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Alternatives to uberization of labour in the making

Translated Tuesday 22 August 2017, by Tom Gil

A study by the Ministry of Labor has denounced the dangers of uberized labour and called on the government to act. Ordinary citizens are already developing apps that will allow more human practices than those of the large platforms.

Traveling via a chauffeur service that pays part of its earnings to a [non-profit] association or to get your food delivered by a rider employed by a cooperative company will soon be possible. Jérémie Girault and Kevin Poperl, the founders of Rox and Coopcycle, have created two among a growing number of social and solidarity initiatives which challenge the major private platforms such as Uber or Deliveroo. "We initiated the project with the aim of fighting against uberization", says the founder of Rox, the would-be company of drivers. For its part, Coopcycle, the free software for bicycle riders, proposes "a concrete alternative in the form of a cooperative", according to the words of its creator. These projects could, at the least, co-ordinate the business of the couriers now into the third week of their campaign against Deliveroo- [http://www.france24.com/en/20170812-france-paris-protest-food-delivery-service-deliveroo-financial-insecurity-emmanuel-macron]. At issue: the food delivery giant’s bid to impose piece work on the couriers.

If the misdeeds of uberization are known, the study of France’s Ministry of Labor published at the beginning of the month clearly confirms the anxieties aroused by what it calls modestly the "economy of the platforms". It points to the poor distribution of economic risks, the lack of fundamental rights, and the health and safety of workers on the platforms – all issues requiring a response from the government. More radical, Yann Le Pollotec has slammed "a particularly predatory form of capitalism". An economist in charge of the French Communist Party’s policy for a ‘digital revolution’, Le Pollotec notes a real paradox: "Uber is a transport company, but it has not single vehicle nor driver. It merely offers a linking platform, transferring all the risks to the users".

Giving workers "control of their platform" is the stated objective of Coopcycle. The idea is simple: to develop free software, similar to that of Deliveroo, made available to couriers for free throughout France, provided that they constitute themselves as a cooperative. The logic of classical platforms is privatised, explains Le Pollotec. He sees in this project "a cooperative and open approach, in complete rupture with the predatory capitalism" of large private platforms. It is no coincidence that the idea came to the developer of Cooperation, Alexander Segura.

The idea came to him at the time of Nuit Debout following discussions on the re-appropriation of personal data that users of Deliveroo and in general social networks broadcast too often without asking questions.
"It is our ambition to put a common good at the service of delivery co-operatives in the future", says Poperl. In free software, local cooperatives will be able to adapt the platform to their needs. "The Deliveroo software gives drivers the fastest route between points A and B, regardless of how dangerous the journey. By reclaiming it, co-operatives will be able to offer another safer route", says Kevin Poperl.

Challenging the software monopoly of the uberization giants would also provide better remuneration to users. "Today, Uber takes a 25% commission on the profits made by a driver, simply by virtue of connecting two people - and that is huge", said Jérémie Girault. Rox aims to better allocate this 25%, mostly for the benefit of drivers, with an estimated 5% into a partnership association.
It is, in a sense, the logic of fair trade applied to transport services or, in the words of Jérémie Girault, "reshuffling of the cards now held by the giants and returning them to the workers". Thanks to this system, the drivers’ income could "increase by 60% without changing the price of the journey paid by the users".

Neither platform has yet been created, but the creators of Coopcycle and Rox hope to see their software functional before the end of the year. A first competition without profitability target against the omnipotence of large private platforms.

Find out more at Fête de l’Humanité
The creator of the cooperative delivery platform Coopcycle and its developer (see below) will be present at the Espace fab labs and world of the "free", on the Fête de l’Humanité, on Friday 15, Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 September 2017, in the parc départemental Georges-Valbon in La Courneuve, in Seine-Saint-Denis. They will participate in the debate on the compatibility of the commons with digital capitalism on Friday afternoon.

Platforms get a kicking from the ministry of labour

In a study published on 9 August, France’s Ministry of Labour highlighted the dangers of the "platform economy". Behind this emphatic expression is actually the phenomenon of "uberization". The study points in particular to the deterioration in the quality of jobs. The uberization could "prosper on by avoiding ‘acquis social’ (existing pay and working conditions), recreating the forms of work that dominated before the rise of salaried workers ", the report reads. Such is the piece-work that the Deliveroo platform is now trying to impose on its couriers. There is also the ambiguity of the use of self-employment for workers who are subject to a tariff and can be excluded at any time without any real capacity for collective mobilization. Another source of concern is taxation. The legal vacuum surrounding these new forms of work encourages platforms to employ tax optimization. Thanks to this, Airbnb paid only 92,000 euros in taxes in France in 2016. In conclusion, the authors of the study call on the executive to adapt the social law and the system of compulsory levies to the new forms of work introduced by uberization, specifying that this adaptation "will not be done in a simple and uniform way" .


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