Is the future of labor conditions precarious?

Long before the pandemic, using telemarketing as an example of precarious work was quite common. Working as a telemarketing operator means spending almost every hour of one’s day in front of a computer screen, on the phone, under performance pressure. It’s a low-paid job with only a few short breaks throughout a long journey.

In 2011, while doing research for a bottled water brand, I interviewed some people about their relationship with water. In the same group of people, I came across two women with very different life backgrounds.

One of them had a flexible routine, she took good care of her health and used an app as a tool to remind her to drink two liters of water per day, the recommended daily water intake. The other one had a restricted routine, which involved taking care of a young daughter, studying, and working as a telemarketing operator. Throughout her workday, she had a few minutes for the “water breaks”. She did not reach the recommended daily water intake. As well as her “water breaks”, she also had designated and timed bathroom breaks. Her relationship with water could pretty much be summarized by those “water breaks”.

I’d guess that many of you can actually reach the recommended daily water intake, two liters per day. However, most likely because the bottle of water is right there next to the monitor, not due to “water breaks” throughout the workday.

While having the privilege of working from home, whether or not you drink two liters of water per day, you have most probably experienced the exhaustion caused by excessive videoconferences, known as Zoom fatigue. Regardless of the two liters of water, it would surprise me if you hadn’t yet found yourself in a situation where you skipped one of the 3-meals a day recommendations or you just had to hold number 1 or number 2 in during a videoconference.

It’s about the coercive freedom of having a bed, a sofa, a video game, or children next to you, but for countless reasons, from desperation to performance, choosing to work without taking enough breaks.

The precariousness of labor conditions escalated.

A few months ago, I heard Paulo Roberto da Silva Lima, @galodelutaoficial, a motorcycle courier and moto delivery rider for several apps, such as iFood, Ubereats, Rappi, etc., leader of @entregadoresantifascistas, talking about the precariousness of the labor conditions of motorcycle couriers and moto delivery riders, drawing a parallel between a market that, not so long ago, was not dominated by only a few online delivery apps like nowadays. If earlier, as the telemarketing operators, the motorcycle courier profession was already recognized for its vulnerability and informality (little access to labor rights), right now, in a context where huge and “almost metaphysical” platforms dominate the delivery service, the precariousness of labor conditions was leveraged while the number of couriers has grown about 138% (it is estimated that services such as Uber, Rappi, iFood, employ more than 4 million people).

The lack of any help regarding food and health, no bathroom breaks or “water breaks”, generates a strenuous as well as a lonely working day that, at the end of the day, ended up adding more hours of work, reducing the earnings. In that same interview, Paulo Galo said “the precariousness of labor conditions happened to us earlier, but it will happen to you too.” @galodeluta is right.

Last August 12, the new labor reform was approved by the Brazilian Congress and it’s now heading to the Senate dismantling basic labor rights and boosting the escalation of the precariousness of labor conditions for everyone. It creates a kind of labor without paid vacation or the 13th month’s salary, a “new” type of work without a contract, social security, and labor rights, it reduces the overtime payments, among other changes that contribute to precariousness in all sectors, types, and realities of work.

A good Platform Capitalism for you too.

The way remote work was established and consolidated throughout the pandemic can be identified as Platform Capitalism labor: a crowd who works mediated by technological platforms, such as workers at Uber, Amazon, iFood, etc.

No wonder companies like Uber and Amazon originated terms like Uberization and Turkerization. They refer to a type of “outsourcing” work that involves no Labor Responsibility, and while in a context of a weak economy and rising unemployment, such type of work seeks to attract people based on a false idea of freedom and autonomy.

With the Platform Capitalism, we end up exceeding the daily working hours, the expectation of working “only” eight hours a day. We just carry out as tasks appear on the app, by email, WhatsApp, Slack, at different moments, by melting old limits, such as time, weekdays, weekends, and holidays.

In a working model with no pauses and no space to say no, we individually take responsibility for the breaks and for the guilt of taking a break. We perform simultaneous tasks and compete with ourselves while dealing with the frustration of the impossibility of being omnipresent as well as ignoring the human condition, which has both physical and psychic limits.

Platform Capitalism, responsible for standardizing the precariousness of labor conditions, reveals itself in the shape of a unicorn that has the capacity to shape the future of the economy, the society, the individuals, and the artificial intelligence models, which have little intention or even ignore human rights regarding the conditions of the present and the future of labor. There is no balance between the increase in productivity, the growth of profit, the survival of workers, and the mental health of those who insist on becoming “former employees”.

The increase in the number of informal workers, the drop in the wages of workers under the Brazilian Labor Code, and the expressive number of people who decided to start a business point to multi-sourcing as the predominant model in the labor market. Basically, we all became contractors.

Outwardly and in communications, in order to attract more workers, this working model allows the worker to call himself “his own boss” or if you prefer, “his own entrepreneur”. However, in the neoliberal reality of The Burnout Society, Byung-Chul Han says we are all “self-explorers”. Out of a working relationship and totally detached, we explore ourselves, softening our limits in the name of increasing productivity.

More autonomous and, at the same time, more deprived of establishing limits, we run over ourselves. We go beyond the thin layer of psychic boundaries and attack our own survival, guilty of low productivity and in search of higher performance. We’ve never worked so hard and we’ve come to a point where we’ve become our own jobs.

