Class struggle in the gig economy
Revolt of the Instacart 'shoppers'
Back in the late 1960’s a few young radicals in and around Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) began theorizing about an emerging “New Working Class” and the proletarianization of tech workers, and professionals. But they never imagined anything like the changes we are experiencing today in the changing nature of work and the transformation of the global workforce.
American de-industrialization and the invention of the microchip back in the late ‘50s created a new sub-class of millions of new information-age workers, including so-called “gig” workers, tied more closely to the means of consumption than the means of production.
The “gig” economy involves the non-standard exchange of labor for money between individuals or companies via digital platforms that actively facilitate matching providers with customers, on a short-term and payment-by-task basis.
Today’s 57 million U.S. gig workers are mostly young, urban, and diverse racially and gender-wise, who have not been organized into traditional unions. But there have been a few organizing attempts that may soon bear fruit: i.e., rideshare drivers in N.Y.
There are now 500,000 workers that Instacart calls “shoppers.”
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Instacart workers are planning to strike—i.e., log off the grocery delivery app—starting Saturday.
Gig Workers Collective, a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit that advocates for app-based workers, has been fighting for five years for fair treatment for Instacart shoppers.
According to MarketWatch, the group has urged people to delete the Instacart app before. But this time, its demand for specific actions comes as Instacart, the U.S. leader in grocery delivery, is expected to go public by the end of the year. The company is currently valued at $39 billion. Its reported revenue last year was $1.5 billion.
Instacart has faced lawsuits and accusations of mistreating the gig workers that power its business. It is one of the giant companies fighting to classify its workers as independent contractors instead of employees. Under the National Labor Relations Act, the law under which private-sector workers are permitted to form unions, only employees (but not contractors) can form unions.
This attempt by gig workers to organize and be fairly compensated for their work offers traditional unions another opportunity to expand their shrinking base. The current shortage of workers caused by the pandemic and their unwillingness to return to dangerous, low-paying jobs, greatly strengthens their position.