Labour Struggles in Digital Capitalism: Challenges and Opportunities for Worker Organisation, Mobilisation, and Activism in Germany

Keywords: digital capitalism, platform capitalism, labour struggle, unions, platform work, gig work, algorithmic management, surveillance, control, grassroots unions, Germany


In this article, we investigate labour struggles under the condition of digital capitalism. The main research question we address is: How do German unions evaluate and respond to the rapidly accelerating digitalisation of economy and work? Based on a series of interviews with union representatives in Germany, we trace recent developments within an increasingly digitised economy, outlining challenges and opportunities for unions. Our findings show that the large-scale deployment of digital technologies fragments the workforce, reduces social standards, worsens working conditions, and exacerbates power imbalances to the detriment of the employed. These disadvantages are only insufficiently met with new opportunities to raise public awareness and connect with and mobilise workers by means of digital communication technologies. Our study suggests a growing significance of technological expertise for unions, a need to meet global capital with enhanced international and regional cooperation among labour organisations, and the importance of uniting established unions and grassroots workers’ movements in shared struggles to improve the situation of workers under technology-enhanced conditions of globalised exploitation and control.