Cristina González waited a long time in 2018. At the time, the 29-year-old was a messenger for the Spanish food delivery platform Glovo in her Basque hometown, Vitoria-Gasteiz. She talks about feeling like she’s on hold all the time: “In fact, you have to be constantly working.”
While Glovo serves restaurants, customers can also order in supermarkets. This, González says, was “a shit show: supermarket orders are so easy to screw up.” If the supermarket did not have an item in stock and Gonzalez completed the order, he could receive a poor customer rating due to the missing item. If he declined the order, González was concerned that it could affect his score on the platform. “It was very, very stressful.”
González is still a courier, but earns € 10 (£ 8.70) an hour after taxes and social security contributions, more than double his previous salary. She says the clients of Eraman, the delivery cooperative she now travels for, are more understanding of the minor problems, the jobs are more varied; she sends as well as delivers, there is better communication and she feels like she has more control.
She could, she says, imagine staying in this version of the gig economy much longer than she could have at Glovo – five to 10 years, she says. “It is a job, but it is also more than that. In Eraman you are a link in a chain, a member of a team, in Glovo you are a pawn, the last position in a hierarchy ”.
In Berlin, Mattia Carraro experienced a similar trajectory: The 33-year-old courier worked at Deliveroo for two years before joining Khora, a 30-person food delivery collective created in March last year. Germany offers relatively decent conditions for food delivery couriers, the ones who work for the big rigs. They are employees with social Security usually paid by the hour instead of by delivery as is the case with most courier companies in the UK.
Although satisfied with the salary, Carraro was upset by the deep insecurity of the job, “which could disappear overnight”, as well as the anonymity. Deliveroo ceased operations in Germany in 2019 and when Khora arrived he signed up. Although his role involves much more management, a weekly two-hour general meeting in which decisions are made by consensus, plus roughly 15 hours of unpaid administrative duties a week, Carraro is happier working as part of a cooperative.
“For me, it’s okay to earn less money but to work in an environment that always makes me feel good, where I know problems are going to be solved and we are all friends. This is something we don’t want to do just for a season or until we find something better, but a job that you really want to keep and that you like. “
Carraro does not only deliver bicycles: Like other members of the cooperative, he handles part of Khora’s dispatch work. “I go for a nice walk with my dog and have breakfast outside, then at noon I start work, while I smoke, eat yogurt and popcorn while I dispatch. Then at 10 p.m. M., My shift is over and I eat well. “
At different ends of Europe, these cooperatives are run by workers and pride themselves on being democratically governed. Eraman co-founder Paul Iano, 28, says the 10-person cooperative makes decisions through discussion. “What I like to say about cooperatives is that if you have to vote, you already have a problem.”
But no business could exist without the bike delivery software they trust.
Enter CoopCycle, the brainchild of Alexandre Segura, a Marseille computer programmer. In the spring of 2016, Segura headed to the Place de la République in Paris almost every night for Nuit debout, a French protest movement that has been compared to Occupy.
Segura helped build a website for the movement and spent much of his time talking about how the gig economy could be exploitative and damaging, and how users should manage more. “It sowed seeds in my mind,” he says.
Then later that year, when his brother-in-law along with thousands of others lost their job as a courier for him. Belgian food delivery startup Take Eat Easy, prompted Segura to undertake a new adventure in his spare time “as an intellectual exercise.”
He says he wanted to reverse engineer the technology offered by Deliveroo, Uber, and other large platforms to empower couriers. The result was a delivery application that offered software and support, but required users to meet two conditions: They had to be owned by the workers, and all profits had to be distributed among the worker-owners.
“No CoopCycle, no party,” is how Carraro puts it, telling me that the cost of designing a bespoke delivery app would be prohibitively expensive for the average crowd.
Recently, the world seems to have started to think more like Segura does. SpainThe supreme court ruled in September that the passengers working for Glovo are not self-employed, but salaried employees entitled to paid vacations and sick leave.
At least 40 legal challenges to the conditions of employment of drivers and drivers have been filed against gig economy companies, including Uber and Deliveroo.
Shares in Deliveroo plunged 26% in its long-awaited debut on the London Stock Exchange in March, with many investors expressing concern about the conditions facing its self-employed cyclists.
This increased scrutiny came with continued shutdowns that shut down much of the hospitality industry and sent food delivery orders through the roof. The Amsterdam-based Just eat take out reported a 79% increase in orders during the first three months of 2021. And despite its disastrous launch on the stock market, Deliveroo reports a duplication of order volumes in the same period.
Segura’s colleague Adrien Claude says that 90% of nonprofit food delivery cooperatives have also reported a boost in business during the shutdown.
The cooperatives say their business model offers a better deal for both restaurants and passengers. Eraman, for example, charges restaurants between 10% and 20% of the order value, while Deliveroo takes 32%, Glovo’s average fee is 35% and Just Eat and Uber Eats’ commission is 36.20%. In Berlin, Khora offers a flexible system that gives restaurant customers more autonomy than if they had to pay a certain percentage.
But it remains to be seen whether worker-run delivery cooperatives can provide a real alternative to delivery giants.
Professor Vera Trappmann of the University of Leeds, one of the co-authors of Global Labor Unrest on Platforms: The Case of Food Delivery Workers, thinks that the cooperative model shows us the possibility of a different future – “of alternative ways of spreading risks and profits.” A radical change in working conditions for couriers introduced by Coopcycle seems unlikely, he says. However, he believes this merger of digital platforms with worker-run cooperatives is here to stay.
“We know that young people especially do not like to work in the bureaucratic and exploitative environments that many companies offer and, as such, they tend to opt for self-employment. They are more likely to question the value of working for corporations, and cooperatives can increasingly become a home for these people. “
CoopCycle now has 67 cooperatives in seven countries in its “federation” and has spread from Europe to Canada and Australia. It is on the cusp of agreements with collectives in Argentina and Mexico for the first time, although there is an ongoing debate on whether motorcycles would be a violation of the federation’s environmentally friendly values.
Claude sounds excited about the future and gently exhausted. “We are trying to change the world, it is difficult because we are human and nothing is perfect. It will probably never be perfect, but we are trying to improve things day by day. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism