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"Logged-in labor" and the greater economy


At the Jacobin magazine website, Ursula Huws writes about how “logged-in labor”—work done remotely on a computer—is radically reshaping not only freelance and informal work, but also traditional full-time work as well. Employers are taking the tech-enabled monitoring and assessment they use to track contract workers and applying it to full-time workers, turning any sense of job security into a thing of the past. Here’s a snippet:

One way of looking at the recent exponential growth of online platforms in service delivery is to see it as a formalization of the informal economy, with the transparency of an open market replacing the old word-of-mouth methods of finding work, and the replacement of unrecorded cash-in-hand payments by trackable online payments, opening up at least the possibility for taxes to be collected and fairness to prevail.

A good thing, some might argue. Especially for people who were formerly excluded from such work by gender or ethnicity or disability. Could the techno-utopians be right?

But viewing the online-platform organization of labor as an issue only affecting the informal market is to ignore a larger reality. Several disparate trends that have been slowly building over decades are now converging, accelerating the formation and dissemination of a new labor management model across a range of sectors. It is appearing in both public and private sectors; in manual, clerical, and intellectual jobs; high-skilled and low-skilled; regardless of whether they are covered by permanent employment contracts.

Logged labor is becoming the new norm …

This is where the precariousness comes in. Even if they are ostensibly employees, high-skill development workers are increasingly likely to feel they are only as good as their last project. Each time, they have to prove themselves; putting in extra hours, showing extra dedication, and performing that difficult balancing act of demonstrating that they are a good team player while drawing attention to their individual brilliance — anything to make sure they will be picked for the next team. Life inside the corporation is coming to resemble life outside it ever more closely.

There are even more marked similarities when it comes to low-paid service workers. There is little difference between working on call for a supermarket, warehouse, café, or hamburger chain — waiting for the boss to call you in for work — and watching the smartphone, wondering when the next job from TaskRabbit, Hassle, Handy, or Uber will come in.