"It is an internship in the precariat"
For 43 minutes, we were able to speak with the head of Lieferando - because he thought he was talking to the federal government. In this phone call he told us what he thinks of annoying workers councils and how he envisions the future of delivery services.
The so-called gig economy has been with us for a few years. Their companies are called Uber, Lieferando, Fiverr or Urban Sports. These platforms convey orders to taxi drivers, delivery services and craftsmen. They have one thing in common: the employees pay all costs and risks out of their own pockets. Uniforms have to be bought, broken bikes have to be repaired by the riders. Who is employed, who is self-employed and what rights does the employee have? These are often unanswered questions in the “gig economy” – a new economic model in which people are no longer employed, but are paid per “gig” – per order – and are often only coordinated via a platform.
These platforms are dominating more and more areas of society and are fundamentally changing the world of work and our coexistence. As in so many areas, the Corona crisis has highlighted the already existing problems in the gig business. As an example, we took a look behind the scenes of the largest and now only delivery service in Germany: Lieferando.
For 43 minutes, we were able to speak with the head of Lieferando – because he thought he was talking to the federal government. In this phone call he told us what he thinks of annoying workers councils and how he envisions the future of delivery services. For example, he told us that he wanted the law to be changed so that a weekly schedule could no longer be blocked at the local level. He said: “Why is something like this not designed on the national level, why does there have to be a local say in, for example, shift planning, when shift planning is done the same everywhere in our company?” As an employee of the Federal Agency of Economic Aid and Crisis Protection, we asked him whether he could imagine involving the workforce more in decision-making processes in the company. Because the federal authority sees a problem in how the company treats its riders, especially with regard to their equipment and unreasonable fixed-term contracts (see the memory log for more information on the phone call).
Online businesses have grown enormously as a result of the pandemic. The head of Lieferando sees his industry as the winner of the crisis. The workers, however, are dealing with new forms of exploitation. They are controlled by an app that creates information inequality. The app knows everything about the riders: where they are in town and what their next order will be. Algorithmic rankings often decide on the distribution of orders, automatically sorting out slow riders. The riders, on the other hand, hardly get any information.
On a positive note, Lieferando givse employment contracts and an hourly wage. But the responsibility for hygiene in the uncertain early days of the Corona crisis lay with the riders. They were given the order to carry out “contactless” deliveries. That means the customer should take the order out of the backpack. However, it was unclear how the disinfection should work for both the customers and the riders. Riders also didn’t know when a customer was in quarantine. In addition, many drivers are not sure whether they are entitled to sick pay.
The challenges of the gig economy lie not only in the changing employment status and the lack of clarity about the rights of workers, but also in the fact that traditional trade union organization and pressure methods no longer work. How can you organize yourself if the platform’s app prevents you from meeting your colleagues and only a few stay in the job for more than 6 months? And if your supervisor sneaks into your WhatsApp group and reads how you communicate with your colleagues? What new forms of solidarity are there in the gig economy? What is a “log-off strike”? Or how about a bike demo by Lieferando riders? The most important resistance, however, no longer takes place in public space. Riders meet, share information and use it in solidarity to counter exploitative algorithms. One question remains: when will the federal government adapt the labor laws to the new situation to preserve the achievements of the workers’ movement of the 20th century in the digitalized world of work, instead of allowing a loss of those hard-won rights through clever constructions of bogus self-employment?
These questions are at the center of the latest Peng! action that can be seen in the exhibition “Silent Works” in Berlin. We spoke with organized riders, FAU unionist Sarah Bekker and work sociologist Joanna Bronowicka about grievances and possible resistance. And with the head of Lieferando, who explained to us on the phone which labor rights still have to be canceled so that his company becomes more competitive. The situation of the riders at Lieferando is an example of the working conditions and organizational challenges in the gig economy and the “capitalism of artificial intelligence” which are the subject of the exhibition. The exhibition opening with an artist talk is on November 7, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. In the exhibition you get an insight into how a gig company like Lieferando ticks and hear from a Lieferando rider and a trade unionist from the Free Workers’ Union (FAU) how they defend themselves against abuses.
