Digital Piece Work: The New Workers and Geographies of the Digital Economy
Featuring: Lilly Irani (UC, San Diego), Lisa Nakamura (Michigan), and Greig de Peuter (Wilfrid Laurier). Hosted by Nick Dyer-Witheford (Western)
25 March 2021, 7PM
How can we support workers in communities on the margins whose jobs and livelihoods are being threatened or transformed by developments in AI, big data and machine learning? How we can demand accountability from the powerful platforms that are engendering these transformations while denying the rights of their workers to fair pay and safe working conditions?
The third in our Big Data at the Margins series examines the ways in which digitization and AI are profoundly transforming the kinds, nature, and location of work, often with severe consequences for those on the social and economic margins or living in smaller towns and rural communities. As traditional manufacturing jobs have disappeared or moved overseas, new forms of AI and digitization have moved in, threatening jobs such as construction, maintenance, food preparation, service and agricultural work, and pushing workers into new forms of ‘gig’ or ‘micro’ work – short-term, standardized, precarious and low-paying jobs, which take place primarily on powerful digital platforms such as Uber, Task Rabbit, or Amazon Turk. These jobs are most often held by women, young people, migrants, indigenous people and people of colour, intensifying already existing forms of social stratification and deepening economic inequality. And, while these platforms publicly praise their workers as ‘entrepreneurs’ or ‘partners’, behind the scenes they work tirelessly to deny, punish or bust any attempts by workers to organize unions or demand legal recognition and protections.
Lilly Irani is an associate professor at the University of California San Diego and member of the AI Now Academic Council. Her award-winning work looks at the ways digital platforms deploy the discourses and practices of entrepreneurialism to justify further exploiting and disempowering workers around the globe.
Lisa Nakamura is Director of the Digital Studies Institute at the University of Michigan and member of the Precarity Lab. She is a leading scholar in the examination of race and digital media. Her recent work looks at the ways in which precarity unfolds across disparate geographic regions and practices, consolidating the wealth and influence of a few and further marginalizing women, migrants and people of colour.
Greig de Peuter is an associate professor at Wilfred Laurier University and co-founder of Cultural Workers Organize. His work explores the recomposition of labour politics today as artists, contract workers, interns, self-employed, freelancers, part-timers and other flexible labour forces seek to collectively confront precarity and financial and social insecurity.
“Old Boundaries, New Horizons: How Anti-Discrimination Law Can Better Protect Black Gig Workers in the Time of COVID-19″, Christy England, The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute for Law and Policy (August 11th, 2021)
Juliet B. Schor for The Conversation: “Gig worker employment fights like those in California pit flexibility against a livable wage – but ‘platform cooperatives’ could ensure workers get both” (October 29, 2020)
“Organizing on-demand: Representation, voice, and collective bargaining in the gig economy,” Hannah Johnston & Chris Land-Kazlauskas, International Labour Office, Condition of Work and Employment Series No. 94 (2019)