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Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy

(revised Schocket lecture, Rosa Lux, MSR, Paris)

Thanks for coming out so early on this crisp late-summer morning in Paris.

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Poem: ‘Visions of Labour’

Lawrence Joseph

I will have writings written all over it in human words: wrote Blake.

A running form, Pound’s Blake: shouting, whirling his arms,

his eyes rolling, whirling like flaming cartwheels.

Put it this way, in this language:

a blow in the small of the back from a rifle butt, the crack of a blackjack on a skull, face beaten to a pulp, punched in the nose with a fist, glasses flying off, ‘fuckin’ Wobblie wop, hit him again for me,’ rifle barrel slammed against the knees, so much blood in the eyes, rain, and the night, and the shooting pain all up and down the spine, can’t see.

Put it this way: in the sense of smell is an acrid odour of scorched metal, in the sense of sound, the roaring of blow torches.

Put it in this language: labour’s value is abstract value, abstracted into space in which a milling machine cutter cuts through the hand, the end of her thumb nearly cut off, metal shavings driven in, rapidly infected.

Put it at this point, the point at which capital is most inhumane, unsentimental, out of control: the quantity of human labour in the digital manufacture of a product is progressing toward the economic value of zero, the maintenance and monitoring of new cybernetic processes occupied by fungible, commodified labour in a form of indentured servitude.

Static model, dynamic model, alternate contract environments, enterprise size and labour market functions, equilibrium characterisation, elasticity of response to productivity shocks: the question in this Third Industrial Revolution is who owns and controls the data.

That’s what we’re looking at, labour cheap,replaceable, self-replicating, marginal, contracted out into smaller and smaller units.

Them? Hordes of them, of depleted economic, social value, who don’t count, in any situation, in anyone’s eyes, and won’t count, ever, no matter what happens, the truth that, sooner than later, they will simply be eliminated.

In Hanover Square, a freezing dawn, from inside bronze doors the watchman sips bourbon and black coffee in a paper cup, sees a drunk or drugged hedge fund boy step over a passed-out body.

A logic of exploitation.

A logic of submission.

The word alienation.

Eyes being fixed on mediated screens, in semiotic labour flow: how many generations between these States’ age of slavery and ours? Makers, we, of perfectly contemplated machines.

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So, digital labor touches on all of us in many ways.

…. , not just on Mechanical Turk, but also when you are browsing Facebook profiles in your spare time, search for “The Office” on Google, or use app-­accessible services like TaskRabbit or Postmates.

In this morning’s talk, I will highlight what is and what could be successful about 21st century work and what are some tendencies that are worrisome. Once we gained an under-standing of that, we can examine how to work around the concerning dispositions and promote positive trends. I will speak for roughly forty minutes, and dedicated the second half to platform cooperativism and our upcoming conference.

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In the first 5 minutes, I will walk you through a few cases that I find troublesome.

As we are in Seattle, let’s start by asking for a show of hands: who has read the recent expose about Amazon.com’s white collar workers in the NYT?

While it was shocking to read about the abysmal conditions for Amazon’s white collar workforce, it is still incredibly convenient to use the company’s services, is not it. It’s easy to forget that in the shadows of this convenience lie the social costs for workers.

Behind the screen, wage theft, exploitation, and total workplace surveillance. You may remember from the NYT expose: Bo Olson, who worked in book marketing, stating that

“Nearly every person I

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worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

Later, Katie Benner of the NYT and many other commentators responded to the story with an utter lack of sympathy, empathy, or compassion. Benner wrote:

“It’s condescending to feel bad for people who choose a grueling lifestyle."

The ideology of choice would deserve an entire talk in itself.

This is one of Amazon’s so-called “inactivity reports.” These documents are issued by the company to its warehouse workers. The example here is from Leipzig.

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In Leipzig, Germany, one logistics worker in an Amazon “fulfillment center” was accused of having been inactive on two occasions. Consequently, he was fired five minutes after his second “digression.”

Such densification of labor through extreme workplace surveillance is reminiscent to Taylor’s scientific management, of course.

