The modern workers union needs to embrace the very technology they are resisting


As ‘platforms’ gain more and more power in the market, as secure employees become ‘uber-ized’ into casual labour, we need a new wave of ‘platforms’ to serve the needs of workers. These ‘modern unions’ would harness the collective bargaining power of labour through the very same means as the (demand side) tech-led disruptors the unions need to respond to.

Imagine the following scenario. A next-gen drivers union requires all workers to provide their location (while working) to the union’s platform. It also asks them to report who is providing them work, and potentially at what wage / unit price.

One of Uber’s core assets is its network of driver relationships and its knowledge of their location. In the above scenario the union can now enfranchise any new provider willing to offer better terms at the flick of a switch (or the sending of an ‘install this app’ email). The union removes the fixed cost of building the supply side relationships. Competition can be facilitated and drivers leverage increased.

The ability to withhold labour would be greatly increased as workers can be (digitally) co-ordinated in real-time. Uber could be brought to a standstill on a Saturday night and Hailo supported instead. To stop less committed members crossing the (digital) ‘picket lines’ union ‘penalties’ could be applied (for example, lack of insurance cover under a collective scheme when working for ‘non-approved’ networks). Union support could also be provided, paying out a top-up premium (from membership fees) to workers on ‘approved’ platforms during strike action.

Elements of the above may come about as supply side aggregators emerge to help drivers optimize their income by comparing different sources of work in relevant locations (e.g. should I drive for Green Flag or Uber tonight in my area – based on historic trends and current piece rates). Such aggregators may start to take a cut, much like a Chain in the hotel industry. If unions can modernise, they may spot the same opportunity and make sure that the ‘cut’ available for supply aggregation accrues to their workers. The commercial leverage a fully casual commercial relationship brings needs to be made to work both ways (and at present appears only to be favouring the demand side, as the supply side lacks the resources and technology skills to co-ordinate themselves effectively).

916 thoughts on “The modern workers union needs to embrace the very technology they are resisting

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