Riding for Deliveroo - Callum Cant - ebook

Riding for Deliveroo ebook

Callum Cant

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Opis

What is life like for workers in the gig economy? Is it a paradise of flexibility and individual freedom? Or is it a world of exploitation and conflict? Callum Cant took a job with one of the most prominent platforms, Deliveroo, to find out. His vivid account of the reality is grim. Workers are being tyrannised by algorithms and exploited for the profit of the few - but they are not taking it lying down. Cant reveals a transnational network of encrypted chats and informal groups which have given birth to a wave of strikes and protests. Far from being atomised individuals helpless in the face of massive tech companies, workers are tearing up the rulebook and taking back control. New developments in the workplace are combining to produce an explosive subterranean class struggle - where the stakes are high, and the risks are higher. Riding for Deliveroo is the first portrait of a new generation of working class militants. Its mixture of compelling first-hand testimony and engaging analysis is essential for anyone wishing to understand class struggle in platform capitalism.

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CONTENTS

Cover

Front Matter

Preface: London, August 2016

1 Introduction

Workers and Bosses

Workers’ Inquiry

Class Composition

Why Deliveroo?

Notes

2 The Job

Getting the Job

An Average Shift

Notes

3 The System of Control

Algorithmic Management

Work Intensification

Black Box

The Means of Subsistence

‘Independent Contractor’ Status

The Menace of the Workers

Notes

4 A Short History of Precarious Militants

Dockers

Builders

Notes

5 Workers and Customers

Migration

Gender

The Customers

Notes

6 The Strikes

The Rebel Roo

The First Meeting

The February Strike

A Second Strike

Invisible Organization

Politics

UberEats

Notes

7 Looking Forward

Fully Automated Luxury Food Delivery?

Progressive Futurism

Platform Cooperativism or Workers’ Control?

The Question of Power

Notes

8 A New Wave

London, September 2018

Everywhere, October 2018

The Network Model

Notes

9 Conclusion

The Politics of Parties and the Conditions of Struggle

Birdsong

Notes

Index

End User License Agreement

Guide

Cover

Table of Contents

Begin Reading

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Riding for Deliveroo

Resistance in the New Economy

Callum Cant

polity

Copyright © Callum Cant 2020

The right of Callum Cant to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published in 2020 by Polity Press

Polity Press65 Bridge StreetCambridge CB2 1UR, UK

Polity Press101 Station LandingSuite 300Medford, MA 02155, USA

All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

ISBN-13: 978-1-5095-3552-1

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataNames: Cant, Callum, author.Title: Riding for Deliveroo : resistance in the new economy / Callum Cant.Description: Cambridge, UK ; Medford, MA : Polity Press, 2019. | Includes bibliographical references. | Summary: “What is life like for workers in the gig economy? Is it a paradise of flexibility and freedom? Or is it a world of exploitation? Callum Cant took a job with one of the most prominent platforms, Deliveroo, to find out. This mix of first-hand testimony and analysis is essential for anyone wishing to understand class struggle in platform capitalism”-- Provided by publisher.Identifiers: LCCN 2019009985 (print) | LCCN 2019980167 (ebook) | ISBN 9781509535507 (hardback) | ISBN 9781509535514 (paperback) | ISBN 9781509535521 (epub)Subjects: LCSH: Deliveroo (Firm)--Employees. | Express service--Employees--Great Britain. | Express service--Employees--Labor unions--Great Britain. | Self-employed--Great Britain. | Employee rights--Great Britain.Classification: LCC HD8039.E82 G733 2019 (print) | LCC HD8039.E82 (ebook) | DDC 331.7/613831830941--dc23LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019009985LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019980167

The publisher has used its best endeavours to ensure that the URLs for external websites referred to in this book are correct and active at the time of going to press. However, the publisher has no responsibility for the websites and can make no guarantee that a site will remain live or that the content is or will remain appropriate.

Every effort has been made to trace all copyright holders, but if any have been overlooked the publisher will be pleased to include any necessary credits in any subsequent reprint or edition.

For further information on Polity, visit our website: politybooks.com

Acknowledgements

I received invaluable support whilst writing this book, for which I am very grateful, particularly from my Ph.D. supervisors, Helen Hester and Jamie Woodcock. I am indebted to the workers, in Brighton and elsewhere, whose creativity and bravery are the source of everything worth reading herein. And, finally, I owe huge thanks to Ev, my team mate.

