The gig economy: new name for old exploitation

Deliveroo drivers strike

The increasing casualisation of employment, along with new online platforms for marketing labour and goods, have generated new terms which are celebrated, debated and decried by politicians, commentators and journalists. Central among these is the ‘gig economy’ – where self-employed workers are paid mainly by individual jobs or ‘gigs’ performed, with jobs often communicated through a smartphone app or website. Despite the supposed empowerment at the heart of this model, exploitative big businesses – such as delivery company Deliveroo and taxi firm Uber – have become emblematic of the gig economy. Workers usually have few employment rights, but resistance has begun, with Deliveroo drivers organised in the International Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) union demanding union recognition, and a recent employment tribunal ruling on 28 October that Uber cannot categorise its drivers as self-employed, and must pay them the national minimum wage. The gig economy is a vague concept which links loosely into wider casualisation – notably the rising use of zero hours and temporary contracts in fields such as care work, retail, catering and, increasingly, higher education. Luke Meehan looks at what the gig economy means for capitalists, workers, and resistance.

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Brexit: weak British economy faces further ruin

brexit economy

British and European imperialism are in turmoil over Brexit and its impact on the ever-deepening worldwide crisis of capitalism. The economic costs of Britain leaving the EU will be high for both parties. For Britain, they could be disastrous. In his Autumn Statement on 23 November the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, revealed that the black hole in the public finances requires an additional £122bn of borrowing by the end of 2020/21 – up from the £66bn forecast in July 2016 and even higher than the £100bn he was expected to announce. Despite almost a decade of savage austerity, the £10bn budget surplus promised by Hammond’s disgraced predecessor George Osborne is a distant fantasy. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) put £59bn of the extra borrowing down to the referendum result and now expects even slower economic growth, weaker investment, falling tax revenues and rising living costs. Amid much uncertainty the outlook will almost doubtlessly worsen again after Britain officially leaves the EU. Barnaby Philips reports.

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G4S: prisons, housing, employment

g4s

From its discreet, tightly guarded HQ on the fifth floor of a building in Victoria Street central London, and its Security Services offices in Crawley (near Gatwick), G4S direct its global operations. Operations involve protecting the wealth of corporations, powerful individuals, and governments. It protects government institutions and facilities, and provides back-office police support, fast-response squads, alarm systems and surveillance, security software integration, airport security screening, immigration services, and transportation and imprisonment of detainees. Profits derive from taking custody of the most marginalised, most vulnerable, and the most alienated globally, and from maximising the exploitation of staff: that means skimping on training, paying the bare minimum wages, zero hours contracts, clamping down on unions, recruiting on the cheap, and constantly stretching employees to their limits in high-pressure workplaces. The result is a reliance on brutality in an atmosphere of casual racism.

In 2011, the government were embarrassed enough to promise to end detention of asylum seekers’ children. At the time of writing, children continue to be detained at Cedars immigration detention centre in Crawley under the control of G4S, or ‘pre-departure accommodation centre’, as they would have us call it, but they are due to move detainees to another facility. Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, stated ‘there is no hiding the fact that this is still a family detention unit’. Heaven Crawley, professor of international migration, wrote ‘it is important to call a spade a spade. To repackage detention as “pre-departure accommodation” is disingenuous. Families with children will be taken to the facility against their will’.

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G4S: corruption and institutional racism

The Robocop movie franchise is set in a dystopia where a megacorporation (OCP or Omnicorp) forces through the privatisation of virtually every aspect of government. We have another case of life imitating art: G4S.

G4S seem to be repeatedly in the press for one debacle after another. In 2011 keys capable of opening every door at Birmingham Prison were lost. In the US, G4S guards allowed an 82-year-old nun and two accomplices to break into a nuclear weapons facility (ground zero for the Manhattan Project and the sole facility in the USA for storing enriched uranium) and wander around for two hours daubing walls with slogans and blood. Numerous other incidents include two G4S armoured vehicles hijacked on an inside job in Kenya; an ex-guard robbing cash machines with codes he learned at the company; and a member of a five-man armoured-car crew shooting the other four and making off with the cash in Canada.

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Mike Ashley and Sir Philip Green: capitalism’s ideal villains

Billionaire businessman Mike Ashley was branded ‘the unacceptable face of modern capitalism’ by The Guardian in an editorial on 7 June, the day after he smirked his way through a parliamentary ‘grilling’ that exposed the appalling treatment of his staff at Sports Direct. Such a verdict begs the question: what is capitalism’s acceptable face? Perhaps it’s British mining companies which ‘employ’ seven-year-olds for $1 a day in the Democratic Republic of Congo or the sweatshops in South Asia fuelling British capitalism’s sustainability, to name but two examples. Sir Philip Green, chairman of the Arcadia Group of retail stores, has also recently faced the theatre of humiliation – if nothing more – of parliamentary scrutiny. He took millions of pounds in dividends out of BHS - then owned by Arcadia - before it went bust, dumping 11,000 people into unemployment. But these two grinning creeps merely serve as capitalism’s ideal villains – greedy and selfish ‘bad eggs’, aberrations put down to individual immorality, as opposed to all the ‘good’ capitalists who play by the 'rules', letting the universally exploitative and parasitic system itself off the hook.

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