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Striking the Startups

This is not to say that the gig economy hasn’t innovated. These companies have created new ways to deny labor protections, increase profits, and attract investors. In Italy, striking food couriers showed “gig economy” capitalists they’re serious about their rights as workers

In early October, Italian media outlets ran extensive coverage of protests in Turin, where couriers working for the German food delivery company Foodora mobilized. For a country where industrial action is relatively common, why has a strike consisting of just fifty workers attracted so much attention? The answer is simple: this represents the first-known case of worker self-organization in the Italian gig economy.

Foodora, like Deliveroo or UberEats, owns an online platform that uses a “crowd-fleet” of cyclists to deliver food from local restaurants. Like other delivery apps, Foodora owns neither restaurants nor bikes and employs no couriers: its profits come from acting as the intermediary between consumers and workers.

Restaurants pay Foodora a commission (roughly 30 percent of the value of the food sold) to appear on their platform and cover the delivery costs. The riders log onto a smartphone app to receive delivery jobs, which an algorithm automatically allocates.

Foodora has invested a lot in self-promotion, and its distinctive pink ads can be seen everywhere on Turin’s public transport network. But its smooth expansion into the Italian market hit a snag on October 8, when a group of roughly fifty workers staged their first public protest in Turin, calling for a boycott and seeking the support of the restaurants that use Foodora.

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