Remember that behind our screens hides a new proletariat

Remember that behind our screens hides a new proletariat

© Supplied by Slate
At a gathering of Deliveroo delivery people denouncing the platform’s decision to abolish the minimum price of 4.70 euros per order, on August 7, 2019 in Paris. | Bertrand Guay / AFP

For Valentine’s Day, Deliveroo delivery men and women call for a boycott of the company on an initiative of the collective of independent Parisian deliverers (CLAP).

Deliverers and drivers have been engaged in a standoff with these large companies for a long time, who pay them by the task and not by the hour, playing on the fact that their status is that of self-employed entrepreneurs and not of employees. CLAP requires a minimum cover of 5 euros, social security cover and the inclusion of costs borne by the delivery men.

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Platform tour de force

We know well, more or less consciously, according to reports, that these young people constitute a new proletariat, marked by regressions in relation to what the working class had managed to gain in the 20th century, such as the end of payment to the task and social protections. And yet, this is only the visible part, the one we meet in the streets of cities, the part that we greet, to whom we give a tip.

In the case of Deliveroo, we also discover that certain dishes do not come from the kitchens of the official restaurant. The company has fitted out a mega-kitchen in Saint-Ouen where the cooks, mainly Sri Lankans and Bengalis, work in difficult conditions, without heating.

But there is also everything else. The big digital platforms still managed an incredible tour de force: they managed to make us believe that the internet was codes. That there were only algorithms, that everything was automated. Of course, we know that there are engineers, somewhere at the bottom of Silicon Valley. But that’s all.

In France, the one who put an end to this lie is the sociologist Antonio Casilli. He recounted the “click workers” and from his research has just been drawn a series of amazing reports, available on the France Televisions website.

In four episodes of about twenty minutes, we discover the faces, the voices of those who are on the other side of the screen. There is the delivery men, of course. But also, in the second episode, women in Madagascar called micro-workers. And there, we still reach a higher level in the foutage of mouth, since platforms offer micro-work to African or Asian women, supposedly to help them supplement their income. This is limited if the company does not flatter itself that it is providing development aid, feminism and humanitarian aid by offering these women the opportunity to work.

One of them says that on the site, the rate indicated is 2.86 euros per hour. His request? Let this tariff be really applied. Because in reality, it is “indicative”. She explains that a task is paid 27 cents, and that some take 15 minutes. Another young woman says that by working eight hours a day, six days a week, she earns 200 euros a month.

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The challenge of moderation

Ah… the internet which helps cut costs. We are always told that digitizing will save money by eliminating human labor. In fact, in some cases, it is not a question of automating but of making fingers work at the other end of the world – or in France.

To understand more precisely what tasks these women perform, I advise you to go watch the report. For lazy people: for example, they will transcribe in writing a discussion between a customer and a customer service, or they will specify what the machine cannot distinguish in the case of a search engine. In short, they do internet, by hand and by click. There are at least 45 million of these micro workers in the world.

And then, of course, there is the case of moderation of content on social networks, to which is devoted the third episode. As a former moderator reminds us, politicians are content to denounce Facebook, which does not fight hate content enough, but without clearly asking the question: how do we do it? Because more moderation, today, is more people in often rotten working conditions, who are paid to watch beheading videos.

The last episode is devoted to solutions, and Antonio Casilli recalls that the principle of platforms, based on the commons, was of anarcho-communist inspiration and that capitalism has recovered them, but that it is still possible to do something else.

We have to take the time to watch this series to understand that behind our screens are people, whether they are called self-employed or micro-workers, who still form the working class.

This text appeared in the weekly newsletter of Titiou Lecoq.


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