Nuria Soto of the ‘RidersXDerechos’ movement tells the Gig Economy Project that the Riders Law has its problems but has created an easier “basis for struggle”.
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The Gig Economy Project, led by Ben Wray, was initiated by BRAVE NEW EUROPE enabling us to provide analysis, updates, ideas, and reports from all across Europe on the Gig Economy. If you have information or ideas to share, please contact Ben on GEP@Braveneweurope.com.
This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in the EU is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust.
RidersXDerechos (‘Riders for Rights’) has been a lynchpin of the riders’ movement in Europe for almost half a decade. The first riders’ strike in Spain came in Barcelona in July 2017, and out of that emerged RidersXDerechos, which then spread across the country.
Since then, RidersXDerechos has been a constant thorn in the side of the food delivery platforms, leading many of the 50 legal cases won by workers against the platforms since 2018, and pushing the Labour Inspectorate to enforce the law and act against companies which are not hiring riders as employees and not paying social security contributions.
Following the formation of the PSOE-Podemos coalition government in January 2020, the potential for a law to regulate platform work came into view. RidersXDerechos were involved in the development of the law with Podemos’ Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz at the early stages, but after a long negotiation between the government, the unions and the employers’ association, the law was watered down, limited to just riders and with certain weaknesses on issues like sub-contracting, a dilution which RidersXDerechos were openly critical of.
Nonetheless, the Riders Law was the first in Europe to state that food delivery couriers are employees, and to establish the right for union representatives to see how company algorithms work. The Riders Law has now been in force for two months and has a mixed reception from both workers and platforms.
Nuria Soto has been a leader of RidersXDerechos since it was founded, and also established a food delivery co-operative in Barcelona called Mensakas in 2018 as an alternative to the big platforms.
The Gig Economy Project met Soto at the Alternatives to Uberisation Forum in Brussels on 27 October to discuss all this and more. This interview is available as a podcast or in written text form below.
GEP: RidersxDerechos criticised the limitations of the Spanish government’s Riders’ Law. Ten weeks after its entry into force, is the law working?
Nuria Soto: Yes, we were critical of the law. I think that is the function of a social movement: to always ask for more, and more and more. You can never be satisfied when workers’ labour rights are not fully acquired. Equally, the riders’ law also has its good parts, and establishes a basis for struggle that is much easier than what we have had so far.
However, we have seen that the law has come into force and there are still companies that are skirting it or moving on to other illegalities such as subcontracting through the illegal transfer of workers. Or, as in the case of Glovo, which directly refuses to comply with the law.
This shows how easy it is for these companies to break the law, how much power they have, and how few resources we have to prevent these companies from going unpunished.
GEP: We have seen that Uber Eats and Just Eat employ riders through subcontractors in Spain. In the long term, could it be that the problem for riders is that the law is not sufficient to end the precariousness of riders and not that the platforms do not respect the law?
NS: It’s not that there are no efficient laws, because the law is very clear, the problem is that they break it. They break the law from the perspective of false self-employment or from the perspective of the illegal transfer of workers. We saw the latter in the case of Cabify.
Therefore, it is not just that there are no inefficient laws, but that there is no efficiency to ensure that these laws are actually enforced. For example, the founders of RidersxDerechos were fired four years ago, and we won the legal process after three years. In other words, justice is very slow and impunity is very high. I think these are the main problems.
GEP: The movement of riders linked to trade unions fighting for labour rights, are they challenged by the ‘Yes, I am self-employed’ movement, organised through associations, linked to the big platforms, such as Glovo and Uber Eats. Have you been surprised by the emergence of this movement? Do you think it will continue?
NS: Earlier [at the conference], Luciana, from Entregadores Antifascistas do Brasil, said that this is nothing new. What there are is new forms. At the end of the day, it’s a new form of yellow unionism that we have seen all our lives. And we are seeing how this is being potentiated because companies are investing a lot of resources in it. They are no longer trying to defeat the workers who are against it. What companies are trying to do is to get workers and societies in favour of something. To make them think that this is the best thing to do. That it is going to bring them something.
That’s why the fact of false self-employment is what has facilitated movements like this and a yellow trade unionism in inverted commas. Because being a false self-employed fits in with the slogan “be free”, “be your own boss”, with the whole neoliberal discourse and the strategy of the company to win this cultural battle by the hand of the workers defending that which exploits them.
If we now start from the case of many companies of workers recognised as such (false self-employed), although precarious – and this has been facilitated by the Riders Law – we have to fight for more things. It no longer makes sense to “be your own boss”, the pro-company, pro-self-employed associations, because we are already starting from the basis of the employee. For me this is very important and shows that the discursive, legislative and street battles go hand in hand and complement each other.