Also part of the Amazon story, just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling, stating that workers in these warehouses have no right to be paid for the time that they are waiting for mandatory security screenings, when they are leaving the warehouse.

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Since 2005, Amazon also operates an online labor brokerage: Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT). Workers log on to the website and pick tasks from long listings. Similar to traditional piecemeal work in the garment industry, Mechanical Turk allows for a project to be broken down into thousands of bits, which are then assigned as individual tasks to so-called crowd workers.

On AMT, like on many crowdsourcing environments, inexperienced, novice workers are making between two and three dollars an hour. Just like migrant workers, barristers, or workers in the fast food industry, they are working long hours, are underpaid, insufficiently protected by labor laws, have few or no benefits, and are often treated poorly by their virtual bosses.

Like I mentioned, Amazon claims that Mechanical Turk has a labor pool of 500,000 workers. Other crowdsourcing companies, like CrowdFlower, point to an even larger invisible, global workforce that remains anonymous, for all practical purposes.

These are the people who Lawrence Joseph referred to in his poem:

“Hordes of them, of depleted economic, social value, who don’t count, in any situation, in anyone’s eyes, and won’t count, ever, no matter what happens, the truth that, sooner than later, they will simply be eliminated.“

And these are the people who most urgently need a social safety net. They need public internet systems, public ownership, new institutions, and alliances to gain protection and inspire structural change. This is not merely about minimum wage, this is not about changing bosses, platform cooperativism is about changing lives. Just project a year ahead wit he likelihood of president will care less about worker rights and then project two generations ahead and ask how the children of our children will live under platform capitalism. And while some form protection might be offered by Uber, TaskRabbit, or Peers, … these groups act in the interest of shareholders and platform owners. They are only interested in making the sharing economy eco-system run more smoothly. They don’t give a damn about the workers. That much is obvious. Platform owners merely seek to lower attrition rates. Uber, for example, suffers from a 77% attrition rate. Platform owners will not voluntarily give workers employment-like protections. We need new faces for a middle-aged Internet.

Appropriate “is at the level of platforms that would challenge the ownership, control and value extraction models of platform capitalism (Uber, AirBnB, Facebook) ; this is the necessary work of the creation of platform cooperatives, and the conference that I convened 3 weeks ago.

Compared to traditional workplaces, these are solo workers who are isolated from each other. The labor brokerage Upwork (what used to be oDesk+eLance) may have a labor pool of as many as 10 million such workers. A report by the Freelancers Union showed that there are currently 53 million freelancers in the United States — it might well be 60 million by the end of the decade. Studies have shown that at least one quarter of these workers are forced into working freelance; they’d prefer a 40-hour-a-week-job. But trying to reverse the spread of contingent work seems futile; it is hard to imagine a return to the days when most people worked a 40 hour week.

Today, one in three members of the US workforce is a freelancer, many of them in the so-called “sharing economy” which has been criticized for its “nullification of Federal Law”- as Frank Pasquale put it, the lack of dignity for workers, and the elimination for worker rights and democratic values like accountability and consent.

More broadly, skepticism about capitalism is growing also among millennials. People are having enough of the old system; Bernie Sanders attracted 27,000 people in Los Angeles and overall there seems to be far more sympathy with socialism in the United States than politicians have suggested.

On Mechanical Turk, wage theft, while explicitly tolerated by Amazon, is a daily occurrence. Some consigners reject accurately executed work to avoid payment. Rejecting it, does not, however, stop these “black hats” and scammers from still using the work.

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https://www.mturk.com/mturk/conditionsofuse

AMT’s conditions of use clearly state that consigners own the work immediately upon receipt, which means that they can do whatever they please with it. In a further twist, they don’t even have to explain their rejection of already performed work. Wage theft is a feature, not a bug.

Consequently, it is not surprising that the turnaround among Turkers is roughly 70% every six month, according to Turker Rochelle LaPlante.

You might object: wage theft, payments below minimum wage — how is that even possible? After all, there is the Fair Labor Standards Act and many other legal protections for workers that would immediately power down such operations.

A democratic and rich society like he United States would not stand for exploitative work environments, right? For now, such violations are largely tolerated but this is changing slowly. Uber, Lyft and Yelp workers are filing law suits to become recognized as employees with at least minimum wage floor.