7-28 November 2020
More information here: silent-works.info
"We need political goals set by politics."
How we called the bosses of the German industry and regulated their companies
The climate catastrophe is in full swing, a global recession is racing towards us. If we do not soon develop a radical economic plan that is socially and ecologically just, we can expect our societies to tear apart. The radical right-wingers will have an easy prey in the sea of frustration.
But politics does not dare, the economists are obviously not prepared for this. Words like eco-sufficiency, solidarity economy and post-growth economy are still foreign words from the catalogue of utopias. And if politics does not seriously tackle the greatest challenges, if the myth of eternal growth continues to be beaten down on us, we have to take the Ministry of Economics into our own hands.
As a bogus Federal Office for Crisis Protection and Economic Aid, we have held talks with CEOs and leading positions of 10 German companies, including 4 DAX corporations. We listened in to see whether they were ready for the radical change that is coming anyway. Whether they are ready to be regulated, if the coming crisis scenarios are openly addressed. In this video we document our journalistic-artistic project, which we produced for the international summer festival Kampnagel:
The reactions were amazing!
The meat industry would theoretically be able to switch to 100% vegan food. Vonovia, the largest housing construction company, could imagine to write charity bigger. Although the automotive industry reacts evasively to the issue of nationalisation, the suppliers understand that there will be far less individual transport in the future. Suppliers to the defence and aviation industries also thought aloud about what it would be like to produce trains in the future. The telephone calls were random samples, but they offer an insight into how easy it can be to pursue policies that can be called that: to push through the interests of the whole of society – and not just the microeconomic interests of individual industries or national interests.
The head of Helios, one of Germany’s largest healthcare groups, had in turn held such a paean to the private sector that he compared the dividends paid to shareholders with tax payments. The head of RWE drew a picture of eternal growth and eternal renewable energy supply – as long as it was imported from abroad – that we felt was almost colonial in character.
It was surprising how intertwined the initial reactions of politicians, the media and the largest of our telephone partners – RWE – were. After the first calls, Kai Diekmann, PR consultant of the agency Storymachine, intervened. The German press agency dpa and the Welt am Sonntag took over his framing: we are cheats*. We asked the dpa and the Welt am Sonntag about the course of events on August 2 at 12 noon, but did not receive an answer before the editorial deadline (August 5, 5 pm).
Wer hat davon schon einmal gehört: „Bundesamt für Krisenschutz und Wirtschaftshilfe?“ Seit wann gibt es das denn? Oder einfach nur eine ziemlich professionelle und aufwändige Fälschung??? https://t.co/raKmVWecfd pic.twitter.com/zqElG7oa14
— Kai Diekmann (@KaiDiekmann) July 11, 2020
…and the Internet community helped him find us:
Aufklärung jetzt! https://t.co/kTZbbeJgHN
— Dax Werner (@DaxWerner) July 13, 2020
The complete memory protocols
We confronted the companies with their statements three days before publication and resolved that we were a journalistic-artistic project. The complete memoirs of the interviews we conducted and the companies’ reactions can be found below.
At this point we would like to emphasize that we are not experts in our field, despite all the enthusiasm we have succeeded in doing so. We have done our best and are sure that there can be sophisticated mobility concepts, that we can make the housing and health market more sustainable. We believe that we can also shape the energy sector and use in such a way that we do not have to build electricity farms in countries of the global south that will need their own electricity.
The issues are complex. They certainly cannot be answered individually, but require fundamentally new approaches to economic management and social interaction. Many solidarity initiatives in the Corona crisis have set an example of what this could look like if the facts force us to do so. In the social discourse for the future we are obviously still at the very beginning, and time is short. We hope that we have been able to show a first step in the right direction.
This is a project that takes place and has been supported within the framework of the international festival of Kampnagel.
If you want to see more of these projects, become a permanent donor!