By Trebor Scholz. Originally published in Platform.Coop
This has been a difficult but also consequential year for many of us. Beyond the political chaos, we bore witness to the “Death of Tumblr,” the pushback against Upwork’s time-tracking software, and compelling scholarly analysis of Uber’s role in the labor market. Facebook gave Netflix and Spotify access to the private messages of its users. Elizabeth Warren joined the ranks of those calling for the breakup of tech monopolies, which could open the gates for the formation of new cooperatives.
Supporting economic alternatives to these monopolies, the Platform Cooperativism Consortium (PCC) in New York City is a hub for advancing the cooperative digital economy. Throughout the past year, I had the opportunity to work with emerging co-ops in this network all over the world.
These encounters have been deeply inspiring. I noticed six trends:
– a vast interest in protocolary co-ops, distributed ledger technologies, and open co-ops,
– the emergence of platform co-ops in different forms and sectors across countries (with particular foci, for instance, on digital infrastructure or labor markets),
– a growing number of Ph.D. students taking up this new area of research,
– an intensified focus on antitrust measures against tech monopolies,
– an overall upswing in employee ownership in the U.S.,
– the lingering challenges for scaling, such as insufficient startup funding, the “Crypto crash,” and meaningful distributed governance mechanisms.
Which trends did YOU notice? Please write us at [email protected]
First, a few notes on policy developments. The PCC Policy Team, led by Hal Plotkin, wrote a “New Bill of Rights for American Workers Building Support for Cooperatively-Owned Businesses that are Democratically-Owned and Governed” for U.S. Senator Gillibrand who had solicited legislation to promote platform co-ops on the heels of her Main Street Employee Ownership Act. At a large public event at the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Andrea Nahles, the leader of the SPD in Germany, made platform cooperativism part of the party’s political platform inspired by my book Uberworked and Underpaid. Learn more.
Also in 2018, PCC & Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) in Toronto received an economic development grant from Google.org, which helped us to start work on the Platform Co-op Development Kit on July 1, 2018. Don’t take my word for it, read this article in Fast Company.
At Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic on Platform Cooperativism, I started to collaborate with the HLS team hoping to find ways to make the legal side of incorporating a platform co-ops easier. This work will continue in 2019, possibly involving additional partners.
Together with Michelle D’Souza and Dana Ayotte at the IDRC I started to work with an emerging platform co-op at SEWA in Ahmedabad, India.
We also started conversations with Cataki, a co-op organizing recycling collectors in Brazil and the social care co-op This Cooperative Life in Australia.
We took first steps toward collaborating with refugee women in Hamburg, Germany.
If you are interested in getting involved with our work on the Kit, please contact us at [email protected].
The PCC will continue to work on the Development Kit in 2019, which will also involve redesigning platform.coop in the spring (get involved here).
Also in the spring, a PCC researcher will approach all platform co-ops with a survey to compile information on the existing companies in the ecosystem with the purpose of advancing the directory. Please let us know if you are aware of any platform co-op that may not be on our radar just yet. Email [email protected]. We want to hear from you.
Anand Giridharadas’ best-selling book Winner Takes All helped introduce our work to many people who had not heard about it. Publications like StirToAction, YES! Magazine, The Guardian, The Nation, Washington Post, and Shareable have covered much of the platform co-op work around the world. Thank you!
PCC’s Michael McHugh introduced the French Government to our work. I presented our activist work and research on the digital cooperative economy at venues ranging from PDF in NYC (video), Re:Publica in Berlin (Germany), Columbia University, Open Society Foundation in London, Harvard University Law Forum in Boston (US), RightsCon in Toronto (Canada), Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid (Spain), SharingForum in Seoul (South Korea), the SPD Headquarter in Berlin (Germany), and Chinese University in Hong Kong (China).
PCC’s Michael McHugh attended Rutgers’ SMLR Union and Worker Ownership conference in Washington DC and the ICA research conference. Also in 2018, at Cooperatives UK, Pat Conaty published the important report “Working Together: Trade Union and Co-operative Innovations for Precarious Work.”
In Silicon Valley, I had a chance to meet with 45 leaders of Brazilian transportation cooperatives who showed interest in developing a national platform co-op. In Seoul, I met with the Association of Worker Co-ops, members of the government, and the Domestic Workers Alliance, which were interested in committing resources to this new sector.
In Hong Kong, together with Jack Qiu and Terence Yue, I co-convened our annual platform co-op conference. My Chinese colleagues started the Platform Co-op Consortium Hong Kong and Jack & Terence also co-authored a book on platform cooperativism in Mandarin. You can read this article, published in the local press, see photos or read my article in News.Coop.
