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Do institutions still matter? Platform worker activism and its institutional experimentation

Do institutions still matter? Platform worker activism and its institutional experimentation

Kwon, Hyunji | Seoul National University

Kyunghee Kang | Seoul National University

Noh, Ga Bin | Seoul National University


Can the labor unions that grew out of the 20th-century workplace embrace the emerging and under-represented worker groups in the new century? We endeavor to answer the questions by looking at various types of emerging platform worker activism in the US, Germany, and Spain. We investigate whether the activism is converting into a new paradigm of the labor movement or constantly moving under the existing institutional fields, showing a degree of path dependency in the three countries with significantly different industrial relations institutions and the labor movement tradition. We also shed light on how established labor unions interact with the new type of grassroots worker activism in an effort to revitalize the union movement. Mobilizing institutional resources and experiences accumulated in the traditional collective bargaining activities and recent experiments of embracing precarious workers, such as community-based solidaristic activities in the US, the existing unions either support grassroots platform workers’ organizations or integrate those organizations into their territories. By comparing emerging activism and labor unions’ solidaristic engagement, we found significant differences in how platform worker activism was shaped and evolved in the three countries. The differences mainly come from how actors interact with existing institutions that provide different resources and set boundaries. However, we also found that some grassroots organizations maintain independence from existing labor unions commonly in the three countries. They also hold their unique identities and utilize innovative methods of organizing workers and activities, often mobilizing strategically and temporarily institutional resources, including labor unions.


platform labor, voluntary platform labor activism, union revitalization, institutional experimentation

Korean Journal of Industrial Relations

2022, vol.32, no.4, pp. 57-106 (50 pages)

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