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Home / Resources / News / How do we organise digital labour?

How do we organise digital labour?

On the one hand, we’ve seen digital tools being co-opted by protest movements across the world, on the other hand, we’ve seen economists talk about how these tools are going to transform the way we work.

We rarely talk about the people who make the digital wheels go round – not the Zuckerbergs or Bezoses, but the people being paid to fulfill micro-tasks on Mechanical Turk, that @trebors, speaking at re:publica 2013 calls “digital sweatshops“.

Do watch his powerful talk, but if you don’t have time, here are some selected quotes:

“They live in the hope that something will turn out better one day, and if they don’t they’ve already got used to the precariousness of their own work life”. 

Indeed, when we asked young people across Europe what their aspirations were for 2014, learning and applying their skills came really high up on their list, as did helping people, even higher than earning mone. How do we square that with the tempation of unpaid internships and cloud work?

“Employers have been become linguistic spinmeisters inventing new words like task rabbits or cloud workers, just to make sure they’re not thought of as employers, so they can make people think this is not work, but a game.”

There are new roles with equally crazy titles like corporate disorganiser or hackschool counsellor which enable young people to be in control of creating purpose for what they produce.

As Edwin Mingard argued in our recent interview with him “If you own that decision over merging work and social life, that can be an incredibly empowering thing. But if you start to rely on the same structures for your friendship as the structures you need to get paid, you’re really in the **** in a way that you’re not if you can assert some ownership over that.”

“There are platforms you can use where somebody else is paying for it. Someone once said “If you’re not paying for it, you’re probably the product”. If you own that kind of stuff, you can shape how it gets used and I think that’s the same in the offline world that if you’re reliant on someone for everything, then you’re losing control of a very important part of yourself as a person.

@trebors reminds us that “if you are a cloud worker, you will still feel hungry come lunchtime and your eyes will still feel strained and your back might hurt.”

“For millions of people, digital environments have become their daily grind and yet are invisible to us. We don’t see these workers, they don’t see each other, they don’t see their employer…The problem with digital labour…is that you don’t see the slaves and you don’t see the masters..we need to give a face of these work practices”.

Like traditional night workers, these are also the invisible citizens in the 24 hour city, but they’re not cleaning the streets or running petrol stations, they’re behind luminous screens getting paid less than a euro an hour to complete an online task for the digital platforms you use everyday. Our Citizens Manifesto calls for internships in the EU to be paid and regulated so as not to be hidden labour. It also calls for a @basicincomeu. What other actions are needed?

The imminent release of the documentary of Cesar Chavez, the man who originally coined “yes we can” and more importantly was able to successfully organise migrant farm workers in California, with the ability of the web to be able to connect and amplify reach, isn’t it time for organise to fight for the rights of digital workers too?