As a member of the cooperative movement, you know that the co-op model works. Farming and producer cooperatives, credit unions, and other retail cooperatives worldwide remain a global force. But many sectors of the economy are moving online, and so are workers looking for easy access to gigs. The number of gig workers is projected to rapidly increase over the next several years and the temp agency market is increasingly controlled by platforms. More consumers rely on platforms for purchases and services than ever before. Platform companies are dependent on gig work to reduce overhead cost. Service-oriented sectors of the economy such as transportation are rapidly taking over, and companies like Cabify, Uber, and Deliveroo, are challenging cooperatives in those sectors.

The acceleration of the digital economy has created an enormous opportunity, especially for large co-ops, to increase the number and engagement of their members. Co-ops have an opportunity to restructure the economy along more democratic lines. Workers can begin to feel and act more like member-owners. By co-operatizing gig workers, we can offer a humane alternative to the dominant, exploitative, investor-owned platforms. By incubating platform co-ops, traditional cooperatives can increase their membership and member engagement exponentially.

If the cooperative movement wants to thrive, it also needs to link to the interests of young cooperators. Therefore it should experiment in the area of platform co-ops. Many young people want to get involved in businesses that take care of workers, and fight for the environment, for social justice, and for a free and fair Internet. Platform co-ops are the spaces in which to do this.

Leaders across the cooperative movement understand the upside. The International Cooperative Alliance approved a motion in November 2017 calling on cooperators to explore the potential of platform co-ops, and ICA president Ariel Guarco has endorsed the model as key for the digital economy. Co-op leaders like Howard Brodsky are speaking out too. Howard understands the competitive advantage of the model: “Platform ownership, high-quality services, and fair work are powerful points of differentiation that matter to customers and that are not available to any other type of business in the digital economy.”

Holding true to an essential principle of cooperation — that coops should support other co-ops — we need the guidance, expertise, and foundation of traditional cooperatives to lift up this movement. Because so many platform co-ops offer innovative business models, these ventures offer a huge opportunity for financial, social, and political disruption and success. And cooperatives could benefit by creating a new online network of cooperative digital services and tools, improving operations and efficiencies across the sector.

The time is now for cooperatives to get involved.

Who Else Benefits from Platform Co-ops