Preface: London, August 2016

In the summer of 2016, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) was paying close attention to restaurants in London. By late July, they had homed in on twelve branches of Byron Burgers across London. Workers at these branches were told by their managers they had to attend a 10.30 a.m. meeting on the proper cooking of burgers before the lunch shift started – in fact, they were attending an immigration raid. Around twenty workers were detained and then deported.

News of the raid began to spread amongst a group of workers who knew the deported staff well and had similar experiences of their own: Deliveroo couriers. They were outraged at the collaboration between managers and UKBA. Just a few weeks before, Deliveroo had also worked with the UKBA to ‘assist in a documentation check’ at their own Islington HQ, which resulted in three workers being detained. If companies were happy to profit off the work of migrants, the argument went, then they should not sell them down the river as soon as the Border Agency called. An idea for action spread rapidly amongst the couriers – they would all refuse to deliver Byron Burger orders. For the first time, they were taking collective action.

Two weeks later, Deliveroo announced that they were going to change the way workers in London were paid. The system would be changed from a flat hourly rate (£7) with a bonus per completed delivery (£1) plus an additional petrol bonus for moped riders, to a fee-per-delivery piece-wage (£3.75) with no hourly rate. If there were no orders, workers would earn no money. For many, this change amounted to a pay cut, but management predicted it would offer Deliveroo significant savings during down times. What they did not predict, however, was what would happen next.

Hundreds of workers across the city began a strike. They organized huge roving demonstrations of mopeds and cyclists that converged upon Deliveroo’s central London office. The service was in chaos, with orders going undelivered all over the city. The Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), a London-based grassroots union, launched a crowd-funder to help support workers during the strike. Within days it had raised over £20,000. As a result, workers could now pay themselves a basic wage for the duration. The decision was made to stay out for another day, and then another. On the third day of the strike, Dan Warne, managing director of Deliveroo UK, decided to talk to the strikers. Every day, the crowd gathering on the steps opposite the head office seemed to be getting bigger. Now it was in the hundreds. A worker filmed what happened next.

It’s a hot, sunny day, and Dan walks out of the office, across the road and right up to the crowd, holding a straight face all the time. A few strikers heckle him, but they let him walk into the crowd. On the steps is a group of IWGB members who are there to support the strike. At the head of the group is Max Dewhurst, a CitySprint courier and experienced trade unionist. They start to smile. They can tell what is coming next.

Dan clears his throat. The workers close the circle around him and start to shout and laugh. Those standing at the top of the steps loom over him. He gestures for the workers to be quiet. He starts to speak: ‘Can I have some silence, ladies and gents …’ The company, he says, is willing to listen to every worker’s concerns, individually. The response is not positive. The workers want collective bargaining, and they tell him as much, at full volume. One worker steps forward: ‘Everyone wants the same thing: £8 per hour, plus £1 per drop. That’s it.’ Dan responds, ‘Listen guys, there needs to be an explanation around what the changes are, it’s a change in payment method, not lower wages …’ The workers cut him off. They tell him that’s not what they want. He tries again, ‘That is a dialogue we will have individually. So, where we have done this, first of all, this is a trial …’ Another roar. The workers show him their signs, on which their demands are clearly written down. ‘Look at it!’ Everyone wants the same thing: £8 per hour, plus £1 per drop. That’s it.

For the first time, Dan Warne, the managing director of Deliveroo UK, is face to face with organized couriers, who actually do the work for Deliveroo UK. The thousands of dots on the map, spread all over London, are showing that they are real people with real power. From the back of the crowd, a chant starts: ‘Out, out, out, out!’ Soon everyone is shouting together. Dan looks left and right. He steps back, turns, and walks away, back into the office. The crowd cheers as he goes.

The strike ended four days later. By that time, the workers’ demands had increased – they wanted the London living wage (£8.25) per hour, plus costs, plus a bonus per delivery. They settled for a compromise position of the status quo, with the existing workers keeping a £7 per hour plus £1 per drop payment structure. It was only a partial victory. All new workers would be put on the new per-drop-only payment structure. Despite a large proportion of the strikers joining the IWGB and demanding it lead negotiations, Deliveroo continued to refuse to participate in formal collective bargaining or to allow trade union representation. Deliveroo continued to maintain the legal fiction that its couriers were ‘independent contractors’. But that strike was the beginning of something. Deliveroo workers had shown they could take on their bosses – and, from London, the fight would spread, across the UK, Europe, and, finally, the world.

