At the dawn of the Twentieth Century, syndicalist unions were founded across the world in response to the great challenge of organising growing numbers of unorganised labourers and peasants thrust into new forms of work by rapidly advancing industrial economies. The names of these unions – the Industrial Workers of the World (US), the National Confederation of Labour (Spain), the Workers’ Federation (Argentina), to identify just a few – reflected both the fullness of their ambition as well as their core mission. To many workers these unions were not a militant or radical alternative to the already existing trade union confederations, they were their union. The union that was prepared to offer solutions to their new conditions and interests. Trade unions of the previous century were only prepared to protect the sectional interests of their existing membership, the syndicalists took up the mantle of all workers everywhere.
At the dawn of the Twenty First Century, as new technologies have once more transformed the world of work – in the form of algorithms, automation and the “gig economy” – syndicalist and base unions have again risen to the challenge of representing all workers everywhere. Couriers working through the software platforms Uber and Deliveroo are at the very forefront of this struggle.
In this episode of Talking Shop the Editorial Team talk to Chris, a general organiser for the IWW Couriers’ Network. Chris discusses the progress of the campaign amongst couriers, some strengths of the “network unionism” model they are using (as well as some limitations and areas for development) and where he feels the future of the struggle lies in organising in the “gig economy”.
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