Have we all become Turkers?

{01} Turkers

Back to the NFF I called Post Individualism. Do you know who the Turkers are? The artist @bruno_moreschi, in a partnership with the Grupo de Experiências Críticas em Infraestruturas Digitais (GECID), created the project “Exch w/ Turkers”, a website that highlights the role of humans in the construction of Artificial Intelligences as well as its work context.

The artist created a chat website where people who are hired to do “Human Intelligence Tasks” (HITs) — small tasks that are used to create the AI database — from all over the world can chat and exchange experiences.
Currently, about 500,000 people perform this kind of digital work on the Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform, held by the North American company Amazon. It’s said that around 75% of these workers are from the USA, 16% are from India, and the remaining 9% are from other countries. Also, from 2,000 to 5,000 workers can be found online on the platform at any time. A relevant project in times like these is when the capitalist model collapses and the laurels of the gig economy model are questioned.

{02} Animal Laborans

A term created by Hanna Arendt which according to Byung-Chul Han must be evolved from the transformations of the human condition in post-modernity.
For Byung-Chul, the post-modern Animal Laborans does not cast aside one’s individuality or ego to surrender through work to an anonymous life process of the species. The labor society individualized itself into a performance society and into an active society. The post-modern animal laborans is empowered with ego to the point of almost tearing itself apart. He can be anything but passive (…) the animal labors is anything but animalistic. He is hyperactive and hyper neurotic.

The Burnout Society, pg 43

{03} Platform Capitalism

The term refers to how capitalism is organized in the 21st century. An economic and political operating mode dominated by a platform-based business model. Author Nick Srneck points out the monopolization drive of such a business model — the more users, the longer they stay online on these platforms, the better. No wonder content or services disguised as “free” work as baits to attract more users, to develop more intelligence, based on the main resource of this new economy: data, better yet, data extraction (or if you prefer, the extraction of your privacy). And of course, the power that is in control of all this abundance of information. The author makes it clear that Platform Capitalism has nothing to do with sharing economy or the more attractive side of the gig economy. In fact, more than transforming the economy (since they still employ a minority), they have a political impact as from the privacy transformation, the truth with the birth of the post-truth, and the evolution of fake news, going far beyond the place of technological intermediaries. It is important to think about how this platform-based and scale-based business model extends to all sectors, agriculture, automotive, finance, culture (especially influencers), among others.

A manifesto for the Coranacene In the midst of crises, especially climate one, a manifesto that talks about the importance of incorporating ecological parameters into economic development metrics.

Professor Herbert Girardet is a prolific author, environment consultant, and former filmmaker. He is a trustee of the Resurgence Trust (which owns and publishes The Ecologist), co-founder of the World Future Council, and member of the Club of Rome.

Lynn Margulis — Symbiotic Earth Have you’ve heard of her? Well, you must! I hadn’t until recently and it was overwhelming to learn from this evolutionary theorist and biologist. In the documentary (which does not stand out in terms of production but for its content) she refutes the thought of the evolution of the species from the survival of the fittest and competition, created by Darwin, and replaces it with the idea of symbiosis. The way Lynn points out the understanding part or the “metaphor” of the competition part to explain the theory of evolution (which intrinsically arises from Darwin’s own life context) is totally linked to the capitalist idea, ethics and aesthetics really caught my attention. Also, the way the operating mode of competition was co-responsible and gave us the go-ahead to explore the way we relate (consume and explore) with the planet earth.

Do you subscribe to John Maeda’s newsletter?

In the August issue, he talks about how the state of brittleness in our world is an outcome of an efficiency mindset that has long been prevalent. That’s because efficiency has been a competitive advantage. Competing is now about resilience more than efficiency, and that will be a tough transition to accept.

In this issue he presents us with his own 4 foundations for resilience:

  1. Keep your operating model layered (i.e. rely on many primary influences at once)
  2. Stay focused on what matters (i.e. drown out all the noise that distracts you)
  3. Grow your network by taking on new kinds of work (i.e. don’t narrow your perspectives)
  4. Practice “player” over “victim” to fortify who you are (i.e. don’t be pessimistic or optimistic — be a realist, first)

Hito Steyerl is a contemporary artist and theorist who calls herself a “shock worker,” a term borrowed from the nomenclature of the Soviet Union. The term refers to a highly productive worker, whose labor expresses “enthusiastic labor shock, strike, blow”.

The artist extends the Platform Capitalism economic-political mode to the universe of art, comparing the “shock work” of modern cultural factories with the work of artists and, above all, agents who work with culture: an “affective labor at insane speeds, enthusiastic, hyperactive, and deeply compromised”.

How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File

Work vibe Floatvibes’ new study makes a consistent and accurate overview of how the “entrepreneurial” religion of labor governs the way we work in the Platform Capitalism.

Please Don’t Say Just Hello In Chat This week, I’ve come across this reference/text that recommends the end of “Hi, how are you?” while professionally chatting. In search of productivity, converting conversations into a purely transactional dynamic. I wasn’t shocked because after all, it does meet the whole theme of the newsletter, but it actually made me sad. And I couldn’t help but wonder: has the measure of time in the NOW become another weapon to destroy our humanity, or rather, the construction of intimacy?

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Luiza Futuro

Luiza Futuro

Flâneuse & Researcher

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