“If I were a worker…”: courier trader

The experiences and solidarities of the couriers, legally separated from the status of worker, alienated, individualized and removed from their class with the illusion of “being the boss of your own company” and “working as much as you want”, will bring them to “class consciousness”.

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Ilkan Oz

The courier business that started in the first months of 2022 drew attention to the Tradesman Courier model. Although the Tradesman Courier Model seems to be unique in Turkey as a name, it has been used as a model for many years around the world with different names. These applications can be referred to as the “gig economy”. The “gig economy”, also called “flexible economy”, defines the economic relations in which short-term, non-guaranteed basic wage and precarious jobs become widespread through digital platforms.2nd

In Turkey, companies such as Yemeksepeti, BanaBi, Fiyuu, Trendyol, Getir Vigo have started using the Tradesman Courier model to employ couriers in areas such as food ordering, grocery shopping and freight distribution. The most important capital to be a trader is to own a motorcycle. All kinds of expenses (insurance, compulsory insurance, fuel) of the motorcycle are covered by the merchant courier. He pays his own taxes, social health insurance, daily food expenses belong to the courier. According to the contract, the couriers of the merchants benefit from weekly and annual holidays. These permits are paid when working in other businesses, but traders cannot receive wages on days off from the courier. In the event of an accident or problem (damage to the package, theft of the package, etc.), full responsibility lies with the commercial courier. As he is not a worker, he cannot join a union and organize. He is both legally and mentally differentiated and alienated from a salaried courier doing the same job as him, experiencing the same job. Likewise, it is individualized and isolated. From then on, we can speak of the mechanisms that block the collective action of the class, that is to say of the situation of systematic “removal from the class”.3

Here we are confronted with the problem of how to position the courier craftsman in the context of the classroom. In the model of the artisan courier, the socially experienced dynamics of laborization of the workers and their partial ownership of the means of production (motorcycles, etc.) place them in the “contradictory class positions between class relations” evoked by Erik Olin Wright, in the context of class structure.4 Artisan couriers remain in a complex position between the worker and the petty bourgeois. Although they cannot legally be considered workers, this position can be said to be much closer to the working class. This complex class matrix in the real world, where the wage relation, which is the basic economic form of capitalism, goes beyond the opposition of the capitalist class and the working class, will help us to obtain a formula of more realistic class structure for capitalism. social formations, although it shows remarkable differences in various geographies.5

The fact that couriers do not have a net income, that is, they charge per package, creates a danger for the safety of people. Traffic accidents happen when couriers need to move as fast as possible to drop off more packages and earn money. Another reason motorcycle couriers need to speed up is because customers are rated for “speed” through the app. The courier who falls below a certain score will receive a warning and even his contract may be terminated. Couriers can’t even take a break to earn more or deliver on time.6 Contrary to what this model offers (flexibility to work when you want), it takes a lot of work (about 15 hours) and effort to earn money. Consequently, the lack of socializing opportunities during work and the very few opportunities to socialize after work limit the possibilities to deepen the experience of the culture in the classroom.

Spatial isolation can be explained by the fact that couriers do not have a fixed physical workplace, work without a specific place to identify with, and cannot physically contact employees performing the same job, unlike a worker. working in a factory, as is the case for gig rigs. This situation is an obstacle to the formation of class consciousness. However, we can open a parenthesis here and direct our point of view towards the street, where there is a different solidarity for motorcycle couriers. The answer given to the question of what happens when you have an accident in an interview with a motorcycle courier indeed shows a very clear class solidarity: “As soon as the person in charge comes to the hospital, even if they don’t are not born from the same mother, there are my brothers (colleagues), they come. We collect money between us and give it to our friend. A friend of ours had an accident, even a report was not kept in the hospital due to an accident at work. He couldn’t work for a few months, they didn’t pay a penny.”7 With this explanation, we can say that the couriers realized that they were socially precarious, and that they filled this deficiency with class solidarity.

Although the couriers do not become unionized, that does not mean that they have not started to organize and act collectively. The couriers have started to give (pre)organized reactions to the injustices they have suffered, especially on social networks and with the various solidarity networks and associations they have created. After Trendyol increased its wages by only 11%, merchant couriers closed contacts and took action in many parts of Turkey and increased the rate of increase to 38.8%. With reference to Ellen Meikins Wood, we can say the following: The discovery of class formations and class consciousness arises from the process of struggle as people live and experience these class situations, it is that is, common interest and common experience form a class. are alienated, individualized and kidnapped from their class with the illusion of “working as much as you want” will bring them to “class consciousness” through their experiences and solidarity. On the strength of these experiences, the couriers will organize themselves and will obtain all their rights against exploitation.
*Thanks to Cemil Yıldızcan and Cihan Özpınar for their comments and contributions.

1In Erkan Kıdak’s study “The Self-Deception Deception of Working for Your Own Account in Cargo Courier Model”, when the question “What are the attractive aspects of this model” is asked in the interview with couriers, expressions beginning with “If I were a worker…” show how they perceive their class position. TÜMTİS, 2021.
2Ali Alper Alemdar, “Political economy of the digital economy-3 Particular form of platform capitalism: Gig economy”, Evrensel, January 17, 2022.
3Claus Offe Helmut Wiesenthal, “Two logics of collective action: theoretical notes on social class and organizational form”, in Political Power and Social Theory.
4Erik Olin Wright, “Class Limits in Advanced Capitalist Societies”, New Left Review, I/98, 1976.
5Cihan Özpınar, Cemil Yıldızcan, “On the Shore of the Farthest Coast: Can We Build a New Life? », in « Capitalist state and social classes in the face of the pandemic », editor Ali Yalçın Göymen, Istanbul: Habitus, 2021, p. . 64.
6 Ken Loach’s film “Sorry We Missed You”, one of the most important directors of working-class films, tackles exactly this problem.
7karsimahalle.org/2020/07/08/getir-iscisi-normal-bir-insan-gibi-degil-bizim-hayatimiz
8Ellen Meiksins Wood, “Class as Relation and Process”, Praxis (1), 2001, 92-119.

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