The Emerging Organization of Platform Workers: the Case of Private Hire Car Drivers in France
Sarah Abdelnour and Sophie Bernard
After decades of progressive labor market regulation, many industrial societies are currently in a trend of reemerging selfemployment (Arum and Müller, 2004). This turnaround started in the mid-1970s and was recently accelerated by the context of what can be called “gig economy”, but also “platform capitalism” (Srnicek, 2016). This tendency results from corporation strategies and is often encouraged by public policies. News forms of independent contracting thus appeared and developed: qualified freelancing on the one hand, but also contingent and often unqualified subcontracting on the other hand. In this context and quite recently, independent contractors started to organize and sometimes to participate in collective actions (Scholz, 2016). This communication will focus on the case of France, and will consider the relationships between independent contractors working as private hire car drivers, the organizations that emerged from their mobilizations and more traditional workers unions. The analysis will be grounded in the understanding of the working conditions of the drivers, and even more broadly on their living conditions.
In France, until today, there is no organization or union that gathers independent contractors in a cross-sectorial way, and even less the workers of the on-demand economy. In other countries, collective organizations emerged, such as the Freelancers Union that was funded in the United States in 1995 (King, 2014). In France, the existing independent workers organizations are mostly those gathering the craftsmen, and can appear closer to employers’ organizations than they are to workers’ unions. Nevertheless, with the rapid and massive development of platforms such as Uber workers started to organize, in spite of multiple obstacles (Osnowitz, 2010). The rise of discontent resulted from the growing number of drivers, the drop of the fares and the rise of the platform commission, but also from the interruption of State aid after the first years of activity. The first protest was held in front of Uber’s offices in Paris in November 2015, and was since then followed by a series of protests in the capital city. Simultaneously, collective organizations made their appearance. At the beginning, three associations were created, each one by a few drivers, and only one of them was linked to a confederal union. Then, progressively, some connections were established between these associations and the more traditional workers’ unions, resulting in the fact that in May 2017, a second of these associations merged with another union.
In this communication, we will examine the relationships between these different organizations, drawing on fieldwork conducted during the protests and interviews with the leaders and other participants. We will first analyze the working conditions and prior experiences of collective action that the leaders had, in order to understand their involvement in the social movement. We will then examine how the associations did, or did not, merge with a confederal union, by discussing the issues of institutionalization. And finally, we will study the stance that unions take towards this new independent “proletariat” and especially how they have to adapt (or not) their methods and claims to this specific population.
Arum Richard and Müller Walter (2004), The reemergence of Self-Employment: a comparative study of self-employment dynamics and social inequalities, Princeton University Press.
King Martha W. (2014), “Protecting and Representing Workers in the New Gig Economy: the Case of the Freelancers Union”, in Milman Ruth and Ott Ed (ed.), New Labour in New York. Precarious Workers and the Future of the Labor Movement, Cornell University Press.
Osnowitz Debra (2010), Freelancing Expertise: Contract Professionals in the New Economy, Cornell University Press.
Scholz Trebor (2016), Uberworked and Underpaid, Polity Press.
Srnicek Nick (2016), Platform capitalism, Polity Press.
Resume of the authors
Sarah Abdelnour, Associate Professor in Sociology, Paris Dauphine University, PSL Research University, CNRS, UMR , IRISSO, 75016 Paris, France.
Sociology of work and employment, public policy, social movements.
- 2017, Moi, petite entreprise. Les auto-entrepreneurs, de l’utopie à la réalité, PUF, Paris.
- 2016, « Quand l’auto-entrepreneuriat se substitue au salariat : le prix et la valeur de l’indépendance », Économies et sociétés, série socio-économie du travail, n°1, p. 29-60.
- 2014, « L’auto-entrepreneuriat : une assurance privée contre le chômage ? Les recompositions des frontières entre salariat, indépendance et sous-emploi », Nouvelle Revue du Travail, n°5.
Sophie Bernard, Professor in Sociology, Paris Dauphine University, PSL Research University, CNRS, UMR , IRISSO, 75016 Paris, France.
Sociology of work and employment.
- 2016, « L’épargne salariale dans la grande distribution. Du partage des bénéfices au partage des risques», Revue Française de Socio-Economie, n°16, pp. 61-80.
- 2014, « Le travail de l’interaction. Caissières et clients face à l’automatisation », Sociétés contemporaines, n° 94, pp. 93-120.
- 2014, (avec Marnix Dressen). « Indépendance et salariat : Porosité des statuts », NRT, n° 5
- 2012, “Internal promotion in the superstore sector: The end of a myth?”, Revue française de sociologie, n° 2.
- 2007, « Cashiers' worktime: Between a productivity mentality and a service mentality”, Sociologie du travail, vol. 49, supplément 2, pp. 129-144.