By Agustín Sena (Izquierda Web Argentina)
On April 24, 25 and 26, 2023, the first International Platform Workers Congress will be held in San Francisco.
The event is convened by the Alianza Unidxs World Action coordinator, which brings together worker organizations by platform from all over the world, after being proposed by the SiTraRepA (Basic Union of Distribution Workers by Application) of Argentina.
The SiTraRepA arose in the midst of a pandemic, when Argentine distributors from companies such as Rappi and PedidosYa began a series of claims for the working and contracting conditions of the sector, marked by a strong job insecurity. In this process, they set up what is now the first national union of this new branch of work, which is fighting for recognition in the Ministry of Labor and already accumulates 2,000 affiliations throughout the country. Along the way, members of the Argentine union participated repeatedly in the Forum against the Uberization of Work in Brussels, perhaps the first antecedent of the Congress of Workers for Platforms.
A “refoundational” event
Belén, Assistant Secretary of SiTraRepA told IzquierdaWeb that the San Francisco Congress will constitute “a refoundational event” for workers in the sector. “We are talking about a new branch of the economy that gives shape to a new sector of the working class,” she pointed out in relation to the phenomenon of the so-called platform economy or gig economy.
In recent years, the platforms have attracted international attention. Not only because of its meteoric takeoff during the pandemic, but also because of the precarious forms of contracting under which they keep their workers. Gigantic companies such as PedidosYa and Rappi in Latin America, but also Amazon and Uber internationally are exemplary cases of this new “business model” based on precariousness.
For the Assistant Secretary of SiTraRepA, the phenomenon of the platforms brought “new regimes of exploitation” to the labor market, but also “new forms of organization and resistance” by workers in the sector.
Workers of the world unite
The Platform Workers Congress will be the first event of its kind and will bring together workers from the sector from all over the world who will share their organizational and union experiences. In this way they hope to strengthen the fight for labor rights in this new branch of work.
The Congress will have as its motto “Application workers of the world, let’s unite! Gig workers of the world, unite! We are workers, not collaborators! We want our unions and all labor rights!”
“That is the central idea”, comments Emilse, SiTraRepA Press Secretary, “to be able to share experiences and build a plan to fight internationally against this scam that companies do by application”.
Delegations from different countries throughout the Americas such as the United States, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil and Paraguay will participate in the event. Representatives of European platform workers will also be present. These are organizations that have been working for months to set up an international coordination of workers in the sector, as well as fighting for improvements in working conditions and labor legislation in their respective countries.
Among the invitations, referents of the new unionism of the 21st century stand out. This is the case of Amazon workers, who have just won their first union from the bases in the United States, and of Starbucks, who are marching down the same path.
The fight against the giants of precariousness
The San Francisco Congress will have several panels that will address the work conditions by application, the labor legislation of the sector in post-pandemic conditions, the internationalist coordination that covers the fight in the sector and the challenges of grassroots unionism in the 21st century. . In addition to union organizations and workers, they will participate in investigative panels and legal advisers specialized in work by platforms and the legislation of the sector, today the subject of debate throughout the world.
It is also anticipated that an assembly and a mobilization will take place in the streets of San Francisco. The city that will host the first Platform Workers Congress is home to the famous Silicon Valley conglomerate and is the headquarters of important companies in the sector such as Uber. A few months ago, this multimillion-dollar company was in the eye of the storm after the shelving known as Uber files. The massive leak of documents exposed the parliamentary lobby tactics that allowed the multinational to circumvent labor laws in dozens of countries.
Not surprisingly, San Francisco (and California) is one of the points where platform workers make their grievances heard. There, the drivers of the native Uber and other applications such as Lyft that are members of the Mobile Workers Alliance (MWA) are taking concrete steps to achieve their unionization. Today they are united in the California Gig Workers Union.
Not too many years ago, San Francisco saw the birth and spread of the empire of new technologies, with some of the most profitable (and precarious) companies on the planet. In addition to Uber, companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, Tesla, Twitter and Rappi itself are now based in the area. The fortunes of tycoons like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk were built in Silicon Valley.
The “B-side” of the Silicon Valley story is the reality of millions of platform workers, those who spin the wheel of fortune for tycoons and in return receive ever greater precariousness. But platform workers are beginning to make their voices heard.
“We see that in the world there is a sector of workers that is beginning to organize from the grassroots, as we did in our country with SiTraRepA, setting up grassroots unions, organizing for labor rights,” says the Press Secretary of the Argentine union, explaining the reasons for the call to the first Congress of Workers for Platforms. “It seems important to us to be able to go to the center of this process, which is taking place above all in the United States, and also bring our experience, pool our fight against the new forms of exploitation that come with platform work.”
It seems that in 2023 the city will witness important union and organizational steps for platform workers.