back to

e-flux conversations

The Gig Economy Is About Coercion, Not Freedom and "Flexibility"


At Public Books, Maya Vinokour reviews three recent book about the making of the gig economy and the day-to-day lives of gig workers: Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy by Alexandrea J. Ravenelle, Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary by Louis Hyman, and Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work by Alex Rosenblat. As Vinokour writes, advocates of the gig economy like to claim that it offers an unprecedented level of freedom and “flexibility” for modern workers. But these books show that gig work is not something that people freely choose; it is imposed upon them from above, a phenomenon that Vinokour calls “gig authoritarianism.” Here’s an excerpt from the review:

As intensive lobbying adds entire states to the long list of tech industry “customers,” the vaguely libertarian philosophy underpinning Silicon Valley’s blithe disruption of employment and social life appears to be coalescing into a concrete political program. The end point of the road to tech serfdom is still unclear, but if today’s travails are any indication, it is unlikely to be the freedom-kissed utopia industry leaders routinely promise. What awaits us instead may be a sort of “gig authoritarianism.” Unlike 20th-century cults of personality, this regime will be relatively diffuse, its power distributed across a handful of corporate platforms rather than concentrated in the state. Seen in this light, the apparent fatalism that leads powerful men like Kalanick to cast developments they control as inevitable seems less like a failure of imagination and more like an expression of political intent.

Image via The Guardian.


The mega-rich capitalists in charge of the gig economy will make life hell for workers but will hardly be “stateless” when they face any fightback by their employees. As ever with capitalism there will be the CAPITALIST state to look after their interests. And surely it is noticeable that the American police are just that bit more militarised, just that bit more liable to bash workers on the head or shoot unarmed people who look funny to them?
The intention of these big-bucks tyrants is certainly to drive up the rate of exploitation as their struggle to make super-profits intensifies in the teeth of global competition and the USA’s economic decline relative to its international Big Power rivals. But how long will it be before truly Bolshevik sentiments spread among all workers as they shift from despair to anger at the sickening unfairness and injustice of monopoly-capitalist exploitation, rising fascism and warmongering? Perhaps it is precisely gig economy workers who will be among the first to get wise to the need for the workers movement to return to Leninist revolutionary struggle.