#form#applied#to#its#riders#by#Foodora#in#Italy#is#that#of#
collaborazione!coordinata!continuativa’!(co.co.co.#in#short),#literally#a#contract#of#‘continuous#
coordinated#collaboration’#which#sits#in#between#forms#of#autonomous#and#subordinate#
employment.#The#main#criterion#that#characterise#co.co.co.#contracts,#according#to#Italian#labour#
law,#is#the#contractors’#autonomy#in#setting#times#and#modalities#to#carry#out#the#work,#in#
coordination#with#the#operational#needs#of#the#client.#
digitalized.#
Foodora#started#operating#in#Italy#in#2015,#and#has#since#heavily#invested#in#self-promotion.#
On#October#8th#2016,#however,#its#expansion#met#with#problems,#as#a#group#of#roughly#fifty#
workers#staged#their#first#public#protest#in#Turin,#calling#for#a#boycott#of#the#app.3##
At#the#time,#the#couriers’#fleet#comprised#around#100#riders,#mostly#young#people.#They#had#
been# demanding# better# working# conditions# since# April# 2016,# through# a# self-organised#
petition.#Their#requests#centred#around#bicycle#maintenance#and#internet#connection#costs#-#
entirely# shouldered# by# the# workers# -# but# also# included# demands# for# higher# hourly# wages,#
which#were#lower#in#Turin#than#in#Milan,#the#other#Italian#city#where#the#company#operated.#
These#requests#were#however#largely#ignored#by#the#company.##
# #
It#was#however#a# change# in# their#contractual#terms#which#led# to# the# explosion#of#workers’#
public# protests.# In# September# 2016,# Foodora# began# hiring# new# riders# on# a# ‘piecework#
payment’# system,# changing# rates# from# an# hourly# pay# (€5.40# per# hour)# to# a# payment-by-
delivery#system#(€2.70#each).#When,#in#November,#Foodora#announced#that#the#new#system#
would# be# extended# to# the# whole# workforce,# the# couriers# decided# to# react,# demanding# a#
higher#hourly#rate#instead.##
They# also# contested# the# terms# of# their# employment# contract,# which# categorizes# them# as#
autonomous# contractors# rather# than# employees,# meaning# that# they# are# not# entitled# to#
standard#employment#rights#such#as#sick#leave#and#holiday#pay.#The#workers#claimed#that,#in#
actual#fact,#the#firm’s#model#of#work#organisation#is#akin#to#subordinate#employment:#riders#
agree#to#weekly#shifts#and#cannot#cancel#them#without#finding# substitutes;# they# earn# a# set#
wage;# wait# at# pre-established# locations# for# orders;# and# wear# branded# uniforms.# On# this#
basis,# they# demanded# to# be# classed# as# employees# and# covered# by# a# national# collective#
labour#contract#–#and#thus#by#the#minimum#wage#levels#set#therein.##
Finally,#the#riders#demanded#an#end#to#punitive#practices#used#against#workers#perceived#to#
be#‘troublemakers’#–#such#as#the#‘disconnection’#from#the#platform#and#group#chats#-#which#
had#been#used#to# sanction# the# most# vocal#riders#and#ultimately#to#fire#two#promoters#who#
had#showed#support#for#the#protest.#
Outside!the!traditional!mobilisation!repertoires!
Up#to#September#2016,#the#riders#had#been#autonomously#self-organising#their#mobilisation#
without# the# support# of# established# trade# unions.# As# the# dispute# with# the# company#
escalated,#the#riders#then#sought#the#support#of#the#rank-and-file# union#SI-COBAS,#active#in#
the# mobilisation# of# workers# in# the# traditional# Italian# logistics# sector# (Pradella# and# Cillo,#
2015).#Through#the#union,# they# presented# their# demands# formally#to#the#firm.#When#these#
remained#unmet#a#week#later,#they#launched#the#protest#on#8th#October#2016.##
The#mobilisation#was# organised# as#a#‘proto-strike’:# the# riders#involved#‘unlogged’# from# the#
app#and#encouraged#others#to#do#the#same,#thus#impacting#the#company’s#capacity#to#fulfil#
its#orders.#They#then#staged#visible#protests#around#town#with#their#bikes#and#flags,#holding#
########################################################
3#The#reconstruction#of#the#protest#that#follows#is#partly#based#on#Tassinari#and#Maccarrone#(2017).#
‘flying#pickets’#that#went#through#restaurants# and# squares# handing#out#flyers#to#restaurant#
owners#and#members#of#the#public,#inviting#them#to#boycott#the#app.#This#was#coordinated#
with# an# online# campaign# targeting# the# company’s# social# media# pages# with# critical#
comments,#aimed#at#negatively#affecting#its#reputation.##
These# protest# methods# fell# mostly# outside# the# traditional# repertoire# of# trade# unions’#
mobilization# tactics,# resembling# instead# some# of# the# practices# adopted# by# the# Italian#
precarious#workers’#movements#in#the#early#2000s#(cf.#Mattoni,#2012).#Indeed,#the#workers#
involved#in#the#protest#have#recognised#in# interviews# that# the# role# played#by#the#SI-COBAS#
union# in# the# mobilisation# had# been# limited,# and# that# they# had# largely# relied# on# the#
experiences#of#mobilisation#acquired#through#their#involvement#in#other#social#movements.4##
The#October#2016#mobilisation#attracted#considerable#coverage#in#the#Italian#media#and#the#
company# suffered# further# reputational# damage# through# its# attempts# to# defend# its#
employment# practices,# claiming# that# the# work# of# the# riders# was# not# “real# work”,# but# “an#
opportunity#to#cycle#around,#whilst#gaining#a#small#salary”.5#
Outcomes!and!aftermath!of!the!October!protest!
After# refusing# to# negotiate# with# the# workers,# following# the# increased# media# attention# the#
company# agreed# to# meet# some# of# the# protesters’# representatives.# In# response# to# the#
workers’#demands,#the#company#increased#the#delivery#fee#from#2,70€#to#3,60€,#and#offered#
some# discount# agreements# for# bike# repairs.# These# concessions,# extracted# through#
mobilisation,# are# not# to# be# disregarded# as# irrelevant.# Yet,# the# more# substantial# demands#
remained#unmet.# Foodora#refused# to# reinstate# hourly# wages# and# to#reclassify# its#riders# as#
employees.#In# addition,# the#fifteen#riders#that#had#been#most# active#in#the#protest#claim#to#
have#been#‘unlogged’#from#the#system#and#denied#any#more#shifts,#effectively#being#subject#
to#the# involuntary# termination#of# their# contractual#relationship.6# The#availability# of# a#large#
reserve#army#of#labour#allowed#the#firm#to#easily#hire#new#workers,#thus#diluting#the#unity#of#
the# original# core# of# protesters.# Riders# have# also# reported# that# the# firm# subsequently#
optimised# its# work# organisation# model# so# that# most# workers# could# get# on# average# two#
deliveries# per# hour# at# peak# times,# an# earnings’# level# which# placated# some# of# the# initial#
discontent.7#The#company’s#strategy#of# waiting# out# the#storm#was#seemingly#successful,#at#
least#in#the#short#run,#in#weakening#the#intensity#of#the#riders’#mobilisation.##
The# protest# had# noticeable# ripple# effects,# however.# The# Italian# left-wing# opposition# party#
Sinistra! Italiana! has# tried,# so# far# unsuccessfully,# to# introduce# a# law# to# re-regulate#
employment# practices# in# the# gig# economy# by# re-classifying# as# subordinate# employment#
relationships#those# cases#where# workers# are#hired# as# autonomous# contractors# but#are,# de!
