The “gig economy” is not an innovation
By: Bafang
Delivery across country
The “gig economy” is not an innovation


One of the few successes of truth against propaganda in recent years has been the rebranding of the “sharing economy” as the “gig economy”.


Marketing geniuses from Silicon Valley want us to believe the ad-hoc sale of labour is a form of utopian paradise, where capitalistic relations are replaced by egalitarianism and “sharing”. The phrase “gig economy” has rightly refocused the debate on to the implications for jobs and labour rights.


But the victory has only been half-won. Too many people still talk about the casualisation of work as an innovation, as an impersonal, technological and irresistible force to which we must adapt if humanity is to continue its march into the future. Instead of a reversion to more exploitative form of labour relations, driven by the wealthy people who own and operate companies, we are told the “gig economy” is merely the inevitable outcome of inventions like the smartphone.


The two main flag-bearers for the “gig economy” in the UK are Uber, a taxi company, and Deliveroo, a food delivery startup. Both use mobile technology to control their workers and careful legal arrangements to avoid giving them the rights and protections due to employees. Uber is older. It was founded in 2009 and launched in the UK in 2012. Deliveroo, a British business, has only been around for four years. Both were born after the financial crisis and great recession, which put millions of people out of work and depressed real wages for more than a decade.


These services rely on a number of things: the existence of smartphones that enable the requests to be made and responded to; digital mapping technology so people know where to go; algorithims that make the most efficient matching and routing choices; and buckets of cash to grease the wheels until there is sufficient self-sustaining supply and demand. Most importantly, Uber, Deliveroo, and other on-demand service providers rely on an ample supply of drivers/couriers to respond to requests quickly.


The key question for any discussion about the gig economy, therefore, is whether the scarcity of well-paid, stable jobs is a bigger factor in its rise than the emergence of mobile phones with precision mapping technology.