Indonesia. Uberization: Jakarta’s motorcycle taxis strike back

In Jakarta, the motorbike taxis of ride-hailing giant Gojek use the strength of the collective and informal mutual aid networks to circumvent the platform’s all-powerful algorithm. Even succeed in negotiations with the firm or the public authorities, says the “MIT Technology Review”.

In the Bendungan Hilir district, a stone’s throw from the lights of the business district of central jakartawooden sidewalk sidewalk stalls offer noodle soup, fried rice and cigarettes to locals.

One of them, swarming with green-clad scooter riders, stands out. It’s a unofficial base camp, rallying point for the Gojek couriers – the biggest motorbike taxi company in Indonesia – and one of the high places of the resistance which is organized against the algorithms of dispatch who rule their lives.

Gojek offers, in addition to its VTC service, a motorcycle taxi service. You can see its drivers everywhere, recognizable by their green jacket and helmet, taking passengers astride their back seat or delivering meals and parcels. Between trips, drivers need to recharge their phones, eat and wash. As the company has few places to offer them for this, the couriers have created their own spaces, like this one, in Bendungan Hilir, or Benhil for connoisseurs.

Belong to a community

The base camps are part of a tradition that existed before the arrival in Indonesia of shopping services governed by algorithms. Motorcyclists were already offering their services informally and meeting at intersections and in front of food stalls to exchange news, gossip or tips. When apps like Gojek came along, the habit stuck, says Rida Qadri, an information technology sociologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who studies driver collectives in Jakarta. The base camps make up a network that allows couriers in the city to always stay in close contact.

It is this sense of community that today distinguishes couriers in Jakarta from other platform workers in the rest of the world. While sector employees everywhere feel increasingly pressured and exploited by relentless algorithms, most are struggling to organize themselves and achieve concrete changes in the way platforms manage their activity.

A resistance strategy

This is partly due to the difficulties that algorithmic management poses to trade unionists: it pits workers against each other and scatters them over a large geographical area, analyzes Jason Jackson, professor of political economy and urban planning at MIT. By default, it prevents workers from meeting in person and forming the bonds necessary to unite.

But, in Jakarta, things happened differently. In these base camps, the drivers do not just keep themselves informed. They support each other and unite to divert the operation of Gojek to their benefit.

Over the years, experts have found that the platforms replicate the practices of colonial empires in using management tools to monitor and exploit a vast pool of cheap labor. But the organization of the couriers in Jakarta could give birth to a new strategy of resistance: a way for the workers to federate, to achieve a form of security and to take care of each other.

A parallel and old economy

Greater Jakarta is more than 30 million people. A sprawling conurbation whose boom dates from the 1970s and 1980s. Its main arteries are lined with skyscrapers, shopping malls and five-star hotels. But, a block away, we discover neighborhoods of huts with tin roofs, one on top of the other, and winding alleys impassable for cars.

It took until 2019 for Jakarta to have a modern metro line. On a daily basis, the inhabitants have endless journeys by bus or car, stuck in traffic jams, or in outdated trains in which they pile up like sardines.

It is this virtual impossibility of getting around that gave rise to a parallel economy of motorcycle taxis, long before the advent of applications like Gojek. In this unregulated market, couriers (mostly men) with a ojek – a mototaxi, in Indonesian – offered their services at the crossroads of the city.

Organize “ojek” on a large scale

Nadiem Makarim, the founder of Gojek, saw in this ambient anarchy the possibility of a business. By 2010, Makarim, who grew up in a rather privileged Indonesian family, had already established a call center to connect customers with trusted mototaxis. For the first time, the ojek were organized and dispatched by a third party. A year later, he fleshed out his idea by joining the e-commerce start-up Zalora, which allowed the latter’s couriers, making last-mile deliveries, to transport individuals between two races.

And then, in August 2014, Uber gained a foothold in Indonesia. Gojek followed suit by creating its own mobile app a few months later, centralizing its fleet and merging the existing offer, until then fragmented into quarters, thanks to algorithms.

The reservation ofojek on app, at a price agreed in advance, was an immediate hit. It was also a boon for investors, notes Hian Goh, a partner at Openspace Ventures, a Singapore who was one of the first to put marbles in Gojek. Not only was Uber’s business model exploding, but Makarim had, in the eyes of international investors, the profile of the ideal entrepreneur in the underdeveloped Indonesian tech sector. After training in the great schools of Jakarta, he had attended a university inIvy League [englobant les universités les plus prestigieuses des États-Unis] and Harvard Business School before landing a job at McKinsey, the famous management consulting firm.

Omniscient algorithm

As long as investors were watering the sector, it was not really questioned whether Gojek would come up against the same union demands that Uber was beginning to see emerge. To United States, Uber had made the taxi business – until then a salaried job, with social security coverage – a piece job, governed by a platform. In Indonesia, by contrast, Gojek was transforming an informal transport service into a semi-o

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Indonesia. Uberization: Jakarta’s motorcycle taxis strike back


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