1Introduction

Deliveroo is a food-delivery platform. That means different things depending on where you stand. From the point of view of the customer, it is an app which charges you a fee to deliver restaurant food to your home. From the point of view of the restaurant owner, it is a bolt-on outsourced delivery service that takes a cut of the value of all delivery orders. For the couriers, it is an app you work for which pays you to take food from restaurants to customers. For investors, it is an app you pump hundreds of millions of pounds into, in the hope it will eventually turn a profit.

Anyone who lives in, works in, or visits a major British city will be familiar with the blur of Deliveroo couriers rushing food through traffic or standing around on pavements. The company was founded in London in February 2013 by Will Shu and Greg Orlowski and has gone on to expand globally. Between 2013 and 2016, Deliveroo’s revenue grew by 107,117 per cent – that is, one hundred and seven thousand, one hundred and seventeen per cent – making it the number one fastest-growing company in Europe over that period, by far.1

This rapid expansion has been based on abundant investor capital, which has allowed Deliveroo to rack up huge losses.2 Whilst Deliveroo’s total revenue increased 611 per cent in 2016, with sales of £128.6 million, it also recorded a loss of £129.1 million.3 In 2017, those losses widened to £185 million as the company continued to plough money into rapid growth.4 Even looking past the expansion plan, Deliveroo’s margins remain tight. Delivery costs for 2016 were £127.5 million, just £1.1 million less than total sales. Despite only paying its couriers poverty wages, the platform’s profit margins were smaller than 1 per cent, although Deliveroo claims that mature markets are significantly more profitable. The platform is a prime example of how the ‘gig economy’ relies on huge bubbles of investment to create global start-ups with disruptive models, limited profitability, and exploitative practices.

Every day, thousands of Deliveroo couriers work delivering food in towns and cities across the UK. This book is about them and the reality of their work, behind the glossy exterior of the app. To hear CEO Will Shu talk about Deliveroo, you would think it was a company defined by innovation, entrepreneurship, and flexibility. But from the point of view of workers, it’s more about low pay, precarious conditions, and conflict. This is not just a sob story about workers being exploited in bad conditions by bosses who get rich off their work – it’s also about how workers have squared up and fought back.

Workers and Bosses

That contradiction between workers and bosses is a class contradiction. But what is a class? Classes are social groups defined by their antagonistic economic relationships to one another. By their very nature, classes are always in more or less organized conflict with one another, and this conflict shapes society. The class which dominates society and all the other classes in that conflict is called the ruling class. Because this class is dominant, it gets to organize society to suit its interests. In a capitalist society, the majority of people belong to one of two classes: bosses or workers.

Bosses are the ruling class of capitalist society, and are defined by the fact that they own and control the ability and the means to produce the stuff that everyone else needs in order to survive. They use this ability to produce huge amounts of value, by selling things which workers produce back to workers as commodities. As such, they turn the means of producing useful things into a way of making profit, otherwise known as ‘capital’. Some of these bosses are CEOs, whilst others are just investors or landlords who let other people run the nuts and bolts of exploitation but take a share of the profit anyway. In order to maintain this system based on profit for the few and scarcity for the many, bosses have to stay on top. To do so, they use the power they derive from their control of the economy to capture parts of the state and other social institutions

Workers are defined by the fact that they have to work in order to survive. Being a worker means spending most of your life making someone else rich. They make up the vast majority of society, but do not benefit from the way it is organized and run. Without workers, capitalism would be impossible, but capitalism is not in workers’ interests.

Only a social revolution can fully resolve this contradiction, by getting rid of capitalist social relations and replacing them with something else. As a result, organized workers have generally spent the last 170-odd years aiming for a different kind of society from capitalism, one which would benefit them: socialism.

