The Gig Economy Project was in Brussels this week for two important conferences on the future of the gig economy.
On Wednesday, The Left in the EU Parliament's 'Alternatives to Uberisation' forum was a raucous affair, full of defiance and determination. A remarkable 57 organisations from 18 countries were represented, with the Latin American contingent of riders and drivers a particularly energised bunch. The workers were able to put their views across directly to Nicolas Schmit, EU Commissioner of jobs & social rights, in the evening, and there was also time for a bit of direct action, as Uber drivers from France slowed traffic around the EU Commission building while protestors held banners reading "don't make Uber make the law!"
There was a large degree of consensus at the forum itself; platform workers are employees and should have full labour rights, algorithms need to be regulated for the good of workers and the public as a whole, and the platform workers' movement must keep building its international strength and interconnectedness. Read our full report here.
On Thursday and Friday, the European Trade Union Institute's 'digital transition and labour rights' conference was less emotionally charged, but just as intriguing. Labour law professors, lawyers and trade union leaders examined the key legal and political questions vis-a-vis digital labour rights. Two things are clear: first, European workers do not currently have anything close to a comprehensive set of digital rights and protections, a problem that will only become more apparent as the platform model spreads into more industry sectors. Second, it's naive to think that employee classification would be some sort of panacea that solves all problems - there are multiple legal and political fronts of critical importance. Read our report from the ETUI conference here.
Those events were only the ones that GEP was able to cover this week. Two other fascinating conferences, one on digital worker inquiries at the University of Edinburgh, and a platform work symposium led by the DigiLabour research lab at Unisinos University in Brazil, were also held and by all accounts were a big success. There's clearly a huge international interest in the technological changes shaping work and how the labour movement can be re-built in that context, the question is whether the collective knowledge and connections that are accumulating internationally can translate into building collective workers power.
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator