March 2020, Week 2


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 		 [British filmmaker Ken Loachs latest work, "Sorry We Missed You,"
shows the brutal reality of life for a package delivery driver working
as independent contractor and home healthcare worker. This must-see
film is now playing in the US.] [https://portside.org/] 




 Marianne Garneau 
 March 3, 2020
Organizing Work

	* [https://portside.org/node/22375/printable/print]

 _ British filmmaker Ken Loach's latest work, "Sorry We Missed You,"
shows the brutal reality of life for a package delivery driver working
as independent contractor and home healthcare worker. This must-see
film is now playing in the US. _ 



Ken Loach’s _Sorry We Missed You_ is a devastating portrayal of
the toll that contemporary ultra-flexible work arrangements take on
workers and their families in the UK.

The movie follows Ricky, a package delivery driver, and Abby, a home
healthcare worker, as they try to juggle their ever-expanding workdays
with being parents to their two children.

The film opens with Ricky in a job interview, rattling off the dozens
of jobs he’s had over the years, mostly in construction. His
prospective employer, Gavin, responds with a string of double-speak
about the position Ricky is about to take on:

You don’t work for us, you work with us. You don’t drive for us,
you perform services. There’s no performance targets, you meet
delivery standards. There’s no clocking on, you become available.
There’s no wages, but fees. Like everything around here, Ricky,
it’s your choice.

Before he can take the job, Ricky has to secure a delivery van, and
his choices are purchasing (actually, financing) one or renting one
from the company. He chooses the former. To come up with a down
payment, he has to sell his wife Abby’s car.

The problem is, Abby uses that car to drive between her elderly or
disabled housebound clients, whom she prepares meals for or bathes or
helps with toileting. Without her car, Abby has to rely on the bus or
walk long distances between appointments, one- or two-hour chunks
scattered disparately throughout the workday. Pounding the pavement
adds to her fatigue and stress, and her clients feel it as well.


The two spouses suffer two of the most insidious and ultra-precarious
forms of work under neoliberal capitalism: independent contractor
status, and zero-hour contracts. Abby’s zero-hour contract means
that she is guaranteed no set hours of work in a week, but instead
gets given work assignments, probably by a third-party agency. This
kind of relationship satisfies the employer’s staffing needs while
keeping workers desperately vulnerable, quickly punishing those who
don’t bend to the exacting terms. In Abby’s case, her genuine
concern for her charges also picks up the slack, motivating her to go
to them day or night as they need her, regardless of the toll on
herself or her family.

In Ricky’s case, his independent contractor status forces him to
absorb all of the risks of his industry on behalf of the employer. He
not only saves his employer the cost of the vehicle, but insures it
himself, finds his own replacement when out sick, and even covers the
cost of stolen packages when he gets robbed. This is another form of
extreme discipline under capitalism: workers receive no benefits or
job security from employers, who disclaim them as employees and yet
control when and where and how they work. “Independent contractor”
status – which often also involves workers signing “non-compete
policies” preventing them from working for the competition – is an
increasingly popular fiction across the economy.

Neither Abby nor Ricky have any room for error, nor anywhere to turn
when their absence from the family begins to take its toll in their
teenaged son’s behavior. There is a moment when Ricky begs his boss
for time off to devote to his son, who has just been suspended from
school. Gavin replies with a list of family troubles that other
drivers have approached him with in the last week – aging parents,
sick spouses, alcoholic siblings – all of whose requests for time
off he has turned down. It’s an interesting moment in the film: one
is reminded how, especially in a downtrodden working class, every
worker has a problem, and the one person who knows this best of all is
the boss. Gavin says he knows he is hated for refusing to accommodate
the drivers, but if he were to give in, his depot’s productivity
metrics would start to fall, and the depot would lose business to
others across town. He holds up the scanning device that logs all
packages and tracks all deliveries, that drivers like Ricky carry with
them all day long: “this,” he says, “decides who lives and who


_Sorry We Missed You_ vividly illustrates of how much class relations
have come full circle back to the naked exploitation of 19th century
capitalism, when workers’ meager wages were paid in scrip for the
company store. Today’s employers catch workers coming and going,
paying as little as possible while devolving all risks and disclaiming
all obligations, even fining them for infractions. In the UK, this
flexibilization of the labor force is abetted
[https://publicseminar.org/2017/11/reductio-ad-absurdum/] by the
state: “welfare reform” has thrown more and more individuals into
these kinds of precarious employment scenarios, while sloughing them
off the state rolls when they are deemed guilty of failing to secure
better employment.

These work arrangements were designed to take away from workers the
one potential they had: coworkers they could organize with to reverse
the balance of power with the boss. (One sees glimpses of Ricky’s
coworkers but none of Abby’s.) And yet, despite this, it
remains possible
[https://organizing.work/2019/09/writing-the-manual-on-gig-worker-organizing/] for
workers like these to come together and organize.

The film does not show this, although there are tender moments of
solidarity between members of the working class. The credits thank
“The Drivers And Carers Who Shared Information With Us But Did Not
Want To Give Their Names.” Ken Loach, long a champion of
working-class struggles, has crafted a film as taut as a thriller,
which one watches with mounting anxiety and fear about where these
tensions will ultimately end.

A list of upcoming screenings in the US is available here

	* [https://portside.org/node/22375/printable/print]







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