Platforms of resistance or platforms of control? Data, Power and Networks of Resistance in the Platform Economy.

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Digital Humanities

Abstract

Uber and Amazon are empowered by economic monopoly,
intelligent algorithms and big data. The counter-power of
collective social action can hardly compete, yet the growing
networks of resistance among Uber drivers and Amazon
order pickers - through social media forums and trade
unions - are a social force worthy of investigation. United
Private Hire Drivers are mobilising Uber drivers through
Facebook and the GMB Union's #wearenotrobots twitter
campaign is organizing Amazon workers. Whilst platform
capitalism 'significantly' weakens the labour movement
(Srnicek, 2017), Uber was recently valued at $72bn despite
owning no physical assets. Amazon has hit the $1 trillion
mark and the CEO, Jeff Bezoz, is the richest man in the world,
earning £8 million an hour. My research will investigate how
workers are organising using, paradoxically, the power of
digital networks to resist and challenge these companies'
practices (Castells, 2011).
Protests were staged at five Amazon sites across the United
Kingdom on November 23, 2018. On January 15th, 2019 I

attended my first Uber protest. It begun with a battle cry of
car horns outside the Transport for London office building in
London. Activists parked as many cars as possible on
Blackfriars Road to stage a 'visible protest.' Two chants "TFL
- RACIST," and "WE WANT JUSTICE," became the increasingly
louder symbol of their collective voice. The predominantly
male, ethnic minority activists described a sense of
entrenched inequality, isolation, betrayal. One activist
described how he sometimes works 16 hours to earn a living
wage, another described fears of being "deactivated." Digital
and physical spaces merged as mobile phones captured the
protest in live Facebook streams. My research will explore
the relationship between new grievances raised by workers in
the platform economy and new forms of organization and
mobilisation emerging on social media.
I will conduct extensive and intensive empirical work with 20-
25 Uber and Amazon activists and their use of social media
networks. Secondary sources will be gathered to ascertain
how political actors respond to these movements in the
mainstream media. By bringing into dialogue both workers
and organisational perspectives I hope to shed light on the
following questions:
Central research question:
How has social media and algorithmic management played
a role in the politicization of Uber (UPHD) and Amazon (GMB)
trade union members?
Sub-questions: What are the main grievances expressed by protest
movement participants?
Does social media create a collective identity or deepen
expressions of individualism?
How does social media inform the tensions between topdown traditional movements and grass-roots activism
among Uber drivers and Amazon order pickers?
To what extent do digital tools empower and/or
disempower workers, both in the online and offline space?

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2309714 Studentship ES/P000703/1 01/10/2019 30/12/2023 Josephine West