GEP: Riderxderechos has been around for almost half a decade and has achieved a lot. But what do you think is the role of RidersxDerechos now?
NS: The role of RidersxDerechos now is to try to bring another base to this new battle that awaits us. Once the Riders Law came into force, we won 50 rulings. I think we are starting from a different basis, from new competences based more on labour. So we will see other forms of exploitation. But I think the unions are going to have much more capacity for action. I think that is where RidersxDerechos has to be.
Spain has led on a judicial issue, a legislative issue, and has also suffered first-hand from company strategies to disorganise workers. Therefore, one of the functions of RidersxDerechos is to coordinate, which it is already doing transnationally, to try to contribute everything it has experienced to the rest of the movements.
Also, RidersxDerechos is involved in the alternatives that are emerging, such as the cooperatives at the state level and that go with ‘coop-cycle’ [the association of co-operative food delivery platforms]. This is another of the paths that we need to promote.
GEP: We are here in Brussels for the forum on alternatives to Uberisation, with platform workers from all over the world. Do you think internationalism is an important part of building a strong movement of platform workers?
NS: I think it is vital and very important. Not just internationalism, but meeting points. I would say this about any social movement. That is to say, it is not only important that there are organised workers, but that they have meeting points where they can generate links. I think that is the strength of any social movement. And if we are talking about an economic model and a global problem, which is affecting every country in the same way – even with the corresponding legislative and contextual singularities – it is essential to be united to try to find a joint response to a problem that is not even sectoral, it is an economic model. Hence the importance of meetings such as this one.
GEP: In December, the European Commission will publish its plan for a Directive on platform work, which will be an important regulation for workers across Europe. Do you think it will be a step forward or a step backwards?
NS: It depends on the Directive that goes forward. We have to try to find a common point in this Directive, beyond the specific legislation of each country. The discourse of freedom and flexibility cannot be used to achieve deregulation and to go backwards in terms of labour rights. As I said before, there are things that cannot be negotiated and that are not eligible. You cannot choose whether you are self-employed or salaried. This is not a choice, it is a reality. The directive that goes forward has to be based on these realities and not on these mirages of flexibility and freedom that are totally neoliberal. I think that is why we need a directive.
GEP: Let’s talk about ‘Mensakas’, the Barcelona riders’ cooperative you co-founded in 2018. How has it progressed in the last three years?
NS: Mensakas has gone through very difficult processes. We have to think that when something like this presents itself as an alternative and complies with what it believes in, with legislation, in favour of a welfare right, etc. it also faces unfair competition. This has been seen especially in the larger cities, where competition has been fiercer. It forces you to become a market with shared values, to be part of the social and solidarity economy, to try to promote local and proximity trade, which means not working with chains.
You also have to think that we are talking about self-organisation and self-employment, and there are many things that you don’t know how to do when you start a project like this. Training and follow-up are very important, and in the case of Mensakas we have learned many things through mistakes. We have gone through more difficult times and now we are perhaps in a more stable period. But always a constant struggle.
GEP: Do you think cooperative platforms can challenge the power of companies like Glovo and Uber Eats in the future?
NS: We are not going to have €350 million in funding like Glovo. We don’t intend to compete in the sense that we are not going to play in the same league. This is not to say that we can’t be competitive in many ways. I think we can. And even more so with the sum. Cooperativism is based on the sum of many cooperatives. Mensakas does not aim to grow, to become huge and to be everywhere. Its aim is to build alliances. With this philosophy you can be competitive even if you don’t want to compete or won’t compete. You can offer alternatives and you can reach an audience that right now is on the big platforms.With the case of Coop-Cycle, and even more so after the pandemic, there are more and more co-operatives all over the world.
This demonstrates something basic and that is that you can dismantle the argument when they sell us technology tied to the slogan “this is what’s coming and this is the future”. In a way, what is being said is: “no, no, this doesn’t have to be the next thing, this doesn’t have to be the future”. We also know how to use technology and applications, and we also know how to offer the same service. But tied to values, generating self-employment and guaranteeing labour rights. Regardless of how far you compete or not, being able to transmit this message is the greatest sign of struggle that Co-opCycle can have right now.
GEP: Finally Nuria, are you positive about the future of the platform workers’ struggle in Spain and Europe?
NS: We are becoming more and more relevant and that is what makes us stronger and stronger. We are what the companies don’t want to exist. That is to say, workers saying that we don’t want this, that we are not our own bosses. In a way, we are the failure for the companies and we have to continue to be that. As long as we are the failure of the companies, i.e. the opposite of what they want, we are on the right track.
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