Organising From the Road: Private Hire Drivers, Platforms, and Independent Unions

Kearsey, Joe (2024) Organising From the Road: Private Hire Drivers, Platforms, and Independent Unions. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The aim of this thesis is to understand what factors have informed private hire drivers’ class-based mobilisations, and how these workers' relation to capital, the labour process, and their position within society more generally has influenced their current form of collective organisation. This has been undertaken through a participatory and partisan inquiry, embedded within processes of collective organisation alongside organisers and drivers in the United Private Hire Drivers branch of the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (UPHD-IWGB). The thesis is an ethnographic case study which draws on forms of co-produced knowledge from within the collective organisation process and forms an account and analysis of a six-month attachment with the union branch.

The research interrogates the strictly state-regulated private hire industry, illustrating the specific dimensions of drivers’ racialised exploitation and marginalisation, alongside the increasing platform monopolisation of the industry, the accompanying homogenisation of the app-based labour process and massification of the private hire workforce. It also examines the platform mode of management in detail, shaped and responsive as it has been to drivers’ struggles. In particular, the research investigates the way in which platforms have sought to stress drivers’ agency and autonomy in work, while increasing forms of centralised and automated decision making within a punitive disciplinary regime. Where platforms have attempted to atomise this collective workforce, this thesis examines the multiple forms of socialisation and communication which have maintained the various networks of drivers within the sector, which in turn have facilitated forms of oppositional, co-produced, bottom-up knowledge on the app-based labour process.

The research demonstrates how these factors have shaped the way in which new independent union organisation has developed. The emergence of UPHD has produced some of the most combative anti-racist trade union mobilisations among precarious workers in the gig economy. But this was not the result of strategic intervention from existent labour movement institutions. Instead, private hire drivers’ grasp of their racialised exploitation and their consequent tactics of collective resistance and opposition, developed through the process of collective self-organisation. The thesis characterises this process as a militancy in the making. This conception challenges those studies which frame leadership and established trade union strategy as the precondition for militant collective action, and instead illustrates how resurgent combative organisation among private hire drivers has emerged from struggles rooted in the antagonistic experiences of capitalist work and society, giving rise to new tactics and organisational forms. This insight is particularly pertinent in situations where established unions have failed to represent the interests of marginalised workers in precarious employment.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Pero, Davide
Korczynski, Marek
Keywords: private hire drivers, taxi drivers, collectives, trade unions, self organisation
Subjects: H Social sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social sciences > HE Transportation and communications
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Nottingham University Business School
Item ID: 76916
Depositing User: Kearsey, Joe
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2024 13:41
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2024 13:47

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