facto,!subject#to#the#control#and#direction#of#the#firm#as#regards#the#timing,#organisation#and#
remuneration#of#their#work.8##
########################################################
4#Authors’#interview#with#former#Foodora#rider,#March#2017.##
5#http://www.corriere.it/cronache/16_ottobre_09/sciopero-ragazzi-foodora-torino-4f86871a-8d90-
11e6-9a19-d25a64455d65.shtml##
6http://torino.repubblica.it/cronaca/2017/02/20/news/torino_sloggati_i_quindici_rider_di_foodora
_protagonisti_della_rivolta_contro_le_paghe-158755922/##
7#Authors’#interview#with#former#Foodora#rider,#March#2017.##
8#http://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2017/03/09/foodora-alla-camera-bocciato-lemendamento-per-
Given# the# limited# progress# achieved# so# far# on# the# legislative# front,# a# group# of# former#
Foodora#workers#are#now#preparing#to#pursue#legal#avenues#and#sue#the#company,# aiming#
to# demonstrate# that# their# engagement# as# autonomous# contractors# masked# a# subordinate#
employment# relationship,# and# that# the# cancellation# of# their# shifts# amounted# thus# to#
illegitimate# dismissal.# Meanwhile,# the# riders# are# continuing# their# self-organisation# efforts,#
raising# awareness# about# employment# practices# in# the# sector# and# forging# links# with# other#
workers.# However,# established# Italian# trade# unions# have# remained# absent# from# these#
attempts#at#collective#organisation.#
Conclusions!
The# Turin# Foodora# riders’# case# shows# that# the# collective# organisation# of# ‘gig# economy’#
workers# presents# both# considerable# opportunities# and# challenges# for# the# trade# union#
movement.#
On# one# hand,# it# demonstrates# that# collective# action# is# possible# even# with# a# fragmented#
workforce# that# is# physically# dispersed# and# employed# on# individualised# contracts,# falling#
outside# the# remit# of# collective# bargaining.# However,# the# physical# compresence# of# the#
workers# in# the# urban# space# was# still# fundamental# for# organising# efforts# –# limiting# the#
portability#of# lessons#to# other# segments#of# the#‘on-demand’# economy,# where#all# the#work#
takes#place#online.#Despite#the#initial#momentum,# the# riders# also# struggled# to#sustain#their#
mobilisation#over#time.#The#company#was#able#to#take#advantage#of#the#ambiguity#between#
subordinate# and# autonomous# employment# forms# in# Italian# labour# law,# of# the# easy#
substitutability#of#its#workers#and#of#its#algorithmic#management#practices.##
Arguably,# the# absence# of# established# trade# unions# able# and# willing# to# support# the# riders’#
mobilisation# undermined# its# sustainability.# The# absent# channels# for# representation# and#
collective# bargaining# in# the# gig# economy# are# challenging# the# Italian# labour# movement’s#
traditional#organizing#strategies.#Their#frames#of#reference#and#organizational#models#have#
yet#to#adapt#to#the#reality#of#these#new#forms#of#work.#However,#the#visibility#and#successes#
obtained# by# the# mobilisations# of# gig# economy# cycle# couriers# in# the# UK,# organised# both#
through# mainstream# and# rank-and-file# unions# such# as# GMB# and# IWGB,# show# that# it# is#
possible#to#establish#more#sustained#and#structured#actions.9#
To#improve#working# conditions# and#extend#established#employment# rights# to#gig#economy#
workers,#European#trade#unions#need#thus#to#comprehend#the#specificities#of#these#forms#of#
work#organisation,# which# sit# at# the#junction# between#logistics# and# ‘on-demand’#platforms.#
Action# can# be# taken# at# the# legal# level,# advocating# for# the# closure# of# legal# loopholes# that#
permit# the# contractual# misclassification# of# workers# as# autonomous# contractors;# and#
simultaneously# at# the# grassroots# level,# experimenting# with# forms# of# mobilisation# that#
combine#‘traditional’#tactics,#such#as#collective#bargaining#and#strikes,#with#newer#forms#of#
solidarity#aimed#at#increasing#the#disputes’#visibility#and#attracting#public#support.#
#
############################################################################################################################################################################
tutelare-fattorini-ora-azioni-legali-contro-azienda/3440901/##
9#On#the#recent#mobilisations#of#gig#economy#cycle#couriers#in#the#UK,#see#for#example#Hayns#(2016)#
and#Braithwaite#(2017).#
#
References!
