Illusioned and Alienated: Can Gig Workers Organise Collectively?

  • Dragana Mrvos University of South Florida
Keywords: Uber, dissatisfaction, powerlessness, isolation, labour mobilisation, re-appropriation


By studying the fraudulent benefits of flexibility in the ride-hailing gig economy, this article explains alienation as a condition in which workers are excluded from the product, estranged, and disadvantaged. Material estrangement, an objective aspect of alienation exemplified by arbitrary distribution of income, capitalists’ exclusive access to data, and robotic communication between Uber and their drivers, has many physiological (subjective) manifestations. Dissatisfaction, powerlessness, and isolation as subjective expressions of alienation prominently shape the prospects of collective labour mobilisation by both sparking and hindering organisational potential. Additionally, the example of workers’ re-appropriation of Uber’s app against Uber explains how modern technologies serve not only as a medium to expand capitalist interests, but enhance possibilities for labour cooperation and liberation. The proposed argumentation uses the Autonomist Marxist concept of “social factory” as a meta-framework, drawing on original ethnographic and interview data on ride-hailing Uber drivers in the gig economy.