However, the ruling class is opposed to any transformation of society. It is precisely those class contradictions of capitalism that they rely upon for their profits. So, the ruling class are always interested in maintaining capitalism, no matter how badly things might be going – they do not even want to solve the problem. So, when organized workers fight for socialism, they end up in a class struggle with their bosses. This struggle has shaped the world we live in today. Working-class victories include weekends, the NHS, the limits on the length of the working day, an end to child labour, and the ability to vote. But whilst workers have succeeded in changing the form of capitalism we live under, they have not yet got rid of capitalism altogether. Nonetheless, the working class is the only class capable of acting in the interests of everyone and abolishing class-divided society forever. The only other alternative is to continue on in a system that is coming apart at the seams.

In-between these two struggling classes are all sorts of other groups with their own specific interests. Bureaucrats, shop owners, leftover aristocrats and the rest are part of neither of the predominant classes, but most of the time, apart from when things are going really badly, they throw their weight behind the ruling class.

The analysis of class proposed by the establishment is the complete opposite of the argument above. For mainstream liberals, capitalist society isn’t made up of two opposed classes at all. Instead, it is a jumble of propertyowning individuals. These individuals, whether bosses or workers, all have a universal common interest in a system that maintains the rule of private property above all else. For them, capitalist society isn’t class against class – it’s a deathmatch, all against all, with a consistent set of rules.

As a result, liberals think that the people who make up the ruling class are legitimately successful entrepreneurs. They’ve out-competed everyone else and risen to the top because they’re the best and they work the hardest. Workers, on the other hand, are lazy. They are playing the same game as the bosses under the same rules, they are just not very good at it. After all, if a worker is stuck in a low-paying job, they could always just get another – it is a free society.

Karl Marx’s response to this argument is as accurate now as it was in the nineteenth century. Yes, workers are ‘free’ – they are ‘free’ to sell their labour-power to an employer, and they are ‘free’ of any ability to survive if they don’t get paid. Once workers have sold their labour-power, it is then used by their boss to produce commodities. These commodities are worth more than the value paid back to the worker in wages. This extra ‘surplus value’ is either reinvested by the boss, redistributed to other members of the ruling class through rent, interest and dividends, or converted into profit. In reality, capitalism gives workers no choice: they have to sell their labour-power in order to get a wage and buy the stuff, the commodities, they need to survive. They can stop working for any one capitalist and go and get another job, but they can never stop working for the capitalist class altogether. You work and are exploited to make your boss rich, or you starve – some ‘freedom’.5

It’s not unusual to hear pundits argue that people who understand class as Marx did are living in the past. In the new ‘sharing economy’, everyone is a winner, they say. But that same struggle between workers and bosses that has defined the last two centuries of our history still defines it today. Society is still predominantly divided into two camps: that small group of people who live off the value produced by others, and that big group of people whose only choice is to work or starve. It doesn’t matter whether that system is organized by telegraph or by app, it’s still capitalism.

The question is, do you see the 2,208 billionaires who run the world as a ruling class, or as legitimately successful business people who just worked harder than the billions of people living in absolute poverty? This book takes Marx’s side. So, it is written from the perspective of the working class: the class which has nothing to lose but its chains. In order to do so, it is based on research carried out through a method called ‘workers’ inquiry’.

Workers’ Inquiry

The term ‘workers’ inquiry’ comes from a 101-question survey written by Marx in 1880 and distributed to workers and socialists across France. Late in his life, Marx argued that only workers really understood the concrete reality of capitalism, and that socialists had to gain an ‘exact and positive knowledge of the conditions in which the working class – the class to whom the future belongs – works and moves’.6 This research wasn’t just about finding things out for the fun of it. In 1845, Friedrich Engels, Marx’s close friend, co-author, and editor, wrote The condition of the working class in England.7 It was based on extensive research in Manchester into the social crisis facing the emerging British working class. Engels hoped to appeal to the bosses, the capitalist ruling class, to recognize the problems created by the industrial revolution and make some changes as a result. Marx’s workers’ inquiry, however, had a different approach. Rather than appealing to the ruling class’s better nature, Marx wanted to actively learn from that class to whom the future belongs and help out on their side of the class struggle. The goal of this struggle was to ‘expropriate the expropriators’, boot the bosses out of power, and reorganize society from the bottom up.8