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http://olivierblanchard.net/stop-calling-it-the-sharing-economy-that-isnt-what-it-is/#
Braithwaite,#P.#(2017),#Organising#the#workers#whose#jobs#are#made#precarious#by#
technology.#Open!Democracy.!Available#at:#
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De#Groen,#W.#P.,#Maselli,#I.#and#Fabo,#B.#(2016),#The#Digital#Market#for#Local#Services:#A#One-
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No.#133.#Available#at#SSRN:#https://ssrn.com/abstract=2766220#
De# Stefano,# V.# (2016),# Introduction:# Crowdsourcing,# the# Gig-Economy# and# the# Law.#
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Drahokoupil,#J.#and#Fabo,#B.#(2016),#The#platform#economy#and#the#disruption#of#the#
employment#relationship.#ETUI!Policy!Brief!#5/2016,#Brussels:#ETUI.#
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Eurofound#(2015),#New#forms#of#employment,#Luxembourg:#Publication#Office#of#the#
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#
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Zusammenfassung Der Beitrag untersucht die Entstehungs- und Erfolgsvoraussetzungen der „FairTube“-Kampagne, die 2019 von der YouTubers Union und der IG Metall ins Leben gerufen wurde, um die Beschäftigungsbedingungen der Videoproduzent*innen auf der Plattform YouTube zu verbessern. Mit Hilfe eines Mixed-Methods-Designs wird das Zusammen- und Wechselspiel zwischen etablierten und neuen Akteuren der Interessenvertretung in der digitalen Plattformökonomie untersucht. Die Studie zeigt, dass im Rahmen der Kampagne nicht nur Praktiken der Interessenvertretung aus unterschiedlichen Domänen (Gewerkschaften, soziale Bewegungen) kombiniert werden, sondern sich dauerhafte Strukturen aus Sinnzuschreibungen und (Macht-)Ressourcen herausbilden. Diese bezeichnen wir als „hybride Interessenvertretungsform“, der es zumindest zeitweise gelingt, spezifische Herausforderungen der Plattformökonomie zu bearbeiten.
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Purpose This study investigates the effectiveness of trade unions in preserving and promoting the rights of the worker, and being their voice in ensuring safe working conditions as part of the firms’ CSR activities. Design/methodology/approach Data were collected from employees, managers, and owners of ready-made garments firms in Bangladesh. An open-ended survey instrument was used and distributed widely. Analysis of the 200 responses was undertaken using the qualitative narrative technique. Findings The findings show that, unlike traditional labor-management relations, in Bangladesh managers tend to have a more favorable attitude towards unions than employees do. The strong political links between the factory owners and the unions’ leadership raise questions about whose interest the unions represent. Practical implications The authors highlight how adopting a CSR agenda can help unions make better representations on behalf of their members. This, in turn, can enhance the workforce’s efficiency and help strengthen the sector to develop processes to help face disruptions like those experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Originality/value The study is unique in addressing the role of unions in promoting CSR activities in emerging economies, where the formal institutional application remains limited. The study’s findings can help explain some of the sector’s challenges.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has only further magnified the already growing political-economic and societal power of platforms. This article delves into the different realities of platform workers by juxtaposing two cases: location-based Amazon warehouse workers and web-based Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) workers. Informed by a historical materialist approach that accounts both for the contextual conditions and the agency of workers, this article asks: how does the organisation of workers (location-based vs. web-based) relate differently to their labour organisation and mobilisation in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? By investigating agency through analysing the structural power of workers (that is, marketplace and workplace), this article argues that both Amazon warehouse workers and MTurk workers experienced a further dwindling of their already weak marketplace power as a result of larger co-evolving political-economic conditions. The former workforce did experience, however, an increase in their workplace power given the growth of Amazon during the pandemic. The fact that they are location-based plays a crucial role in framing their struggle vis-à-vis the direct health risks and their ability to mobilise to disrupt the circulation line. MTurk workers, on the other hand, experienced a further weakening of their workplace power. Given the challenges in disrupting web-based gig labour, workers continue to express their agency through more alternative forms by instrumentalising digital spaces to foster solidarity and support each other for better working conditions. These contrasting case studies shed light therefore on the wider repercussions of the nature of the platform and its relation to the political-economic conditions for labour’s agency.
