Antonio Casilli, a professor at Télécom ParisTech, is considered one of the leading experts in the capitalism of digital platforms. He is known for his pioneering research on “digital labor,” refuting the apocalyptic common-sense notion that is proclaiming the end of work as such because of automation.
“We are the ones who make the robots, with our own labor,” he says. “We make the criteria according to which they operate. And then we teach them to learn how to improve. The problem is not that robots are stealing our work, but that we continue to work more and more, and that the platforms are fragmenting and rendering invisible the labor that is necessary to make the algorithms work.“
In Italy there has been a lot of discussion about the firing of two IKEA workers, Marica in Corsico and Claudio in Bari. They were fired because their lives could not fit into the algorithm that governs the workforce. Have we gone back to the 19th century?
The capitalism of digital platforms makes labor discipline more rigid, as it imposes seemingly “scientific” measurements and evaluations, which can resemble the old industrial manufacturing. The key difference is that the workers, in exchange for their submission to this discipline, are not getting the social safety and the political representation that they obtained before in exchange for their subordination. This new Taylorism has all the disadvantages and none of the old benefits. The workers are caught within a contradiction in terms: subordinate and precarious at the same time.