Where, when, and how work is done is changing. Advances in artificial intelligence, automation, and data processing continue to shift responsibilities from workers to digital systems, which directly impacts the role of organized labor. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that “gig workers” will make up 43 percent of the workforce in 2020. For workers, this shift provides easier access to new sources of income.
The narrative within the “shared economy” of being your own boss and being in control of your own hours is overshadowing the dismal reality of stalled labor rights, insufficient social benefits, harassment, and unsustainably low wages.
Advancements in artificial intelligence are likely to scale up discriminatory practices based on gender and race. We must think about how data is collected, analyzed, and to whom it is sold. Platform co-ops are a powerful new way to address growing concerns about data privacy.
As one viable alternative for the gig economy, we propose platform cooperatives: cooperatively owned, democratically governed businesses that use a website, mobile app, or a protocol to facilitate the sale of goods and services. Platform cooperatives are owned and governed by those who depend on them most—workers, visitors of websites, or others in the community.
The vision of platform cooperativism and the prospect of creating an alternative digital economy are attractive to policymakers who seek to capture the imagination of their electorate. The principles of platform cooperativism meet the renewed calls for a fairer economy that works for all. Platform co-ops offer a clear, near-term political and social vision.
Political parties and movements around the globe are beginning to wake up to the power of the platform co-op model. The Social Democratic Party of Germany recently adopted platform cooperativism as part of its political platform, and the Labour Party of the UK made it part of their Digital Democracy Manifesto.
Advantages of platform co-ops
- A more diversified digital economy and a push back against its monopolistic tendencies
- Decent pay
- Worker-control over labor conditions
- Lower failure rate after the start-up phase
- Greater resilience in economic downturns
- Loyalty of workers to the platform
- Lower levels of staff turnover and lower absenteeism rates compared with other businesses.
- More control over privacy through worker ownership of platforms
- Co-ops are less likely to outsource their jobs
- Co-ops are more productive
Platform co-ops build on the strength of co-ops all over the world. The International Cooperative Alliance calculates that the largest cooperatives globally generate about $2.2 trillion in turnover and employ about 12 percent of the employed population in G20 countries. As much as 10 percent of the world’s total employment happens through co-ops. According to the United Nations, the world’s 2.6 million co-ops count over 1 billion members among them, plus $20 trillion in assets, with revenue that adds up to 4.3 percent of the global GDP. In the United States, a national survey showed that nearly 80 percent of consumers would choose co-ops over other options if they knew they had a choice. Co-ops are already a very prevalent and thriving business model within the economy.
Co-op membership around the world:
- United States: 11,328 cooperatives with 117,258,150 members
- Germany: 7,614 cooperatives with 52,453,000 members.
- Brasil: 6,603 cooperatives with 11,081,977 members.
- South Africa: 22,623 cooperatives and mutuals in the country
- Australia: 1,485 cooperatives with 13.5 million members
The Platform Cooperativism Consortium
The Platform Cooperativism Consortium (PCC) is a hub for research, community building, and advocacy for co-ops that make the digital transition.
We support the growth and conversion of hundreds of platform co-op businesses with tens of thousands of worker-owners around the world. Over the past several years, our events have touched the lives of more than 7,000 people, with viewers of our live streams exceeding 175,000 viewers all over the world. The PCC works with sister organizations & working groups in Japan, Sweden, Australia, Germany, and Italy.
Organizations affiliated with the Platform Cooperativism Consortium include:
Center for Civic Media MIT, Oxford Internet Institute United States, Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC), Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, The U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, Civic Hall, The Sustainable Economies Law Center, Dimmons.net, National Cooperative Business Association, IG Metall, Cooperative University College of Kenya, ICA group, FEBE Coop, P2P Foundation, SMart, Ver.di, The Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet Society, Commons Transition Coalition, Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (Australia).
Who Else Benefits from Platform Co-ops