Unions worldwide face problems organizing workers due to “dismemberment of full-time employment” by firms from Silicon Valley and elsewhere creating the new “gig economy,” an anthropologist who recently finished a comprehensive book on it says.
Mary Gray brought that message and her book, Ghost Work, co-authored with a colleague from India, to the AFL-CIO’s “[email protected]” seminar on July 24 and WPFW’s Your Rights At Work radio show on August 15. Gray and her colleague interviewed workers in the new economy of Silicon Valley in California and the Pacific Northwest, plus southern India, home now to dozens of call centers and other enterprises transferred from the U.S. But individual workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, also undertake much of the ghost work. The problem unions face in organizing such ghost workers “is that our policies were built around assembly lines,” where organizers could find the workers to talk with, Gray explained. The ghost workers aren’t on assembly lines, and nobody knows exactly how many of them there are. “We have to redefine what it means to be a worker,” to organize ghost workers, Gray said. Unions also must appeal to those workers’ goals of working in order to live, not living around work. The ghost workers “are both competitors and collaborators” with each other in various job-related causes.
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