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When Platforms Fail: The Cost That Workers Pay

With Dr Oğuz Alyanak
With Dr Oğuz Alyanak

In this lecture Dr Oğuz Alyanak discusses how risk taking in the platform economy affects workers. Risk-taking, which is often ascribed to late capitalism, is a key characteristic of the tech/start-up culture. Most digital labour platforms shape their business strategies based on risky behaviour (e.g. excessive growth), which, in return, leads to ebbs and flows in attracting speculative investment. When investment flows, platforms grow bigger, expanding to new markets, diversifying their business models, and bringing in new workers. When it recedes, platforms shrink, leading to closure of new branches and firing of workers at a mass scale. In this talk, I explore how the costs of risky behaviour is not proportionately shared. I argue that when platforms fail, it is often the workers who end up bearing the costs. Platform managers have support systems they can fall back on. They usually reside in the global north and have earnings and social security benefits they can utilise. This is not the same for workers in the global south, or marginalised workers in the global north, who lack access to long-term support systems, and live hand-to-mouth. I conclude by brainstorming ways that an alternative strategy can be devised by putting workers at the centre of this picture and imagining a future of work where workers do not have to have to pay for such failures.

Talk given by Dr. Oğuz Alyanak 25th January 2023