Also in Hong Kong, David Li suggested not only launching a new co-op phone — an inexpensive smartphone produced and sold with platform co-ops preinstalled for the 1 billion co-op members worldwide — but he also proposed unionized manufacturing co-ops that produce robots as a way to empower unions. YES! Magazine published a piece to similar ends: “When Robots Take Our Jobs, Platform Cooperatives Are a Solution”
After a successful Platform Cooperativism meeting in Brussels that was supported by the Brussels Capital Region (!), in 2019, watch out for more activities on the amazingly designed website of Platform Co-op Brussels. Also don’t miss Lieza Dessin’s article “Zebras are Real and Move in Herds.”
In London, Oli Sylvester-Bradley and others successfully convened Open Coop 2018.
In Indonesia, the first event on platform co-ops took place in Purwokerto.
In the United States, a panel at SXSW and events in Oakland and Berkeley engaged more people.
In 2018, Jen Horonjeff, founder of Savvy, the first patient-owned platform co-op, was named one of 50 most daring entrepreneurs of 2018. Up&Go was joined by Apple Eco-Cleaning co-op. In Seoul, South Korea, SanKu Jo is about to launch WeHome, a protocolary co-op for short-term rentals. In Montreal, Dardan Isufi and his team launched Eva, a new platform co-operative developing a blockchain-based rideshare app. (Read the white paper). The Guardian covered the platform co-op Resonate, which also received a million dollars from the venture arm of Rchain.coop.
In Japan, Anju Ishiyama wrote an article predicting that platform co-ops will flourish in Japan. Also Wired Japan covered the work of the PCC at The New School.
In 2019, Fairbnb will start to operate in Barcelona, Bologna, and Amsterdam. The team around Sito Veracruz and Damiano Avellino worked incredibly hard. Many challenges remain but finally, this ambitious, much-needed, and highly anticipated project will become reality.
In its annual report, FairShares Association outlines its support for the platform co-op ecosystem (see video). Fairshares Association enables people to set up cooperative businesses that are held accountable by all the stakeholders. Thank you, Rory Ridley-Duff.
Ours to Hack and to Own, the book I edited with Nathan Schneider was selected as one of the Top Tech Books of 2017 by Wired Magazine, early in 2018. MJ Kaplan wrote a piece on platform cooperativism for Non-Profit Quarterly. Sandeep Vaheesan and Nathan Schneider published a paper “Cooperative Enterprise as an Antimonopoly Strategy.”
Michael McHugh and I compiled a portfolio on platform cooperativism.
Together with Jutta Treviranus, I authored a commissioned 70-page research report for Sidewalk Labs Toronto exploring how a Smart Cities could be organized as a data cooperative.
After reporting on platform co-ops at the Biennale Della Cooperazione and the Frankfurter Buchmesse (Frankfurt Bookfair), Francesca Fo Martinelli authored a working paper on platform cooperativism in a publication of Fondazione Tarantelli. Many thanks also to Chiara Chiappa at Fondazione Centro Studi Doc for her work. Francesca has become a leading figure of the platform co-op movement in Italy.
Martijn Arets penned “Airbnb as a cooperative: a viable scenario?”
Armin Steurnagel delivered a TEDX talk in which he argued for the transformation of ownership models to create a better economy.
Stacco Troncoso posted the blog essay “The Open Coop Governance Model in Guerrilla Translation: an Overview.” Stacco also wrote a case study of Fairmondo.
Michel Bauwens spoke in many venues on open cooperativism, the token economy, and distributed ledgers for co-ops.
Don’t miss Prosper Wanner’s text on Les Oiseaux de Passage, a platform coop for short-term rental. Prosper also responded to my series of articles in the French Socialter.
George Zarkadakis authored “Do platforms work? The distributed network has gobbled the hierarchical firm. Only by seizing the platform can workers avoid digital serfdom” and Menno van Ginkel wrote “Leveraging blockchain technologies and platform cooperativism for decentralized food networks and short food supply chains.”
Looking ahead to 2019, I’ll be focusing on:
– the Platform Co-op Development Kit, and a research report that we will conduct on SEWA and the viability of platform co-ops and distributed governance in the context of India, supported by the Open Society Foundation.
– our international platform co-op conference November 7-9, 2019 at The New School & Columbia University, which will mark ten years of research and conferences on digital labor at The New School in NYC. Save the date!!!
– my next book, which is well in the making; I hope to finish the manuscript in 2019. If you have a notable new platform co-op, get in touch and share your experiences.
– additional in-person research and platform co-op events in Japan, Brazil, Austria, Germany, South Africa, Mexico, Spain, Tunisia, Georgia, Australia, and India (Kerala & Gujarat).
In April 2019, we will launch the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy with a fellowship program. The first year will be by invitation only but in 2020, we’ll open up the application process.
I’d like to thank all co-ops, scholars, policymakers, technologists, and activists who have worked with us in the last year. Keep it up in 2019. Our doors are open— get involved with our platform co-op work.
Happy New Year, everybody!
~ Trebor Scholz