Call for Participants: Workshop on Work in the post-Covid era: The end of platform labor as we know it?
25 November 2022 — Amsterdam, Netherlands
Apply by 1 September 2022
Hosted by Aleksandra Piletić, Postdoctoral Researcher of the Platform Labor project at the University of Amsterdam
The Covid-19 pandemic has reshuffled labor markets in new and unprecedented ways, disrupting existing labor relations, processes, and geographies. Health risks in occupations with a high physical proximity have rendered this type of – predominantly low-wage – work increasingly undesirable. Worker dissatisfaction with conditions and pay has also intensified labor militancy and led to the emergence of new grassroots organizing and mutual aid networks. Higher wage occupations, on the other hand, have been fundamentally transformed by the shift to remote work. This has been associated with a rise in new digital technologies for facilitating labor processes as well as surveilling laborers. An increasingly remote workforce has also been associated with changing habits and patterns of consumption – E-commerce and online transactions have experienced a rapid growth, while physical retail and food services have declined (McKinsey 2021).
All of these trends have had numerous implications for platform labor. The pandemic has amplified the importance and desirability of certain forms of platform work (e.g. food and grocery delivery, crowdwork) while other forms of work have been rendered (temporarily) obsolete and/or undesirable due to pandemic-related health risks (e.g. ride-hailing and STR platforms). Contestation and worker militancy has become the norm rather than the exception during the pandemic, with platforms scrambling to counter the tactics used by workers to subvert platform power. In the US, for instance, Amazon workers have succeeded in forming the first Amazon union despite Amazon’s extensive union busting tactics, while platform-based food delivery workers – Los Deliveristas Unidos – have succeeded in organizing for the first time in New York City.
Parallel to changing labor dynamics, a variety of efforts to (re)regulate platforms in the wake of the pandemic have shifted the very terrain on which platforms operate. Some states have extended benefits to workers for the first time during the pandemic, which has been compounded by rulings of national courts across Europe that platform workers are employees rather than contractors. This has been accompanied by new regulatory efforts by the EU Commission to develop protections for platform workers. Platforms are therefore no longer ‘moving fast and breaking things’, but are engaging in a gradual slog against institutions, courts, governments, unions, collectives and individual workers in processes of “contentious compliance” (Valdez 2022), seeking to perpetuate forms of precarity that their business models are contingent on.
As a result, when we speak of platform labor in the post-Covid era, we are no longer speaking of the same trends, tendencies and challenges as we were five years ago. This requires a new set of analytical tools, concepts and methodologies for discussing platform labor. This workshop aims to fill this gap, offering an opportunity for participants to elaborate on the many shifts labor is currently undergoing in the platform economy (and beyond), and what implications this may have for post-Covid capitalism as a whole.
Some questions that the workshop aims to cover:
- How can we characterize (post-)pandemic forms of platform labor? Has the pandemic produced new cleavages across race, class and gender lines?
- Are these shifts deepening or challenging existing neoliberal policies in the field of work? What is the relationship between platform labor and broader labor trends?
- What are some emergent forms of contestation and grassroots organization? Are they reshaping the world of platform labor in a meaningful or permanent way?
- What is the changing role of the state with respect to platforms? How have regulatory efforts (re)shaped platform labor?
- How can we methodologically conceptualize recent changes in gig work and platform labor?
- What are the urban geographies of platform labor in the (post-)Covid era?
We welcome contributions from researchers from a wide range of backgrounds both with existing research interests in platform labor and the gig economy, as well as broader interests in the critical political economy of labor, neoliberalism and the changing geographies of work.
To apply, please submit a 250-word abstract outlining how your intended contribution relates to one or more of the themes of the workshop, along with your name, position, and institutional affiliation. Abstracts should be submitted by 1 September 2022 to Dr. Aleksandra Piletić at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The workshop is scheduled to take place on-site at the University of Amsterdam on 25 November 2022. There is no fee for attending the workshop and limited funds will be available to support accommodation costs in Amsterdam for participants.
Please contact Aleksandra Piletić at email@example.com with any questions.