As the platform cooperative ecosystem continues to grow internationally, with participants sharing ideas, tools, and know-how, it is important that we remember that local grassroots activism begins is a powerful mechanism of change. Already, we have seen how local laws and regulations can radically alter the economy on a municipal level. Residents of Austin, Texas voted last year to regulate basic safety measures into their ride-hail economy, despite a hard-fought opposition campaign by mega-platforms Uber and Lyft. When the two platforms opted to leave the city in protest, numerous alternative platforms emerged. Among these new platforms, driver-owned ATX Coop Taxi has become a dominant player, now controlling one-third of the city’s taxi permits. Following the “one-worker/one-share/one-vote” rule, ATX Coop Taxi has become the third largest worker cooperative in the country. In Austin, its 400 drivers showed that self-governance, higher wages, profit sharing, and fairer work can become a reality for workers in the digital economy.
The fact that a local victory for drivers turned out to be perhaps the biggest victory yet for a platform cooperative in the United States must be seen as a breakthrough in the tactical orientation of the platform cooperativism movement. This means advocating for legislation that slows the unchecked spread of oligarchical platforms, with the particular focus on regulation that provides meaningful protections for workers and consumers.
At the same time, policymakers need to focus on emerging markets for which legislation is only just being crafted. There is an acute need to “bake in” protections against the harm that accompanies tendencies of the digital economy, namely a winner-takes-economy with unfair, unethical, inequitable work.
California Assembly Bill 626
The California Assembly Bill 626 is a good example. Recently introduced, the bill aims to decriminalize the homemade food economy in the Golden State further. The ‘cottage food’ industry was partially legalized in 2012 after the passage of the California Homemade Food Act. Under current regulation, however, only certain “non-potentially hazardous” foods including breads, pies, fruit jams, and dried goods are legally permitted to be made in a home kitchen and then offered for sale. This new bill seeks to expand the range of saleable foods to all but the most risky foods and processing practices. Its proponents rightfully argue that such a bill would be a boon to entrepreneurs and eaters alike, bringing a clandestine market into the light and subjecting it to those sensible health and safety regulations that already apply to commercial homemade-food preparation.
As the bill is currently in “spot bill” format, with many of its key details yet to be defined, it is important that we consider how these regulations might best be structured to serve the community. There is a distinct possibility that, if care is not taken to defend it, the new market this bill would be quickly overrun by a handful of Uber-like platforms.
As with other markets subjected to the logic of platform capitalism, this would mean the consolidation of workers under the platforms with whom they contract.
We have seen time and again how that plays out: low wages coupled with extractive fees and the reduction if not the elimination of competing small businesses. If legislation can prevent it, it is important that control over products and profits not be taken from those cooks, consumers, and local organizations whom AB 626 is meant to benefit.The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), a key advocate of the 2012 bill, has proposed that AB 626 adopt a position similar to California’s farmers’ market legislation, which led to the recent flourishing of a direct farmer-to-consumer economy in the state. Under California law, certified farmers’ markets may only be operated by farmers, nonprofit organizations, or local government agencies. This measure has managed to facilitate the frictionless exchange of goods by preventing for-profit businesses from taking over and exacting a rent on farmer-to-consumer transactions.
The SELC has thus proposed that this new legislation mandate that any web platform in the homemade food market be organized as a worker cooperative, a consumer cooperative, or a nonprofit. The inclusion of such rules would be a boon for the homemade food industry and platform cooperatives both, as such the Platform Cooperativism Consortium fully supports the SELC’s proposal.
The SELC’s proposal can be found here.
The PCC’s supporting proposal can be found here.
You can also contact Trebor Scholz, founding-director of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium, by email.