Daria Roithmayr –
This post argues that race and racism are segmenting the new “on demand” labor markets, in ways that facilitate the transition to this new sector of the economy. Scholars of racial capitalism have argued that modern capitalism could never have gotten off the ground without the violence of slave labor in the cotton economy. Violent racism operated to segment plantation workers into free and unfree labor, and unfree labor made cultivating cotton in bulk possible, facilitating the transition to industrialized cotton production and then to industrialization more generally.
Likewise, I argue here that race and racism are segmenting the new labor markets into more free and less free labor, and that this segmentation plays a central role in the transition to the new economy. Platform-based “on demand” service firms like Amazon and Instacart rely for their flexibility on a core of so-called “motivated” gig workers—workers whose economic survival depend on gig work. As it turns out, these workers are “motivated” because they are workers of color who are less free to turn down unstable work, or to bargain for a wage premium for doing risky, back-breaking or otherwise odious work. As we’ll see, race does very important work in constituting this segment of the workforce, and in keeping this core of workers “motivated.”