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In 2011, the Department of Labor had just 1000 inspectors who are responsible for one 130 workers in 7 million enterprises. Such strategic understaffing of the Department of Labor means that employers who violate labor regulations in terms of wage or safety only have a very small chance of getting caught and even if they get caught, all they have to do is give workers what they owe them. It’s like robbing a bank with the only disincentive being that they might have to return the loot when they are getting caught.

Startups cleverly sail around the definition of employment by restructuring work in such a way that the people who are executing the tasks can be categorized as independent contractors instead of employees.

Amazon Mechanical Turk is relatively small; the actual number of active workers might be closer to 10,000. The Worldbank recently offered a report on the crowdsourcing industry but there are no conclusive studies about the size of the workforce in the crowd sourcing sector overall and Amazon treats these numbers as a trade secret.

I am using Mechanical Turk as an example because it is an infectious business model that is mirrored on the pages of countless other upstarts. The cruel genie is out of the bottle, the business logic of Mechanical Turk was adapted by companies like CrowdFlower, 99designs, and countless others.

Amazon‘s reputation is, of course, not solely built on micro wages and total workplace surveillance, it is also widely appreciated for its low prices and convenience, even before they introduced drone delivery. But this consumptive advantage comes at a price. Just remember last years’s face-off between Amazon and various publishers. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, told a group of publishers, including Hachette, that

“Amazon should approach … publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.”

A few weeks ago, Amazon announced a new venture, called Home Services, which installs the company as online middleman when you are hiring an electrician or plumber. In cooperation with TaskRabbit, Amazon aims to enter this sector to collect rent on your home repairs and services, which interestingly also includes “academic services.”

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So far, based on the evidence from Mechanical Turk and the labor practices in Amazon’s warehouses, there is no reason to believe that the company would understand its relationship to digital laborers any differently than that of a predator pursuing its vulnerable prey.

At this point, let me tell you how I structured this talk. First, I’ll discuss platform capitalism, a term introduced by Sasha Lobo in Germany and by Martin Kenney in the US.

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Still from Alan Sekula’s and Noel Burch’s film Forgotten Space, highly recommended.

Next, I’ll demonstrate the unprecedented scale of this real-time, global labor pool.

In the third segment, I’ll go into more detail about the “sharing economy” including the willful falsity of Uber’s and AirBnB’s marketing campaigns and the mantra of entrepreneurship and the myth of choice and autonomy that is in the water supply of platform capitalism, polluted by the anti-collectivist spirits of Ayan Rand.

Under the worn-out jeans of the Uber executive, the Foutainhead.

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In his film All Watched Over by Machines Of Loving Grace, Adam Curtis reveals that Silicon Valley investors and startup hotshots even named their children after Rand.

I will end with theoretical and practical ideas about what I call platform cooperativism.

With 30 minutes to go, let me think with you about digital labor in context.

Digital labor, I suggest, is the shiny, sharp tip of a gargantuan neoliberal spear that is made up of de-regulation, increasing inequality, the shift from employment to low-wage temporary contracts, and union busting.

Many researchers have depoliticized this discussion through approaches that focus on optimizing these platform ecosystems: trying to make them run more efficiently, more frictionless and with a better understanding of the motivations of the workers. But I’d add the building of alternatives, outrage, conflict, and worker organization to the agenda. We can’t leave society to platform owners and developers: to Microsoft, CrowdFlower, or Google, and most definitely not to Amazon.

But before we are talking about alternatives, let’s take one step back.

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Many accounts of digital labor are ahistorical and suffer from short-termism. Delving in presentism, commentators are loosing the long-term perspective. Since the late 1970s, the productivity of American workers steadily increased while their real wages stagnated. More and more Americans went to college but despite their skills, their pay remained low. The overall burden of the debt crisis and changed work regimes meant that a regular paycheck is increasingly unlikely to include legal protections, or benefits.

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The screenshot that you see here is from Natalie Bookchin’s LongStoryShort, which is based on 75 very low-income Californian residents who describe what poverty means to them: not being able to buy a toothbrush or shampoo, for example.
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Today, 76% of Americans have no savings. In the case of an emergency, they don’t have any financial fall back.

