Podcast – Marx, piece wages & the gig economy: Interview w/ Matt Cole

What relevance does Marx’s writings have to understanding the wage system in the gig economy today? The Gig Economy Project speaks to Dr Matt Cole to find out.

The Gig Economy Project is a BRAVE NEW EUROPE media network for gig workers in Europe. Click here to find out more and click here to get the weekly newsletter.

Picture by Shubert Ciencia

The gig economy is often talked about as ‘the future of work’, but if we look at history we find that its wage model – paying per output, rather than per hour – actually goes back hundreds of years.

In the 19th century, this was called ‘piece wages’, paying literally for each piece of material produced. Philosopher and economist Karl Marx wrote a critique of piece wages in one of the most influential economic texts of all time, Capital. 

For Marx, piece wages are, like time-wages, a form of capitalist exploitation of the worker’s labour. The difference is that piece wages created a greater sense of individuality and competitiveness among workers, and therefore was a useful tool to motivate workers to work longer hours, more intensely and to lower their average wage.

Can Marx’s critique of piece wages give us insight into the gig economy today?

To discuss this and more, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator Ben Wray, who recently wrote about Marx and the gig economy in GEP’s newsletter, is joined by Doctor Matthew Cole, who is a Lecturer in Technology, Work and Employment at the University of Sussex in the UK. Matt is an Associate Fellow of the Fairwork Project (which examines platform work) and the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre. He’s also a committed socialist and trade unionist.

They discuss:

01:45: Piece wages from Marx’s time to today

15:18: Piece wages and the illusion of independence

20:39: Piece wages and migrant workers

24:06: Wage theft and the gig economy

30:18: Is platformisation a new epoch of capitalism?

38:26: The UK Labour Party, the gig economy and employment status

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