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5 - Worker co-operatives and economic democracy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2023

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Summary

Insecure jobs and weakened communities

The piecemeal ‘gig economy’ – no guaranteed work, hours or income – has become ubiquitous in Europe since the financial crisis in 2008. Casual work, temping, zero-hours contracts and diverse forms of selfemployment are characteristic of an expanding marketplace of atypical, precarious and increasingly unprotected work, with a pervasive lack of legal rights. In the United Kingdom (UK), some seven million people in employment (one in five of the workforce) are in precarious forms of work – considerably more than the 5.4 million public sector jobs (Conaty et al, 2018). This has a devastating impact on many communities plagued by job insecurity and poor pay.

Under European Union regulations, temporary and agency staff are entitled as ‘workers’ to sickness and holiday pay, but this is not the case for self-employed freelancers. In the UK today, 4.8 million people are self-employed (15 per cent of the workforce) and they have generated two thirds of new jobs since 2008 (Conaty et al, 2018).

While a proportion of the self-employed do well financially, they are today the exception. Indeed, the stereotype of the self-employed as small businesses is less true now than ever before. Eighty-three per cent of self-employed people in the UK work alone and 70 per cent are living in poverty (Conaty et al, 2018). Their median annual income plummeted by a third from £15,000 in 2008 to about £10,000 in 2015 – below the level when income tax is payable (Conaty et al, 2016).

Low pay, however, is only part of the picture – an absence of worker rights and support services aggravates hardship and makes matters far worse. Without a regular salary, housing access is limited and rents are often extortionate.

Labour market expert, Ursula Huws (2014), estimates that up to five million people in the UK are currently being paid for work through online platforms. This is rapidly transforming the future of work. Intuit Management Consultancy forecast in 2018 that 43 per cent of the workforce in the United States (US) will be contingent on ondemand labour in a few years. McKinsey forecasts that platform labour services will account for a global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $2.7 trillion by 2025 (Conaty et al, 2018).

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Tomorrow's Communities
Lessons for Community-Based Transformation in the Age of Global Crises
, pp. 71 - 90
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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