What if Invisibilized Workers Reclaimed the Future?

The Dull, Dangerous & Dirty workshop demystified the world of silent work and delved into an exercise of the imagination. Participating researchers shared findings of current challenges facing workers in the care sector (particularly during COVID), content moderation, and micro-tasking fields.

We then split into two groups: one whose initial goal was to conduct an ethnographic exercise into the world of micro-tasking and the other embarked on a creative endeavour of developing a story of resistance and new vision for the world of work. While the former faced some research barriers, their initial efforts in creating online user (worker) profiles informed character-development for our script writers.

The workshop imagined alternative realities and futures in which workers from these sectors came to claim and share power. The script’s bold narrative is rooted in values of sharing of resource and caretaking responsibilities.


Questions guiding plot development:

  • What kinds of and whose silent work is to be amplified (made visible and protected)?  
  • Which silent work (e.g. helping AI machine learning for the profit of Big Tech companies) is considered as useless? 
  • How can we bring to light intersectional or sub-alternate “silent” work(ers)?
  • Does a successful story imply: equal rights for precarious workers? Or gig workers forming self-ruling cooperatives? Or overthrowing certain forms of work so they could self-govern? Overthrowing the market?
  • What does the aftermath of markets and commodities look like? A society that produces “necessary” goods? One of commonism: a society that balances our needs for consumption and activation and places greater value on relationships and sharing of resources?  
  • Solidarity that is centred on needs where consumption is not an absolute practice but is a relational one? New ways for workers to find and interact with one another?

Background and setting

This story takes places in a multiverse giving our characters the ability to break from the capitalist economy into realities not centered on global goods production.

Our heroes convene to rest and share practices of resistance and care. They swap strategies of subversion that they will take back with them, as the invisible workers, to the mainstream world. They’ve also built a newly decolonized AI of open-sourced algorithms where biases have been deconstructed and assumptions are open for public review.  

The lives of our characters are informed by the accounts of ghost workers and profiles intended for ethnographic work.

Plot

It is the year 2040…

Humans continued to live on one planet but in several multiverses. The Internet developed into many local community networks of various sizes. Multilingual collectives in which communication flowed between various nodes of digital and physical existences and other multiverses flourished. Travel was slower than today. Journeys of all distances, whether 100 km or 1000 km were more deeply appreciated.

While the old corporate Internet was still operational and each country you had groups constantly trying to maintain the Agreement of Non-Exploitation. But in truth, the old corporate Internet couldn’t keep up with the pace of science and people.

Storytelling circles thrived in digital and physical spaces. People joined to share, learn, and practice solidarity. Permanent exhibitions were always being developed, reaching everyone. Dialogue became the form of higher decision-making and formed a fluid politics.

🎥

Script

DAN: Hi, I’m Dan, operator at Machine Learning Emissions Center, 58 years old, white, male. And I’d like to know what the Commazon Workers Council decided to do this week. Well, as you all know: In 2030 Amazon was taken over by the workers and is now called Commazon, and before that Amaz-no.

HATIDZE: Hi, I can answer that! : ) My name is Hatidze, 42 years old and female. I am an enthusiastic members of Commazon and was young worker during that transformation.

OLIWIA: Hi, I am Oliwia from Poland, 68 years old and I’ve worked in the German care system for the last 25 years.

DRITTA: Hi, I am Drita, 32 years old. I come from a family of remote invisible workers: mygrandmonther worked for Amazon Center in northen Italy, my mother worked for a telecom operator and a health appliance distributor for people with illnesses like diabetes.

They were always online, working in shifts. When one was taking care of us, the other was answering to questions. I learned my first words of Italian and English listening to them work. My mom says my first sentence was, “yes, I understand, we are really doing our best!”

AESHA: Hello everyone, my name is Aesha.I am a self-driven and enthusiastic person. I’m Indian, Muslim and have Bachelor’s in Technology, I used to work as content moderator for 20 years in order to earn extra money to support my family. And now, to be honest I’m a bit lost…

So Dan, why do you join our coffee break at Commazon today?

DAN: Ok, listen. Alena Malinowskaya from Belarus wrote to me and she says:

“We have a problem with the old Big Tech Companies (BTC) that aren’t collectivized yet. Some private security armies have been enlisted to protect the property. How did you solve it at Commazon, comrade?”

HATIDZE: Wow, where do you live? Do you still have this concept of surplus property, called (in German) “Eigentum”? It means that someone can own something without ever using it. So your BTC’s still own your means of production…

Since these old BTC’s own your means of production…

ALENA: Well, our society is split into two halves…

HATIDZE: Yeah, ours used to be that way too. But no one accepts this concept of surplus property anymore. Back when we worked for the Big Tech Company, we organized a massive strike. That was the beginning of the end of the BTC and a new day for Commazon.

DRITA: Can we back up– what is surplus property? Where I come from, what we have is what we’ve got, and it’s all we want to live with.

Alena asks Oliwia: How is it that can care work be done by anyone? I mean how did you stop all these white dudes from chasing careers and encourage them to start caring for the kids, their parents and also for newcomers? Or do you still believe in division of labor?

OLIWIA: It was a long road to get to that point… Not everyone was ready to wipe other people’s butts. So, we first had to make people value the hard work we do.

Once they realized that care work is relevant to the whole system and everyone in it and that we don’t just do this to be so-called “heroes” they started to listen…  We made our demands for better working conditions clear.

After we collectively started to cut back out work hours, they had to step in to provide care. Before they knew it, they started to realize how hard our work actually was. We eventually started collaborating; teaching them all the little ways in which everyone can support our work,

ALENA: So everyone working in care is now paid better, right?

OLIWIA: Yeah, but it wasnt only about the payment. When I started working, it was a 24/7 job, we had no privacy, we were sent from one patient to the next. I cared for patients until they died and the next morning I would already be sent to the next one, in a different town. Now that we’re paid more, we have our lives back. We’ve restructured how we work; we meet other care workers, talk about what we’re going through, and share our responsibilities of caring for families instead of everyone doing everything alone.

And of course the better payment helps a big deal.

Of course, getting paid more has helped us a lot. In the beginning I could hardly afford to visit my family in Poland, I was lonely. I didn’t know any German when I first started working. Now if people come here to work from different countries they can either care for people who speak their language or they get properly trained. We do our best not to leave anyone behind.

DRITTA: Okay Dan how many chicks are you talking at once?

DAN: Well I’m speaking for both Alena and myself. 

DRITTA: So you’re translating for Alena? 

DAN: Yes.

OLIWIA: … By the way, achanges in care (work) were also part of the system-wide transformation.

It started with Géraldine. She was the one at the old BTC, who had to destroy all this stuff. This stuff which is sent back all the time. It went like this: people would order something which looked great online, but they lost interest by the time they got it. Or they went on a delusional shopping spree in the middle of the night and by the next day, they realized they couldn’t afford it.  So they’d sent it back.

This way, the BTC was constantly destroying all kinds of goods: brand new and functional hoovers, kettles, toasters, computers, soda streams, perfume or detergents – all this amassed into a giant pile. Géraldine then had to drive the excavator which then compressed it al; all these beautiful things came out as clumps of rubbish.

Géraldine got sick of it. Like others before her, she couldn’t stand it any longer. Yet, while others simply quit the gig, she was not satisfied with letting somebody else destroy all this stuff. And then she heard about what was going on in Northern Italy!

DAN: Drita! Alena wants to know how you got rid of Amazon in North Italy? 

DRITA: When the pandemic hit, people realizing that they didn’t need all this stuff.  They had less money so they started to look around for ways to repair and reuse things and they started these groups where people would help each other offline.

Someone would create a model and instructions, then others would reserve a workshop space and bring in their goods for repair.  It was the beginning of the “less-is-more collectives.” With time they realized they knew how to repair almost anything or to invent workarounds. Poeple like my mother and grandmother who spoke several languages started connecting people from different places. It turned out to be a lot of fun. People were sharing their creations and their bugs. It was better than TikTok.

DAN: But you know here in Belarus, Alena says people still stick to this idea about private property. They can’t believe that through cooperation people can deliver food and water and even books if they want them. They don’t believe that without a capitalist market the would be enough food to survive. 

ALENA: Oh, don’t worry – they’ll come around to it! It did not take long for people here to understood how the market society restricted their horizons! By commodifying water, we risk certain people no longer having access to it!

The market allocates goods by following the money – not by following needs. It started with Coca Cola and later within the so-called Green Economy, Tesla bought all the water rights. If it was not for this kind of robbery, there’d be water for everyone – treating it like a public common, like it had always been before.

And books! Do you really need a detective story or a murder mystery again after you read it once and know who the culprit is? Or a love story after you’ve discovered who married whom? These books might still be Eigentum for someone, but fallen out of their Besitz, because they did not use it any more. Surely you know about this…in Germany it started in 2010 when more and more cities and villages started putting up Public Shelves for giving and taking books. Or you keep it – this doesn’t harm anyone! Meanwhile you can go to a library for a book you’d want to reference again. Either way, most books are now online with a Creative Copyright, so you could print yourself if you wanted to…

Okay, what else are you worrying about? Food!? Do you not know people who yearn to get their hands dirty? I know so many! When the market was still prevailing, there was no way they could get into farming! Competition from the agricultural industry drove small scale farmers off the market and drove them into unemployment.

Martin Krüger, 36 from Berlin, expert in micro jobbing says: “Speaking of Tesla! I found it funny that in 2025 the people of Berlin just kicked them out. Tesla supported coup d’états in Chile and Argentinia so they could extract resources like lithium for their unsustainable cars. So when Berlin rebelled like Barcelona and Milan, public transportation grew and people lost interest in these shitty Tesla cars.

The thing is that a lot of people were working as contents managers and click workers for the computers inside the self-driving cars. So once the cards were gone, all these jobs disappeared. Oliwia, it was great because all these unemployed people – also coming from German “Braunkohle Reviere” (lignite mining areas) like the LEAG at Lausitz – would help provide care for everyone who needed it.

And the government invested a lot in the transistion towards a sustainable and caring economy. The platform Upwork became self-governing after a big strike and the company helped manage the transition.”

Yes, these have been similar processes: people took up their right to care for each other.

They took up their rights to grow food and to tend to nature sustainably.

And they stopped destroying new products, but repaired broken ones. 

And once all the caring and sharing and repairing was not enough to meet people’s needs, they started producing among themselves, peer-to-peer, beyond the state and the market.

The possibility of a worker-owned cooperative: Commazon’s new HQ, 2040, mash up by Kevin Rittberger, CC BY 4.0

This project was conceived at the Berliner Gazette’s annual conference 2020 entitled SILENT WORKS.

Workshop moderators: Sabrina Apitz + Masha Burina.

Participants: Sana Ahmad, Desmond Alugnoa, Miriam Arentz, Susanne Braun, Kerstin Guhlemann, Friederike Habermann, hvale, Kevin Rittberger, Martina Staneva, and Dzina Zhuk,

All text and images: Creative Commons License 4.0 (CC-BY 4.0).

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