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The Gig Economy Project was in Barcelona last week to witness the mobilisation of the 'Taxistas' of the Elité Taxi Association, in a 'slow march' through the city to resist attempts by Uber, Cabify and 'Free Now' to gigify the city's private hire car service. We were not disappointed.

There were many impressive things about what I saw A, from the passion of the drivers who were clearly as motivated as the leaders of the union to resist uberisation, to the respect with which the union's leader, Alberto 'Tito' Alvarez, is held by Catalan politicians when we jointly attended the Catalan Parliament following the mobilisation. It's very clear that Elité Taxi, a union that was only created within the last decade to resist Uber's attempts to get a foothold in the city, is a force to be reckoned with.

However, what perhaps struck me most was how Elité Taxi and Tito were perceived by those who are outside of the political-media bubble, and even outside of Barcelona. I spent time in the nearby city of Vilanova i la Geltrù, where Elité Taxi are not present, and asked people there about whether they knew of the union and its leader, Tito Alvarez. I was surprised that he was both known by all and with strong opinions held about him, mainly positive but some questioning whether the union was too aggressive in pursuing its demands. They were also very surprised to hear that other major European cities were not like Barcelona; they believed Uber's extremely limited presence in the Catalan capital to be a general phenomenon, when it is anything but.

Two things strike me about this. First, we live in a time when union leaders generally are not recognisable figures in public life, in stark contrast to the 1970s when they would regularly be featured on public television and their opinions known in working class households. Arresting the decline of trade unionism will require leaders like Tito and unions like Elité Taxi which are willing to do what it takes to make their presence felt, including speaking out on issues like Uberisation and its impact on public services and society as a whole, i.e. in a way that everyone can relate to.

Secondly, it is no coincidence that Barcelona is an outlier in Europe in terms of the weakness of Uber in the city. Since 2014, Elité Taxi Barcelona have put intense pressure on regulators and politicians to prevent the liberalisation of the sector. The point is that strong, militant unions - willing to do the things that others may perceive as overly aggressive - are effective. They deliver in a way which unions that focus more on sitting at the top table and striking compromises with the platforms do not. In the face of an aggressive and uncompromising platform capitalism, aggressive and uncompromising unions are essential.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

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Gig Economy news round-up

  • GORILLAS RIDERS IN NEW WILD CAT STRIKEA new wildcat strike has broken out at super-fast grocery delivery firm Gorillas in Berlin and Cologne. Riders in the Gorillas Workers Collective had been wild cat striking regularly across June and July after a number of complaints accumulated about poor management practices and insufficient kit (we spoke to one of the strikers in this podcast here). The latest strikes seem to have been sparked by the firing of a rider who was union-organising. The riders are demanding the payment of outstanding wages, safety at work and better schedules. Watch this video for more.
  • NEW EU FOOD DELIVERY LOBBY GROUP ESTABLISHED: 'Delivery Platforms Europe' officially registered last week as a lobbyist in Brussels, and constitutes six of the leading food delivery platforms in Europe: UberEats, Deliveroo, Bolt, Delivery Hero, Glovo and Wolt. The latest lobbying offensive comes as the European Commission prepares its proposal for an EU platform workers directive in December. GEP has previously reported on the big corporate lobbying influence on the platform workers directive. 
  • OCADO ZOOM WORKERS STEP-UP ACTIONS: Riders and drivers for e-retailer Ocado protested outside the 'Ocado Zoom' depot on Thursday [30 September] to demand that they are brought in-house on proper contracts. The workers had been working as 'self-employed' for sub-contractor Ryde, often earning well below the minimum wage, but have now been transferred to an employment agency, 'Job & Talent', in a move which the IWGB union, which represents the workers, views as fire & re-hire tactics on the part of the firm. Read more here.
  • BOYCOTT CAMPAIGN OF TURKISH FOOD DELIVERY PLATFORM: Turkey's largest food delivery platform, Yemeksepeti, is facing a trade union lead boycott campaign because of the company's violation of the rights of their workers to join a union. Workers joining the freight union Nakliyat-İş have been fired by the company. A protest was held outside Yemeksepeti's HQ on Monday [27 September] and was supported by various unions and left-wing organisations. The boycott campaign and hashtag was trending on Twitter on Monday. Read more here.
  • FRENCH SENATE BACKS REPORT ON TACKLING UBERISATION: The French Senate has voted unanimously to back the conclusions of a fact-finding mission report into Uberisation in France and what to do about it. The report makes 18 recommendations to improve conditions for workers in the platform sector, but did not address the thorny issue of whether gig workers should be considered as employees or not. Bastien Charbouillot, a a member of the CGT union, described it as "a report between two waters. Read more here.
  • MOBILISATIONS ACROSS EUROPE AGAINST UBER: The past week has seen several mobilisations take place against Uber in Europe, across four countries. On Tuesday [28 September] the App Drivers & Couriers Union in the UK lead a national Uber strike, while on the same day the Barcelona taxi union Elité Taxi led a 'slow march' through the streets of the Catalan capital to resist the Uberisation of the city (read our report for more). On Thursday [30 September] Belgian and French private hire drivers mobilised in Brussels and Paris respectively. 
  • CELL PHONES BROKEN ON THE JOB HAVE TO BE PAID FOR BY THE PLATFORM, JUDGE FINDS: A labour court in Cologne has found that a driver for Líeferando, Germany's largest food delivery service platform, must have his phone, which was broken during an accident at work, replaced or repaired by the company. Following the verdict, unions are now demanding that Germany's 10,000 riders receive work cell phones while on the job. Read more here.

Have we missed important news on the gig economy in Europe this week? E-mail Ben at [email protected] to help us improve our news round-up.

On GEP this week

From around the web

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Veena Dubal, professor of Law at UC Hastings and expert on the gig economy, speaks on the 'Tech Won't Save Us' podcast about California's Proposition-22 referendum and race.

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Phil Jones, researcher at the Autonomy think-tank in the UK, writes for 'Rest of World' on 'click work' in refugee camps.

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Full minutes of the French Senate's debate on its fact-finding mission into Uberisation.

What's coming up?

- The United Private Hire & Drivers Union, a branch of the IWGB union, has announced a Uber strike in the UK for 6th of October. Details here.

- The Left in the European Parliament is hosting a transnational forum on alternatives to Uberisation in Brussels on 27th of October. The event will be available in-person and online. Details and to register here.

- An online PhD symposium on the the future of the platform economy and platform work, hosted by the DigiLabour research lab at the Unisinos University in Brazil, will be held on 27-28th October. For details and to register click here.

- The European Trade Union Institute will hold a two-day conference online and face-to-face on 'labour rights & the digital transition'. The event will be held in Brussels on 28th and 29th of October. See the programme here

- The European Commission will announce its legislative proposal for improving the conditions of platform workers on 8th of December. 

Know of more events or actions that we should be highlighting? Let us know at [email protected].

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Get in touch

The Gig Economy Project is a media network for gig workers and we welcome contributions from workers, writers, academics, activists - anyone who wants to stand up for gig workers' rights. 

If you would like to write for the site, discuss arranging an interview with GEP, or simply have information about developments in the gig economy in Europe you think we should be aware of, get in touch. 

Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at [email protected] or send a direct message to the Twitter @project_gig.

And if you like the Gig Economy Project weekly newsletter, why not send the link to subscribe to a friend or colleague?

The Gig Economy Project is a Brave New Europe production. If you want to help GEP expand our work, visit BraveNewEurope.com to make a donation.

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