This qualitative research presented a comprehensive mapping of the emergence of platform cooperativism in Brazil, its opportunities, and contradictions. Based on experiences in the field over the last five years and the design of qualitative research that involved interviews, a focus group, and the organization of discussion events on platform cooperativism with multiple stakeholders, it was possible to identify the diversity of discourses and movements in Brazil.
The main theoretical construction of this study is the separation between institutionalized and non-institutionalized platform cooperativism. This theoretical construction makes sense in Brazil, considering the unique character of the constitution of the cooperative system in the country. As argued in this study, Brazilian cooperativism was organized during the military regime within a plan of modernization of the rural economy. This made possible a tactical organization of associations of agricultural cooperativism that created a powerful organization: the Organization of Brazilian Cooperatives (OCB). In the 1980s and 1990s, this movement managed to create constitutional norms to support cooperativism and create a system to support cooperative learning in the face of a financial crisis. OCB and Sescoop are part of this system.
Non-institutionalized cooperativism is more connected to the traditional solidarity economy, which distanced itself from the OCB and institutionalized cooperativism in the 1990s and 2000s. From a language of class struggle, social justice, participatory democracy, and dignity of work, this cooperativism organized itself alternatively. The movement was unable to eliminate the OCB’s monopoly and, to this day, shows significant distances. Nevertheless, during the Workers’ Party government and the impulse of the World Social Forum, non-institutionalized cooperativism managed to create an extensive network of solidarity economy and connections between the struggle of precarious and rural workers.
The emergence of the platform cooperativism movement in Brazil does not directly connect with the solidarity economy tradition. Instead, it emerged from the initial work of institutions such as Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, InternetLab, Partido Pirata, and research centers interested in the relationship between decent work and the platform of society. What happened, however, was that, between 2018 and 2020, new brokers emerged, coupled with the institutionalized system of cooperativism, which began to consider platform cooperativism as a great window of opportunity for innovation and new markets of the digital economy. With an eye focused on innovations and new businesses, the OCB quickly embraced the platform cooperativism discourse and started supporting important projects via Sescoop. I argued that these intermediaries played a crucial role in constructing a discourse connecting innovation and decent work linked with the values of the old movement of non-institutionalized cooperativism.
In the last two years, the protest movements of workers from application companies (“Breque dos Apps”) generated a profound social impact on the discussion about precarious work. Based on this diagnosis, projects such as the Platform Cooperative Observatory and a set of autonomous initiatives and new businesses focusing on platform work in a fair manner emerged. Considering that there was already a previous institutionalized cooperative movement to work with the theme, events, discussions, and collaborations began to occur between diverse groups, at least at the tactical level. On the one hand, institutionalized cooperativism via Inovacoop, Coonecta, Sescoop, and OCB. On the other hand, a support network for non-institutionalized cooperativism, such as the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, ProComum, and DigiLabour. Despite recognizing differences between these actors, there is a tactical alliance to improve the institutional and economic scenario in support of platform cooperativism in Brazil.
Finally, I argued that there are persistent challenges to expanding platform cooperativism in Brazil in legal terms. Several enterprises chose to constitute themselves as private companies, private associations, or university projects. However, incentives for forming formal cooperatives are low due to investment and governance limitations. There are very advanced diagnoses of this problem, such as those produced by Mario de Conto and researchers from Rio Grande do Sul. For the next few years, it will be necessary to deepen concrete proposals for legal reform to make platform cooperatives viable in Brazil.
Like any complex social organization, platform cooperativism in Brazil is multifaceted. It combines a set of potentials and ambiguities. This study has not aimed at presenting solutions to these problems but at reconstructing the origins and the trajectory of this movement in Brazil. There is a large set of research hypotheses to be explored. It is too early to assess the success or failure of this movement. It is still in its infancy and has enormous potential in an unequal, complex, and creative country like Brazil.