Workers’ inquiry has been used on and off by different parts of the socialist movement ever since. Three currents, active between the late 1950s and the 1970s, played a particularly important role in developing the method beyond Marx.9 The first was the Johnson–Forest Tendency, a group of unorthodox American socialists who developed workers’ inquiry in the form of narratives. They collected stories of everyday working-class life, which they hoped would help provoke class consciousness amongst their readership. The second is Socialism or Barbarism (Socialisme ou Barbarie), a French group who helped produce a workers’ newspaper (Tribune Ouvrière) in the Alcatraz-lookalike Renault Billancourt factory, built on an island in the Seine slap-bang in the middle of the ‘Red Belt’ of working-class suburbs that surround Paris. The third and final group is Italian Workerism (Operaismo). Workerism was less unified but in many ways more influential than either the Johnson–Forest Tendency or Socialism or Barbarism. It contained a range of perspectives, from relatively straight-laced socialists to anarcho-sociologists. The project that united them all was an attempt to use workers’ inquiry to relaunch socialist politics in a period where the working class looked increasingly detached from the trade unions and political parties that had historically represented it. Whereas classical sociological research into work had been conducted from the point of view of the bosses, with the goal of increasing profits, the workerists wanted to turn it on its head. In the most revolutionary parts of the current, they would use sociology to look for the points of attack where the working class could launch an offensive on capitalism, as the ‘centre’ of Italian politics fell apart.

This book uses workers’ inquiry in a similar way to the workerists. I have learnt about Deliveroo and the conflicts within it from the workers’ point of view. I worked for Deliveroo part-time in Brighton for eight months and, with hundreds of other workers, organized a union branch and a series of strikes and protests for better pay and conditions. That experience is the basis of what follows. In the process of writing, I’ve also interviewed workers from the UK and helped compile a self-reported workers’ database, produced by a European network, on the spread of strikes and protests in food platforms. Taken together, this research, for the first time, tells the comprehensive story of strikes and worker resistance in the gig economy from the perspective of the workers themselves.

Class Composition

Workers’ inquiry is not enough on its own. Collecting information from the workers’ point of view is important, but information means nothing if it’s not interpreted. Whenever someone goes from raw information to specific arguments, they use a set of theoretical principles and assumptions about how the world works. If the theoretical principles are no good, then the resulting argument is no good. Imagine an apple falls on your head – that information could mean a lot of different things, depending on how you understand the world: either it could mean it’s raining apples, or it could mean gravity exists. Within workerism, this progression from raw information to analysis had a close connection with a particular theory: class composition.

Class composition is a Marxist theory that focuses on changes in the balance of power between classes over time, and how shifts in the organization of work and society impact on the form of class conflict. Analysis that uses class composition theory pays attention to the relationship between three particular areas: the first is the organization of individual workers into a productive workforce (technical composition); the second is the organization of workers into a class-based society outside of work (social composition); the third is the self-organization of the working class into a force for class conflict (political composition). In short, the class composition of a workplace has three parts: the work, the workers, and the workers’ organization.10 In periods of rapid technological, social, and political change, it focuses on understanding huge processes of transformation via their material roots in the everyday lives of normal people.

And what is our situation today if not one of rapid change? In the 1990s, the common-sense assumption of global politics was that we were living in the ‘end of history’.11 The Soviet Union had been defeated, the cold war was over, and the system of liberal capitalist democracy was going to ensure a new golden era of growth and stability. Global elites settled in, expecting a comfy ride. But in 2007–8, global capitalism fell victim to one of its inevitable crises. In the long depression that followed, we saw the end of the end of history.12 Something had to change, fast. The response of global elites was an all-out economic assault on the working class. Bail-outs, labour deregulation, resource privatization, environmental exploitation, and social austerity – that was the only way for capitalism to be saved. But it was saved at the expense of ordinary people.

As a result of that assault, the political status quo went out the window. The comfy ride of ruling-class domination turned into a rollercoaster. Between 2010 and 2015, protests, strikes, social movements, and revolutions swept the world. What the cultural theorist Mark Fisher called ‘capitalist realism’ – the assumption that capitalism is the only way of organizing human social life – began to fall apart.13 The technical and social composition of the working class had changed, and the political composition was transformed as a result.

Now, finally, the morbid symptoms of a collapsing consensus are obvious. If a well-paid political pundit says something is impossible, then it’s probably going to happen within the next six months. Politics is polarizing fast. Our choice is between a society run by workers from the bottom up, with room for everyone – or deadly borders and impoverished communities watched over by a class of billionaire oligarchs.

