Year in Reflection by Amay Korjan

Editor’s Note:

In our 2nd installment of the Year in Reflection series, Amay Korjan at IT for Change looks at the efforts to gain social protection for gig workers in India, the need to reconceptualise labour rights in the context of digitalisation, and a cautious note about what rising inflation and austerity may mean for the labour movement.

In 2022, what workers’ struggle in Asia impressed you?

In India, a promising development has been the struggle championed by the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers (IFAT). They have been advocating for the recognition of the employment status of app-based transport workers. 

Towards the end of last year, they filed a public interest litigation in India’s supreme court, seeking foundational labour guarantees from ride-hailing platforms and the extension of all associated social security benefits to platform workers.

The court has agreed to hear the petition, and a positive judgment on this front may prove momentous for the platform worker struggle within India. There is ground for optimism, given the spate of judgements in similar cases across the world have sided with workers lately. 

At IT for Change, we have been collaborating with IFAT on research and capacity-building to help ride-hailing workers comprehend and respond to new forms of algorithmic managerial control.

This is a story worth tracking as it unfolds, and we hope to have a view from the frontline.  

What is one thing that deserves more of our attention?

As digitalization has come to organize economic activity increasingly around burgeoning ‘data-value chains’, it has become more and more salient that worker’s rights need to be reconceived within this novel context.

We are increasingly convinced that a strong set of ‘worker data rights’ ought to become a central part of labour advocacy today. 

The scope of these rights should not limited to issues of civic rights, privacy and non-discrimination. What is needed is a codified acknowledgement of the collective nature of value generation that ‘data’ represents, and a move towards giving labor a claim to a portion of the value that their data generates. 

Is there any new insight from this year you would like to share with us?

Over the last year, we’ve been working on a landscape study to map the impact of digital technologies on workers across the developing world. 

A recurring theme that we encountered was the idea that neoliberalism had hollowed out traditional worker power to such an extent that trade unions were truly struggling to navigate and contend with the new challenges that, for instance, the ‘gig economy’ is bringing about. 

Simultaneously, we also saw many examples of vibrant experimentation with new organizational forms, from support groups, to social intermediaries, to platform cooperatives.

Yet, these were often cut off from older traditions of organized labor. Bridging this gap, and bringing these movements together seems like a vitally important means to bolster the institutional capacities of workers.  

What is one article or a book you read this year that has stuck in your mind?

It’s a few years old now, but I recently read ‘Governance by Numbers’ by the legal scholar Alain Supiot. It provides a powerful and lucidly articulated account of the perils of modern governmentality. 

It is striking in its continued relevance, for the proliferation of digital technologies and the datafication of entire sectors is only likely to exacerbate many of the issues that it identifies.

It brings into relief a host of problems that are inevitably linked to the governance of work in the future. 

What should we be looking to in 2023?

Given the way the global response to the inflation crisis is shaping up, it looks increasingly likely that raising interest rates will continue and governments will seek to bring back austerity measures. These conditions are likely to cause persistent financial outflows from the Global South, and potentially set off debt crises in vulnerable nations. 

Labor movements in Asia and around the developing world are likely to face severe adversity, and brutal attempts to rollback recent gains. It will be a crucial, tumultuous period and a serious test of resolve. Our commitment to collective solidarity will be decisive in confronting it.