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The development of smart cities is fostering a rapid rise in on-demand work through digital platforms (Uber, Helpling, Deliveroo, etc.). Most initiatives around these new types of employment occur in urban environments, mainly because these platforms operate all the better the higher the population density. To improve understanding of this phenomenon, the article shares the results of qualitative studies conducted with service providers registered on various types of platforms and discusses an example of a citywide initiative, Lulu Dans Ma Rue, which has been designed to use new technology to recreate local economic activity.
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How do precarious workers employed in call-centres, universities, the fashion industry and many other labour markets organise, struggle and communicate to become recognised, influential political subjects? Media Practices and Protest Politics; How Precarious Workers Mobilise reveals the process by which individuals at the margins of the labour market and excluded from the welfare state communicate and struggle outside the realm of institutional politics to gain recognition in the political sphere. In this important and thought provoking work Alice Mattoni suggests an all-encompassing approach to understanding grassroots political communication in contemporary societies. Using original examples from precarious workers mobilizations in Italy she explores a range of activist media practices and compares different categories of media technologies, organizations and outlets from the printed press to web application and from mainstream to alternative media. Explaining how activists perceive and understand the media environment in which they are embedded the book discusses how they must interact with a diverse range of media professionals and technologies and considers how mainstream, radical left-wing and alternative media represent protests. Media Practices and Protest Politics offers important insights for understanding mechanisms and patterns of visibility in struggles for recognition and redistribution in post-democratic societies and provides a valuable contribution to the field of political communication and social movement studies.
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This article develops an international political economy analysis of immigrant labour in Western Europe, with a focus on Italy and the UK in the period following the outbreak of the global economic crisis in 2008. Seeking to overcome the problem of methodological nationalism, the article places cross-national comparison against the backdrop of the broader process of international accumulation of capital. In this light, it examines the causes of the differential effects of the economic crisis upon EU member states and various sections of the workforce. In both the UK and Italy, labour conditions and trade unions are under attack; immigrant workers have been particularly affected by the rise in levels of unemployment, the worsening of working conditions, and the heightening of anti-immigration practices, legislations and discourses. The article concludes with a discussion of how the main trade unions in the UK and Italy are responding to these economic, social and political challenges.
Organising the workers whose jobs are made precarious by technology
  • P Braithwaite
Braithwaite, P. (2017), Organising the workers whose jobs are made precarious by technology. Open Democracy. Available at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/neweconomics/organising-the-workers-whose-jobs-aremade-precarious-by-technology/
A Sharing Economy Strike. Jacobin Magazine
  • J Hayns
Hayns, J. (2016), A Sharing Economy Strike. Jacobin Magazine. Available at: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/08/deliveroo-strike-sharing-economy-living-wage/
Stop calling it the "sharing economy
  • O Blanchard
Blanchard, O. (2015), Stop calling it the "sharing economy". That isn't what it is. Available at http://olivierblanchard.net/stop-calling-it-the-sharing-economy-that-isnt-what-it-is/