In the middle of this chaos, we can only understand what it all means by paying attention to the everyday reality of life for the majority of people. For good or for bad, that’s where the future will be decided. In the final analysis, workplaces and homes are more important than parliaments and TV studios. The centre cannot hold – what replaces it is up to us.

Why Deliveroo?

Paying attention to the everyday lives of workers has to start somewhere. In this book, it starts with Deliveroo. Deliveroo bears the marks of this wider crisis, whilst also being a ubiquitous part of urban life. But why pay attention to it specifically?

The first reason is because of the role Deliveroo plays in the development of capitalism. You hear a lot about Deliveroo in relation to something called the ‘gig economy’. What exactly the ‘gig economy’ means isn’t very clear. It is a term that lumps together all different kinds of changes to society which only seem to share two things: they all look a bit tech and they all seem a bit new. This book junks that category. Instead, it uses ‘platform capitalism’, an idea developed by Nick Srnicek.14 The basic argument behind this change is that, rather than thinking about companies like Uber and Airbnb as tech start-ups with special tech start-up characteristics, we should think of them as capitalist companies with capitalist characteristics. Srnicek defines platforms as digital infrastructures which enable two or more groups to interact and extract data from that interaction. More specifically, Deliveroo is a geographically tethered platform. Geographically tethered platforms are distinct from other platforms because they sell a service that requires the workers who are providing that service to do their work in a specific place.15 Despite using an app, Deliveroo is still a company that pays people to do a particular job in a particular place, and extracts value from them as they do so.

But geographically tethered platforms aren’t yet viable capitalist companies. Without substantial investment from outside sources, they would go bust. These investors are taking a big bet that these platforms can become profitable at some point. But until Deliveroo starts bringing home big annual profits, it’s a stretch to imagine that it, or companies like it, could lead a process of national or global economic growth. No one knows whether the investors’ bet is going to come off.

As of February 2017, there were 15,000 couriers working for Deliveroo in the UK.16 That’s not an insignificant number, but it’s still nowhere near the big players in sectors like retail, logistics, healthcare, manufacturing, or any other major part of the economy. Deliveroo has about as big a workforce as London Stansted Airport. But, as Srnicek argues, what matters is less the actual business performance of platforms or the size of their workforce, and more the way that they change the landscape of the wider economy.

An analogy with computers is useful. Did computers matter for the development of capitalism because computer manufacture became the largest sector in the economy? Obviously not. Instead, computers have been fundamentally important for capitalism because they have become the universal tool that allows for the mass reorganization of other work. The developments made in the early implementations of computer technology opened the way for a much wider change. Whilst those experiments were going on, there was a brief opportunity to see how computers were going to reorganize work and potentially spread that knowledge from worker to worker.17 Or we could take an even older example: the assembly line. In the early nineteenth century, Boston-based textile mills were the first factories to be reorganized around ‘continuous flow’ labour processes. In these factories, the pace of work was set by the machinery, not by individual workers. Here, almost a century before the Ford motor company developed the assembly line in car manufacture, was a chance to see the future of the factory.18 So, when new technology is being implemented in the workplace, there is a critical window of opportunity for adaptation. If workers can spread information and tactics whilst this window is open, the working class can gain a strategic advantage over their bosses.

Just like computers and assembly lines, the developments made in platform capitalism may come to have wide-reaching effects. In particular, the use of ‘algorithmic management’ to partially automate labour process supervision and coordination could become an increasingly common practice.19 If this technology is to be implemented for human benefit rather than profit, workers need to be in control – and that means we need to develop the kind of tactics that could help us come out on top.

One of the oldest tactics of working-class power is the strike. The name comes from sailors ‘striking’ their topsails to immobilize their ships. The term first entered usage in 1768, when coal-heavers and sailors in London refused to load and move their ships in order to gain leverage over their bosses.20 The striking of sails was an immediate, visual signal to everyone in the area that work was stopping, and something was going down. The power gained by collectively refusing to work has been associated with the word strike ever since.

But this development would only really kick in when the industrial revolution led to the total reorganization of British society. British workers were the first in the world to experience industrial capitalism – emerging, as Marx said, ‘dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt’.21 Peasants were cleared from the highlands, workers were starved in slum cities, and children worked with heavy machinery for hours and hours every day. But, from this dismal point, the forward march of labour began.