18-20 August 2022

Labour politics of platform employment in the “new era” in China: aggressive platforms and angry workers in a strong party-state

Jing Wang

Abstract:The platform economy absorbs tens of millions of workers across the world and the pattern of platform employment raises new questions to existing labour relations, legislation system, and institutional establishment in countries all over the world. One side of the labour politics is platforms which apply casual employment in the labour relations and algorithms control in management; the other side is the workers fall into precarious and go to strike against the unfairness in work. A similar employment transition and contention in the platform economy occur in China and waves of strikes were recorded especially in the food delivery sector. However, the platform employment contentions in China offer a unique case of labour politics with a strong party-state that intervenes in both the economy and labour relations. 

This research will take Chinese food delivery workers as a case to study labour politics from the perspective of workers’ agency in the platform economy. Attention will be paid to how Chinese platform workers practicing their agency in facing the challenges in platform employment, especially the interactive relationship between workers and the platform capital and then between workers and the party-state. The market strategies of the platform capital first subsidised workers then lowered the piece rate and flexiblise the employment relations dramatically, with responses from workers to strike and organize. When the contentions heated up, the state changes its attitude from laissez-faire to direct intervention. It, on one hand, repressed workers’ collective action and organization, and on the other hand, responded to the platform contentions by regulating platform employment. The labour politics that the party-state pacifies the contention directly but suppresses collective action and workers’ voices leaves labour relations between the platform capital and labour unsettled. 


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