Platform Capitalism and Platform Labor: Gender, Precarity, and Resistance
October 8, 2021
This event is chaired by Yoonkyung Lee (Sociology, U of T)
Julie Chen, “Wrestling with the platforms in China: precarious participation and glimmer of alternative self-organizing”
The number of platform-based workers in China is estimated to exceed 84 million in 2020—that is, about 10% of the national work force. The magnitude of the transformation of work due to platform power is crucial to understand the contemporary labor politics. In this talk, I will first show how China’s existing informal labor force and the capitalistic logic in the platform economy that prioritizes market dominance have shaped the platform-based workforce in its heterogeneity and scale and led to a rising centralized and infrastructural power in the hands of platform companies to regulate the fragmentated just-in-time work force. I will further discuss the contradictions between the monopolistic capital and China’s infrastructural state and the implications for the continued (old) and new labor struggles. To conclude, I will reflect on the possibility, promise, and limitations of worker’s alternative organizing by exploring a national network of self-organized drivers prior to, during, and after the dominance of the ride-hailing platforms from 2011 to 2019.
Julie Yujie Chen is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology at the University of Toronto (Mississauga) and holds a graduate appointment at the Faculty of Information (St. George). Chen studies the transformation of labor and workers in relation to the digital technologies, capitalism, and globalization. She is the co-author of Media and Management (University of Minnesota Press, 2021) and the lead author of Super-sticky WeChat and Chinese Society (Emerald, 2018) which is the first book-length research on the largest social media in China—namely, WeChat. She publishes widely on issues related to workers on the digital platforms in China in journals including New Media & Society, Socio-Economic Review, Javnost - The Public, Work, Employment and Society, Chinese Journal of Communication, China Perspectives, and Triple C. She has been the principal investigator leading research projects which have received funds or awards from Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Connaught New Researcher Award (Canada), and International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Canada).
Seung-yoon Lee, “Platform capitalism and the melting labor: South Korean Platform Labor work and its Mismatch with Welfare Institutions”
Discussions on labor rights and social rights of these platform work developed rapidly and the main topic of discussion was focused on the emergence of this new type of work called platform work. In this study, I conceptualize ‘dismantling of various boundaries surrounding the traditional forms of work and workplace, such as standard employment before the fissured workplace and pure self-employment’, as melting labor. The concept of melting labor includes the increase of new forms of work that deviates from the standard employment before the fissured workplace such as non-regular and atypical work, subcontracted and outsourced work, and also changes in the pure self-employment such as dependent/disguised self-employed as well as freelancers and platform work. Korea’s platform labor market expanded considerably in the short run and there was a diversity of platform labor. First, the labor process has been changed by using the platform in common, however, the workers’ dependence and labor control aspects are different from platform waged workers, disguised self-employed workers to gig workers. However, the differences according to the type of platform labor are as follows. First, the delivery platform was mainly mediated by four-way relations, and the domestic services and freelance platforms by three-way relationships. Second, the intensity of control and involvement of platform labor of platform companies was strong in the order of delivery platform, house service platform and freelance platform. Third, the differences in social security experiences and desires were mainly found in industrial accident insurance. Differences between platform work types also need to be considered in discussing alternatives to solve the gap in practice and institutions.
Dr. Sophia Seung-yoon Lee obtained her Ph.D. in Social Policy from Oxford University in the UK with her thesis on a comparative study between East Asian welfare states and non-regular workers. She is an associate professor of social policy at Chung-Ang university, Seoul, South Korea. Her major research fields are East Asian welfare states and labor markets, unstable labor, institutionalism and comparative research methodology. She published peer-reviewed articles and books (co-authored) including “Female outsiders in South Korea’s dual labor market: Challenges of equal pay for work of equal value” (2020), “Korea's Unstable Youth Labor Market and Youth Basic Income Policy Proposal” (2016), and “Institutional Legacy of State Corporatism in De-industrial Labor Markets” (2016), and Korean Precarious Workers (Co-authored Book, 2017). Currently, she is the Vice Chairperson of the Youth Policy Coordination Committee in the Prime Minister Office.
This virtual event is presented by the Korean Office for Research and Education (KORE) which is funded by the Academy of Korean Studies. This event is co-organized by the Centre for the Study of Korea (CSK) at University of Toronto.