The virus pandemic shows the ultra-fragility of the Uber and Airbnb style gig-economy tech models.
With total reliance on gig workers and non-owned “means of production” (and, in fact, skimming profits off the cars and homes owned, or rented, by the gig workers), this type of ‘hollow capitalism’ is neither able to control and sanitize the production, under pandemic conditions, nor ensure the safety of workers or consumers.
The euphemism of “independent contractors”, which British researcher Guy Standing had already and correctly labeled as the ‘precariat’, has crumbled rapidly in the pandemic crisis.
Such digital-Finanzkapital-backed gig-economy platforms are turning out to be houses-of-cards, unable to withstand the gale forces of the pandemic crisis. During the pandemic crisis, the sops that firms like Uber are offering to their “independent contractors” – okay, let’s stay honest, to their precariat workforce – are inadequate at best and often insulting to these hard working folks.
The conventional capitalist Big-Biz-Big-Tech approach is also in trouble. Such firms, including big marquee tech names, are vacillating between painful-immiserating layoffs and draconian Big-Brother controls. Sometimes there are flashes of benevolent corporate paternalism; but these cannot be the basis for anything.
There is a need to launch alternative worker-controlled-cooperative-high-tech models.
Such models should incorporate the innovations of easy-safe Apps, vast network and ubiquity, But they should get rid of rank exploitation, precarity, and lack of safety nets.
Indeed, as you folks well know, a good coop model should gradually and definitively build strengths on all sides: producers, user-consumers, and linked third parties. These coop models may – indeed, they will – provide the innovative approaches to manage in such crises in the future.
Let us hope such coop innovation starts now, rather than post-pandemic.
Also, let us work on ridding ourselves of euphemisms like “gig economy”, “sharing economy”, and “independent contractors”… and advance truthful ideas of support, solidarity and cooperation.