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The future of work?

The Guardian has a lengthy article here about another effort to create ‘an Uber of jobs.’

What’s interesting about ideas like Wingham Rowan’s is not how new and disruptive they are, but how old fashioned and medieval they are.

One of the key things any British medieval town needed to make it a thriving hub of commerce was a market charter. The record of market charters is an invaluable source document for anyone trying to understand medieval urban development. It can also illuminate the true history of war and power relationships; quite what border and geography obsessed Scots Nationalists make of the relationship of Robert the Bruce’s family to power and privilege in Hartlepool is anybody’s guess.

However, the key issue around medieval markets for those studying the future of work is not who had the privileges or the rights under the charters, but their exclusivity. The key challenge for market disruptors like Uber, or Wingham Rowan, is not to disrupt the existing market, but to secure a degree of exclusivity, or ubiquity, that fights off, and frightens off, potential competitors.

That’s why Wingham Rowan has been hawking his software around goverment and local authorities for ten years; not for him the dirty tricks and bright babble of hype merchants like Uber, with their highly paid marketing people and lavish lunches for any journalist willing to write about them. Instead Rowan has sought to capture the equivalent of a medieval charter for his jobs market, making him the sole provider.

What’s curious is that like a medieval townsman lobbying the king for a charter for his community, Rowan may actually believe he is acting in the public interest. It doesn’t make him right though. It doesn’t change the fact, either, that his ambition is to put another intermediary between labour and demand, and in the process, to weaken the position and value of labour.

If that’s the future of work, then the future needs trade unionism more than ever before.


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This entry was posted on April 16, 2015 by in Uncategorized.

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