Young people are increasingly asked to “pay their dues” by working for free as interns. 75% of unpaid interns are women and indeed, and no, that is not a victory for feminism. According to NYU professor Ross Perlin, unpaid internships contribute 2 billion dollars to corporate profits every year.

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Sometimes, “The carrot is just the stick by other means,” as anarchist Bob Black would have it.

Anything that becomes digital, can eventually get exploited. Developments like self-driving cars, apps-based taxi companies, and crowdsourcing systems can be beneficial but are also introducing new vulnerabilities for workers. Digitization allows for new business models, novel chains of value extraction and forms of division of labor — most of which are obstructing its emancipatory and humanizing potential while undermining social security.

Digital labor is a child of the low-wage crisis. Ever larger parts of the economy are being reengineered to move away from the employment relationship and closer to freelancing and independent contract work. Online platforms, built on the affordances of cloud computing, are key to the reorganization of work. These platforms become digital labor bottle necks: to get a gig you need to go through one of them.

Growing numbers of workers do no longer pursue a career path, a job for life. “Whereas traditional employment was like marriage,” legal scholar Frank Pasquale writes, “with both parties committed to some longer-term mutual project, the digitized workforce seeks a series of hookups.” In this labor market of one-nighters, people are working short–term or just casual hours. A closer look at templates of 21st century work that are currently put in place reveals a trajectory of workers now taking on many gigs at once. For some, this is a choice but most are forced into such “atypical work” by economic circumstance.

Demands for qualifications are getting ever higher and anxiety, the fear of unemployment and poverty have become central life themes for many young people today. They are moving down the one-way street from unpaid internship to underpaid creative work.

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Such start into work life then, leads to a lifelong “precarious career,” which also makes life planning impossible and old-age poverty a certainty.

A 2010 study by the American software company Intuit found that 80% of large American corporations are planning to substantially increase their use of flexible workers in coming years.

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We are living in what the German/South Korean author Byung-Chul Han called a Fatigue Society. This is no longer a disciplinary society, Han writes, we are living in an achievement-oriented society that is allegedly free, determined by the call of “yes we can.” Initially, this creates a feeling of freedom but soon it is accompanied by anxiety, self-exploitation, and depression.

Platform owners play a central role in this Fatigue Society. With their seductive interfaces, they make it hard not to participate.

We are already 15 minutes into the talk, and I still have not really defined digital labor. Here are a few statements to that end:

1) 21st century work has become more intensive, more dense. Amazon’s inactivity reports showed that much.

Time has become more central as an instrument of oppression.

2) The definition of digital labor has to reflect an intricate understanding of both, paid and unpaid forms. Generalizing one emerging trend, be that uncompensated emotional labor or paid crowd work, as the sole tenor that has overtaken the entire economy fails to capture the reality of many other modes of digital work. It fails to account for the far crueler treatment of workers in the industrial sector that produces the hardware, all along its supply chains.

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Foxconn Factory http://www.thehypermodern.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/factory.jpg

3) Thinking about digital labor means contemplating global patterns of connection and accumulation that facilitate and promote such production. This means that all related processes need to be included in this definition; everything from the assembly of iPhones, the Xbox, cables, wireless installations, Foxconn’s factories in the Longhua Science and Technology Park in ShenZhen (China) that bring us Apple, HP, Dell, and Sony products, and the mining of rare earth minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and China’s Nancheng County without which you could not boot up our laptops and mobile devices.

The supposedly “weightless economy” would sink to the bottom of the ocean would not it be for all the workers in Foxconn’s suicide mills.

4) A definition of digital labor needs to divorce itself from the rhetoric of flexibility, choice, and autonomy. Remember Ryan Bingham’s pitch to the soon-to-be-unemployed in Up in the Air?

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Another one of Ryan Bingham favorite lines is:

“Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat were you are now. And it is because they sat there that they were able to do it.”

So, it is the ideology of forced entrepreneurship, the channeling your inner “micro-entrepreneur,” the inner freedom-loving artist who wants to cut loose- as a model for all of society, that I’m questioning.

Digital labor needs to be discussed at the fold of intensified forms of exploitation online and older economies of unpaid and invisible work — think of Silvia Federici, Selma James, & Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s “Wages for Housework” campaign and, in the 1980s, cultural theorist Donna Haraway discussing ways in which emerging communication technologies allowed for “home work” to be disseminated throughout society.

Digital labor is also marked by an ever more pronounced power asymmetry between the class of owners, what I call platform owners — crowdsourcing firms and services like CrowdFlower and Amazon Mechanical Turk — that hold all four aces, and the abundantly available workers that hold none, as David Graeber put it.

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The word “labor,” however, has an image problem. Over and over, authors have disavowed the term because it’s just not adequate anymore given the blur of leisure and labor. In contrast, I argue that giving up on the language of labor, means loosing the connection to the history of labor- the fight for the 8 hour work day, employer-paid health insurance, sick leave, and pensions.

Historically thinking, there are the Haymarket Riots, Lordstown, (Ohio), the Lawrence, Massachusetts textile strike in 1912, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory protests, and the young labor feminist Karen Silkwood who lost her life in the process of delivering secrets about health and safety violations at Kerr-McGee plutonium plant in 1974. You might remember the film Silkwood where Meryl Streep portrayed this brave activist.

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This isn’t about some romantic attachment to the past; this is about the language of labor and living within it, its cardinal lesson, which is that in confrontation with the power of the employing class, individual solutions are not working.

And lastly, for me, also non-labor is still alive and well. Not all of life is financialized, as Paolo Virno, and others have claimed — there are still billions of people without internet connection, and that includes people in America’s inner cities.

So far, half way through this talk, I offered you a few examples of the cruelty of digital labor, reflections on platform capitalism and the fatigue society, and a few points toward a definition of digital labor.

The global climate change of labor that we are witnessing right now will only escalate. Inequality will increase ever more and paths of resistance are only coming slowly into focus.

I can’t make myself sign on to the Accelerationists who urge us “that the only radical political response to capitalism is not to protest, disrupt, critique, or détourne it, but to accelerate and exacerbate its uprooting, alienating, decoding, abstractive tendencies.”

Instead, I will dedicate the remaining 20 minutes to platform cooperativism, a call to workers, designers, developers, and policy makers alike.

Recently, there has backlash been against unethical labor practices in the “collaborative sharing economy” because of an utter lack of concern for the workers. The first meeting of the Federal Trade Commission in Washington DC excluded labor advocates and workers completely.

Startup hotshots suggest that there is a logical step from the sharing of content through social media to the rental of goods, space, and the provision of transport through de facto labor companies like Feastly, Carpooling, Handy, Kozaza, EatWith, Kitchensurfing, TaskRabbit, and Uber.

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The narrative of the sharing economy is incredibly smooth: the aesthetics, design, and algorithms. Neighbors can sell the fruit from the trees in their gardens, you can rent an apartment in Rome, a boat, or tree house or yurt in Redwood Forest.

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In Berkeley and Oakland, you can pay your neighbor to cook you a wholesome dinner, and now you can even listen to your own Spotify account in an Uber taxi. Journalists love the sound of the “sharing economy.”

Consumers, raised with an appreciation of low prices above all else, welcome many of these market incumbents. And, of course, all of these developments play out against the background of deliberate shockwaves of austerity that followed the 2008 financial crash. — Reagan. Thatcher. Miner and flight controllers strikes. — The sharing economy is portrayed as harbinger for the post work society and path to ecologically sustainable capitalism, Google will conquer death itself, and this brave new “disruptive” economy will rid us of Jurassic forms of labor, which might well include what David Graeber refers to as “bullshit jobs.”

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But by now, only few people still fall for the solidarity theater of the “disruptive sharing economy,” its deceptive “peer” rhetoric when referring to individual workers and consumers, as well as its underhanded talk of changing the world (HBO’s Silicon Valley anyone?).

Occupations that cannot be off-shored, the pet walkers or home cleaners, are now subsumed under platform capitalism. Baby boomers are losing sectors of the economy like transportation, food, and various other services, to millennials who fiercely rush to control demand, supply, and profit by adding a thick icing of business onto apps-based user interactions. Companies like Uber and airbnb are enjoying their Andy Warhol moment, their $15 billion of fame, in the absence of any physical infrastructure of their own.

Remember, they didn’t build that, not unlike Facebook, they are running on your car, apartment, labor, and importantly, time.

They are logistics companies where all participants pay up the middleman: the finanzialization of the everyday 3.0.

Sure, legacy taxi companies have undoubtedly seen better days. Ride ordering apps are making transportation easier and also bit more accountable as passengers can give dreadful drivers devastating reviews. Some taxi drivers report that they appreciate not having to commit to a company like Uber, full-time.

They enjoy the flexible hours that they cannot get with legacy taxi companies. Ecological concerns about single driver occupancy are also real when thinking about these labor companies. It’s a no-brainer, the medallion system could use an update and at far over $800,000 for a single medallion in New York City, the system is completely impenetrable for taxi associations trying to build a small fleet of their own.

The medallion cartel prevents such worker-owned organizations from taking hold. With innovative ride rental software, organizing the taxi business is easier for the various types of worker cooperatives.

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Platform Cooperatives

Silicon Valley loves a good “disruption.” Let’s give them one. Platform cooperativism is about experimentation with good digital work and new forms of solidarity. It is about innovative unions, worker associations, and cooperatives building their own labor platforms and design interventions, rooted not in greed but the needs of workers.

In the future, labor will come not solely from venture capital funded Silicon Valley ringleaders but from worker cooperatives and inventive unions. Let’s stop dishing out rent to middleman like Lyft, Handy, or Uber. Owners and investors don’t have to be the sole benefactors of platform-based labor brokerages.

Self-driving cars will not replace Uber drivers any time soon; that’s just a diversion from the labor issues.

Rather than leaving the economy exclusively to the productivity imperatives of owners like Amazon or Microsoft, platform cooperativism could set an example of good digital labor. They do, however, have to act fast. Social movements, regulators, and cooperatives move slowly while tech-entrepreneurs are rapidly creating realities on the ground. The future is seeded now; the network effect is chiseling prospective global monopolies like Uber into stone and that is why workers, organizers, designers and developers, have to get their act together.

Workers need to be clear about their principles and values. The principles of platform cooperativism must include job security, good pay, transparency, a pleasant working atmosphere (acknowledgement and appreciation), co-determined work, a protective legal framework, weekly work time of thirty to forty hours — depending on the life stage of the worker, and protection against arbitrary behavior. Platform cooperativism rejects excessive workplace surveillance along the lines of oDesk’s worker diaries or reviews on Uber and Taskrabbit. In addition, workers need to have a right to log off. Platform cooperatives need to leave time for relaxation, livelong learning, and voluntary political work. Good digital work has clear boundaries.

Workers need to be clear about their principles and values. The principles of platform cooperativism must include job security, good pay, transparency, a pleasant working atmosphere (acknowledgment and appreciation), co-determined work, a protective legal framework, weekly work time of 30 to 40 hours, and protection against arbitrary mandates.

Platform cooperativism rejects excessive workplace surveillance, along the lines of Upwork’s worker diaries or the constant reviews on Uber and TaskRabbit. No, the “sharing economy” is not a self-regulating Shangri-La of freedom and democracy.

In addition, workers also need to have the right to log off; decent digital work has clear boundaries. Platform cooperatives need to leave time for relaxation, lifelong learning, and voluntary political work.

While such lofty goals are difficult to achieve, it is important to articulate them. Our inability to imagine a different life would be capital’s ultimate triumph.

Demanding higher wages is one thing but structural change, the creation of alternative models of social organization, is more fundamental. Worker-taken factories from Argentina to Ecuador, are not the prime model here. This is not about creating a branch of UberX with gracious permission byTravis Kalanick. Instead, let’s rip out the algorithmic heart of the “sharing economy,” clone it, and bring it back to life with a cooperative ownership model or a unionized labor pool. Platforms that allow workers to exchange their labor without the manipulation of a corporate middleman are possible. Democratically controlled businesses such as worker-owned cooperatives, could target smaller, local niche markets without having to focus on scaling up. A freelancer-owned cooperative like the San Francisco-based Loconomics could even benefit from the regulatory templates established by the “collaborative sharing economy.”

Let’s also make sure that the responsibility of family-friendly work is not solely transferred to the worker. Uber, TaskRabbit, and Handy are creating conditions that are not compatible with the family (or most other arrangements of domestic life). Platform cooperativism is about family-conscious shaping of work and life.

On the level of User Experience Design, alternative, open source platforms would have to rival the habit-creating seductiveness of the approaching Uber taxi on the screen of your phone. Cute penguins are no longer sufficient. Every Uber has an Unter and the interface of platform-coop-apps could instruct users about its own fair labor standards and the failing social protections in the “sharing economy“ — against the great life risks: illness, old age, and unemployment. Such platforms could give a face to the cloud workers who are — for all practical purposes — anonymous, isolated, and tucked away in between algorithms.

Technologically, building “coop apps” is by no means a walk in the park. In the transportation sector, for example, we are talking about at least four apps. There is one app for the passenger and one for the driver, on both Android and iPhone; and both would have to be constantly kept updated and usable as operating systems and phones are changing. Scott Rosenberg taught us that many large software projects have failed or run dramatically over budget.

Open-source developers could publish core protocols and APIs and then allow various independent open source projects to build their own different backend and front-end components. This would accommodate the various service sectors- from crowdsourcing, irregular migrants, and domestic cleaners, to baby sitters. therefore, funding through crowdfunding or block chains, would have to be ongoing. It cannot be simply a crowdsourced project with a set budget that runs out after a year.

#The Principles of Platform Cooperativism :
#I can detail in the Q&A.

Already now, there are various examples of platform cooperativism.

The Freelancers Union, Ver.di, or IG Metal, could place themselves at the center of such virtual hiring halls. There are also emerging forms of worker solidarity with forums like /r/mturk/ and design interventions such as Turkopticon.

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Mondragon, an often-cited example, is a corporation and Federation of Worker Cooperatives that was founded in 1956 in the Basque region in Spain. In 2013, it employed 74,061 people. We might also mention a party like Podemos. In New York City, there is a coalition of 24 worker-owned cooperatives, almost exclusively operated by women. Over the past few years, low-wage workers who joined these cooperatives saw their hourly wage increase from $10 to $25. In the United Kingdom, there are currently 200,000 people working in more than 400 worker cooperatives.

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In Israel, La’Zooz is a distributed peer-to-peer ride rental network

“a Decentralized Transportation Platform that is owned by the community which turns vehicles` unused space into a variety of smart transportation solutions.” http://open.therowboat.com/commons/doku.php/la_zooz

Fairmondo is a German cooperatively operated online market place not unlike eBay, based in Berlin.

Fairmondo — “a global, decentralised online marketplace owned by its local users”

In San Francisco LOCONOMICS will introduce a virtual hiring hall for freelancers, owned by freelancers.Loconomics — Connecting service providers with customers. Ownership structure?

It can be done. Cities like Dallas own various hotels and municipalities all over the US own hospitals; the model is working well.

It will not come as a surprise when I say that platform cooperativism is faced with enormous challenges ranging from the self-organization and management of workers, technology, UX design, education, long-term funding, scaling, wage scales, competition with multinational corporate giants, and public awareness.

To make good digital labor a reality, it is essential for like-minded people to organize, form kernels of self-organization, and fight for basic democratic rights for cloud workers. The future of work will not be solely determined by slide shows in Silicon Valley board rooms; it is about a democratic society that does not tolerate exploitation and encourages cooperation.

Let’s do justice to what we know. Platform cooperativism can invigorate genuine sharing, it does not have to reject the market, it can serve as a remedy for the corrosive effects of capitalism; and should not be mistaken for a Marxist fantasy. Marx would heart Platform cooperativism.

It can be a reminder that work can be dignified rather than diminishing for the human experience. Platform cooperatives are not a panacea for all the wrongs of capitalism but they could help to weave some ethical threads into the fabric of 21st century work.

Written by

New School professor, NYC.

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